The Future Of Massachusetts’ Offshore Wind Farm Is Uncertain

Source: By SIMON RIOS, NPR • Posted: Friday, May 8, 2015

Officials in Massachusetts bet big on wind energy, sinking $113 million into a waterfront terminal designed to serve the new industry off the New England coast. But Cape Wind is all but dead.


New Bedford, Mass. may have lost a chance at a new industry. New Bedford is an old whaling port, where Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick, lived and worked. Last year, then-Governor Deval Patrick said New Bedford would become a capital of offshore wind power. So it seemed. This year, success looks as elusive as Captain Ahab’s white whale. Simon Rios reports from WBUR.

SIMON RIOS, BYLINE: Visitors to New Bedford are awestruck by the vast fishing fleet docked in the harbor. The city’s scallop vessels have made New Bedford the top-grossing fishing port in the country. But the once mighty ground fishing industry has cratered to almost nothing. The city that lit the world with whale oil has struggled for years with some of the highest unemployment in Massachusetts. One-hundred-thirteen-million in tax dollars were invested in a New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal that could support the wind industry. Cape Wind would be the first tenant, with a $4.5 million contract to lease the terminal for two years. But when Cape Wind’s power purchase agreements fell through, so did the terminal lease. Officials in the new Republican administration said the terminal never should have been built. That’s not something you’re likely to hear in New Bedford.

BUDDY ANDRADE: Being dismayed or just upset about Cape Wind – don’t look at it that way.

RIOS: Buddy Andrade stands on the terminal ground in a Vietnam veteran hat. He’s a Cape Verdean activist who’s been calling for Marine terminal jobs to go to locals and people of color. Andrade is optimistic in spite of the Cape Wind debacle. He says it’s a delay that gives the community more time for job training.

ANDRADE: Look at it; OK, we’re back at the starting line, working on another approach to it and going forward.

RIOS: Despite the setback, workers are still putting the finishing touches on the 28-acre terminal. It looks like a big gray platform. But it’s fortified to support the heaviest parts of an offshore wind farm. And the components are massive. A turbine blade can be longer than a football field. The U.S. Energy Department projects that wind energy will support more than half a million jobs by 2050. And a quarter of the country’s wind resources are just off the Massachusetts coast. New Bedford has the closest industrial port.

SUSAN TIERNEY: The future is promising, but definitely this is a setback.

RIOS: Susan Tierney is an energy analyst in Boston.

TIERNEY: In a time and place when we have to be looking at carbon emissions from energy production use, offshore wind provides a domestic resource that is quite clean.

RIOS: It’s going to take more than good infrastructure to make offshore wind a reality, but there have been steps. This year, the federal government leased the large swath of ocean off of Massachusetts for wind development. Then there’s Rhode Island-based Deepwater Wind, a company putting up the country’s first five offshore wind turbines. And it could put up hundreds more in the years to come. CEO Jeff Grybowski says New Bedford’s facility is a wise investment, and it will come in handy if Deepwater expands.

JEFF GRYBOWSKI: This is a big, complicated industry. These projects are large and complex. And they will need to use multiple ports. And it is very likely that New Bedford would be needed in this larger strategy.

RIOS: That could take years. But just last month, New Bedford signed a host agreement to bring a casino to its waterfront, a stone’s throw from the vacant terminal. The $650 million casino still needs approval from Massachusetts regulators, but it could be a safer bet than offshore wind. For NPR News, I’m Simon Rios.