State would tap wind energy south of islands


The federal government on Tuesday began its offshore wind energy leasing process, and Massachusetts simultaneously expressed interest in helping to develop enough wind energy in federal waters south of the Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, to power 1.7 million homes, a goal that state officials admit will require advances in all aspects of generation and transmission systems.

Also, outgoing state Energy and Environment Secretary Ian Bowles, facing criticism over the state’s approval of above-market energy prices in connection with Cape Wind, announced the state will partner with research institutions and offshore wind energy experts to win federal funding, with the goal of reducing the cost of offshore wind by 40 percent by the 2020, and 60 percent by 2030, according to the State House News Service.

A state supplement, offered in connection with a U.S. Department of the Interior request for interest to measure the industry’s appetite for offshore energy projects, expresses interest in development of up to four gigawatts, or 4,000 megawatts, of installed power generation in federal waters off the coast of Massachusetts “provided such resources can be developed in a cost-effective manner.”

To put that capacity estimate in perspective, Cape Wind, the wind turbine farm marked for Nantucket Sound, will generate about 468 megawatts of power if the project is built — proponents have cleared major state and federal hurdles, but opponents have not given up their fight. Alternately, 4,000 megawatts equals the electricity produced by all coal-fired plants in Massachusetts.

The federal request seeks to measure industry interest in federal waters covering 3,000 square miles off the Massachusetts coast, beginning about 13.8 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. A state task force partnered with the federal bureau to draw the area’s boundaries.

State energy officials said it would take roughly 800, 5-megawatt turbines to meet the maximum power potential they see in the wind resources south of the islands. Cape Wind plans 130, 3.6-megawatt turbines.

The state supplement asks the industry to think broadly about the build-out of wind energy facilities in the area, taking into account system design, engineering, construction, ownership, transmission, and grid configuration issues, according to the state, which is also asking for input on locations for assembly of wind turbines, the industry’s needed supply chain, and operations and maintenance issues.

State officials say efforts to develop a “wind energy cluster” in Massachusetts will help drive down wind energy costs. A wind technology testing center in Charlestown, a wind project construction and assembly terminal in New Bedford, and Mass Tank’s plans to make foundation monopoles and turbine components in Massachusetts are examples state officials cite to illustrate the industry’s roots here.

Responses to the federal RFI and the state supplement are due by February 28, 2011.

Admitting its power is “expensive in light of today’s energy prices,” state regulators last month approved a 15-year contract for Cape Wind to sell half its energy to National Grid, arguing the contract “is both cost-effective and in the public interest.”

Cape Wind opponents have called for the project, which has won federal approval, to be relocated to a site south of Tuckernuck, an island adjacent to Nantucket.