Updated August 4
Aboard the chartered Capt. John & Son II, developers of the nation’s first major offshore wind farm hosted a tour of the ongoing construction site.
On a sunny Wednesday morning, the somewhat bumpy, roughly two-hour boat ride carried Avangrid staff, press, state lawmakers and local officials, and environmentalists from Hyannis to the Vineyard Wind site, 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.
Construction began in early June. The $4 billion project is expected to generate electricity for more than 400,000 homes and businesses in the state, starting in mid-October. Sixty-two wind turbines are planned. Avangrid COO Sy Oytan said that six turbines are slated to be operational in the fall.
The State House News Service reported that the project is also expected to create at least 3,600 jobs, reduce energy costs for Massachusetts ratepayers by an estimated $1.4 billion over 20 years, and annually eliminate 1.68 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
On Wednesday, once the Capt. John & Son II sailed past Chappaquiddick and into open waters, it didn’t take long for the T-shaped silhouette of the $900 million offshore substation to become hazily visible in the distance. The turbines will eventually be connected to the substation. Oytan described it as a “massive structure, as large as a football field.”
As the group got closer to the project area, several Vineyard Wind vessels could be seen near the construction site. An Avangrid staff member said some of the vessels were laying down the undersea cables that will connect the wind turbines with onshore electrical infrastructure in Barnstable, although this work wasn’t visible from aboard the Capt. John & Son II.
Several cylindrical turbine foundations with “transitional pieces” stood tall in the Atlantic, each with one nautical mile of distance between them. According to Oytan, this distance is three times that of the space between wind turbines in Europe.
Oytan spoke over the boat loudspeaker to provide information regarding the project as the tour boat slowly circled around the construction site, which he relayed in more detail on the boat ride back to Hyannis.
Vineyard Wind’s GE Haliade-X 13MW turbines are expected to be 853 feet tall, including the blades. The blades will be 351 feet long, with a rotor diameter of 722 feet. For comparison, these turbines will stand nearly triple the size of the Statue of Liberty (305 feet tall), and a little under the height of the Eiffel Tower (1,063 feet tall). The offshore wind farm will begin producing 78 megawatts of power by mid-October. This will increase to 200 to 300 megawatts of power by the end of the year, with the full 806 megawatts of power becoming available by mid-2024.
According to Oytan, the relatively shallow Massachusetts waters made the construction site “the premium place in the world for offshore wind production.” Deeper waters make construction more expensive.
Oytan said efforts are being made to make the supply chain more domestic, but parts still need to be sent over from Europe as the offshore wind industry matures in the U.S.
Workers will soon begin installing turbine towers on the foundations. Next, the energy-generation components will be installed.
For many of the people on board the tour boat, this was the first time actually seeing the construction site.
Andy Benedetto and John Dunderdale, who represent local trade unions and are affiliated with the North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters, said unionized workers were a part of each step in the construction process. Seeing the project under construction gave a sense of accomplishment, Dunderdale said. “To be able to see it in person, it’s a proud moment for us,” Benedetto said.
Union representatives weren’t the only ones who were looking forward to seeing the construction site. Richard Delaney, executive director of the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, and a board member with the Cape Cod Climate Change Collaborative, told The Times it was exciting to see the progress being made toward becoming a “renewable energy society.”
“It is really exciting, today, to see all of the work and effort we’ve been putting forward finally start that transition away from fossil fuel,” he said.
Delaney underscored that climate change is an “existential issue,” but felt optimistic about the future.
“Except for a bunch of people in Congress … the rest of the world is actually understanding we have to act,” Delaney said. “The big challenge for all of us now, worldwide and here on the Cape — everywhere — is to be able to make that transition fast enough and at a big enough scale.”
According to Delaney, thousands of wind turbines will be needed to bring renewable energy to the needed scale. “We can’t go through a long process to get there,” he said. “We have to have them approved and built really fast.”
When asked about the pushback offshore wind turbine development has been facing, Delaney said some of the “discouraging obstacles” are political parties and individuals who vote against efforts to mitigate climate change.
“It’s inconceivable that they cannot understand what that vote means to themselves, their family, to the country, to our economy,” he said. “But that’s the reality for the time being. We’ll keep working to educate them and show them the connection we all have to each other through climate change.”
Additionally, Delaney continued, fossil fuel companies spread misinformation to “people up and down the East Coast” regarding the effect offshore wind farms have on whales, despite saying they understand the issues around climate change. He said people who “don’t know any better” become opponents of offshore wind farm developments because of the “deliberate spread” of misinformation.
“My Center for Coastal Studies has been doing population studies for 46 years, and we know there are some humpback whales dying and washing up here, in New Jersey, and Virginia,” Delaney said. “It’s part of their natural system. It’s a little more than usual, but they’re not being killed by wind turbines.”
Delaney said the spreading of misinformation is frustrating because it prevents people from making informed decisions.
Earlier this summer, two humpback whales washed up on Edgartown beaches. At the time, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration representative stated they were unaware of any ties to the wind industry. In May, a federal judge ruled against Nantucket Residents Against Turbines’ complaint against Vineyard Wind over environmental concerns, including potential harm to North Atlantic right whales.
Several state lawmakers and local officials on board touted the benefits of offshore wind and expressed that their constituents were in support of pushing development forward.
Salem Mayor Dominick Pangallo described a community that “looked to the sea” when envisioning the future, due to its maritime history. Pangallo said it was “very exciting” to finally see the Vineyard Wind construction in progress; he hoped the project will “help us move the needle in the climate crisis.”
Although not present for the trip to sea, State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, expressed excitement about the project to The Times.
“I’m thrilled that Vineyard Wind’s construction is underway,” he said. “This project creates 90 jobs on-Island, provides affordable electricity rates for low-income Islanders, and helps us reach our ambitious climate commitments. Martha’s Vineyard is pioneering our clean energy future.”
Oytan said Vineyard Wind, named after the Island, has made a commitment to hiring locally, and pointed out the on-Island infrastructure being built for the project. He said the Island has been “very supportive” of the project.
Additionally, Oytan said, the project will help in the climate change issues that coastal communities, particularly Islands like Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, are facing by shifting away from fossil fuels.
Other Avangrid representatives echoed similar points.
“Everyone [on] those Islands knows how windy the oceans and those Islands are,” Oytan said.
Adarsh Bhat contributed to this story.