Panel presents offshore-wind farm progress report

State officials and developers give Islanders an update and get some feedback.

Bill White of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center speaks to Island audience about offshore wind development.

Every chair was full at the Vineyard Haven Council on Aging as eight speakers — five government officials and three offshore wind company representatives — presented progress reports on the development of the turbine farms off Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard.  Deepwater Wind has already completed a five-turbine farm off Block Island, but along with DONG/Bay State Wind and Vineyard Wind (formerly OffshoreMW) they are now developing projects (“Deepwater wins offshore wind auction”; Aug. 7, 2013) in Massachusetts waters.

Audience members listened attentively, but also had some pointed questions and comments for the speakers. Menemsha fisherman Paul McDonald spoke of a research vessel refusing to answer is radio hail. Peter Cabana of Tisbury was irritated that government officials had still not worked out how the power was to be distributed between Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel noted that after initial conversations with a task force of Islanders, developers had largely ignored the task force.

Bruce Carlisle of the state Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) outlined plans for the routing of electricity transmission cables from the turbines to the onshore power grid. He faced some tough comments from the audience. Mr. Cabana, a Tisbury resident and former Bechtel engineer who has worked on large-scale energy projects around the world, objected to the fact that the routes had not yet been chosen and that the ISO (independent system operator; the organization that operates the regional power grid) very likely does not want all the power coming into the grid in one place. Mr. Israel was concerned that each developer would have their own transmission line, increasing the impact. Mr. Carlisle offered to speak with Mr. Cabana in depth and assured Mr. Israel that the CZM would “avoid spaghetti” and create defined corridors for transmission lines. “This is still developing,” he said.

Present state of development

While the Block Island five-turbine group owned by Deepwater Wind is in operation and is “about to go commercial,” according to its representative Aileen Kenney, the tracts southwest and south of Martha’s Vineyard leased by Deepwater, DONG/Bay State Wind and Vineyard Wind (with the participation of Vineyard Power) (“Edgartown selectmen receive offshore wind update”; July 20) are either still doing geophysical and geotechnical surveys or have just finished them.

Jessica Stromberg of the U.S. Bureau of Offshore Energy Management (BOEM) explained that developers must first prepare a site assessment plan (SAP) and then a construction and operations plan (COP) before beginning construction of the turbine farms. The geophysical and geotechnical surveys, which collect data from the atmosphere, water column, and sediment, are the basis for the SAPs.

Rhode Island-based Deepwater Wind NE submitted their SAP in April 2016, according to Ms. Stromberg. As a result they excluded 35 percent of their leased area from development because of environmental concerns and the presence of unexploded ordnance. Their five-turbine project off Block Island is the first North American offshore wind farm to be completed. They will soon be laying transmission cables to eastern Long Island, where they will sell 90 megawatts (MW) of power. They have bid on a contract to sell 210 MW in Rhode Island; that cable will come ashore in Narragansett Bay. Deepwater Wind has financial backing from a New York-based private equity firm called D.E. Shaw and Co. According to Meaghan Wims, a spokesperson for Deepwater Wind, their Massachusetts 200-turbine project will be producing power by the early 2020s.

Bay State Wind (the local name for the Danish Oil and Natural Gas or DONG project) was issued leases in April 2015 and their SAP is due in April 2017. Their geophysical surveys were begun in April and the geotechnical ones in October. Results from these — taking into account fishing activities and other uses — have led to a reduction in the area they intend to develop to 79 percent of the original leased tract. They plan to produce 1,000 MW in Massachusetts, but the number of turbines has not be determined.

DONG Energy is largely owned by the Danish government (although a subsidiary of Goldman-Sachs owns 18 percent of the shares). According to Bay State Wind representative Carolyn Heeps, DONG is producing over 3,000 MW of energy from offshore wind in northern Europe (with another 3,000 MW under construction), and they have recently completed their 1,000th offshore turbine. Ms. Heeps said that the transmission line from the Bay State Wind tract will come ashore at Brayton Point in Somerset.

Richard André of Vineyard Power, the Island-based community organization allied with developer OffshoreMW, which has been newly renamed Vineyard Wind, described the state of their work. Like Bay State Wind, Vineyard Wind is backed by Danish money, but in the form of a consortium of 21 pension funds called CIP or Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners (“Danish company backs Vineyard offshore wind project”; Sept. 2). CIP has invested in onshore wind in the U.S. and the U.K., biomass projects, and offshore wind in Germany and Scotland.

Vineyard Wind, which was awarded their leases at the same time as Bay State Wind, finished their geophysical surveys “a few weeks ago” and the geotechnical surveys are still underway.

Overview from the state

Bill White of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) reiterated the plan to supply one-third of homes in the state with renewable energy by 2027. “This will be our own power,” he said, “not imported.” He also promised 1,000 jobs would be associated with the construction of the offshore wind farms over a two-year buildout period. “Many power plants are retiring soon,” he continued, “so new generation is needed.”

Mr. White noted that wind energy is not a new technology. “The Europeans have been moving forward with this for 25 years,” White said, “and we like to think they’ve made our mistakes for us. Almost every East Coast state has plans to develop offshore wind.” He reminded his audience that state legislation passed in August to develop 1,600 MW of offshore wind by June 2027. The projects will prevent 2.4 million tons of greenhouse gases from reaching the atmosphere, said Mr. White.

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to show that OffshoreMW (not Offshore MV) has changed its name to Vineyard Wind. Vineyard Power is still called Vineyard Power.