Big Week for Offshore Wind (Three Steps Forward, One Sideways)

February 13, 2020 | 11:32 am
Mat Fascione
John Rogers
Energy Campaign Analytic Lead

Offshore wind has been the subject of a whole lot of news in the last few days, much of it positive. Here’s the lowdown on some top stories.

Lots more offshore wind for Virginia

One very welcome bit of news concerns major renewable energy legislation passed this week by the Virginia legislature. A key piece of the Clean Economy Act is a commitment to 100% renewable electricity for the state by mid-century. And a key tool for getting there will be offshore wind: The bill doubles the amount of offshore wind expected from the state’s major utility, Dominion Energy Virginia, to 5,200 megawatts (MW) by January 1, 2034, one of the largest state commitments to date.

Also really interesting about the push around the legislation was the tantalizing prospect of an offshore wind turbine blade factory in the state’s Hampton Roads area, which wind manufacturer Siemens-Gamesa said it was “actively considering”.

Infrastructure for offshore wind staging in Connecticut

Offshore wind project development doesn’t take place just on the open water; all the components (and a lot of the activities) start on land. And Connecticut has taken the next big step to getting its port infrastructure ready for the offshore wind it has committed to, including its first tranche, 804 MW. The Connecticut Port Authority this week approved a $157 million plan to transform New London’s State Pier into a staging area for offshore wind activity.

Lowest offshore wind price ever, off Massachusetts

Another indication of what strong policies and clear signals in favor of offshore wind can yield is evident in Massachusetts. The state has just revealed the price of the second project selected to satisfy the state’s 3,200 MW offshore wind commitment, the Mayflower Wind project (also 804 MW), to be located south of Cape Cod and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

And, at 5.8 cents per kilowatt-hour, the project’s price is not only lower than the stunning winning bid from the first project, selected in 2018 (6.5 cents, from the 800 MW Vineyard Wind project); it’s also lower than the price of long-term contracts with the state’s utilities to bring hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts via Maine (5.9 cents).

A timetable for Vineyard Wind

Another piece of offshore wind news from this week was about less of a step forward than a step sideways, maybe. The US government agency in charge of offshore wind permitting in federal waters, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), announced the timetable for its environmental review of the Vineyard Wind project, which has been expected to be the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the country.

The good news is that there’s now a set timetable for the permitting, with most pieces in place by the end of this year. The bad news is that the new timetable takes things about a year and a half past when the project had been expected to have its permits, last summer.

The delay has created uncertainty for not just Vineyard Wind, but all the projects behind it in BOEM’s review queue. And, in terms of Vineyard Wind itself, the CEO says the new timetable means that “commercial operation in 2022 is no longer expected.”

Make it so

Offshore wind projects don’t start pumping out clean electrons until the turbines are in the water and plugged in to a regional electricity grid, and we have a ways to go before we’re at that point. The Virginia legislation needs finalizing (the House and Senate versions need reconciling, and the governor needs to sign). Connecticut needs to implement its port upgrade. The Mayflower Wind project has to get through its permitting, get the capital in place, procure the equipment, etc.

But 100% clean energy has been a priority of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, so the prospects there look good. Port construction in Connecticut is expected to start early next year and finish in 2022. Vineyard Wind will figure out its timing. And Mayflower Wind is aiming to be in operation by the end of 2025. (And we’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for developments on that possible turbine blade factory.)

Launching this whole new industry on our shores will take a lot more forward steps. The many positive parts of weeks like this one sure help.

P.S. Wondering how you can help accelerate all this excitement? Check out the new Offshore Wind Public Participation Guide from the American Wind Energy Association and the University of Delaware’s Special Initiative on Offshore Wind. The guide “details the process and opportunities for public stakeholders and interested parties wishing to have their opinion heard” in the federal process for offshore wind. And check out our own, broader Offshore wind: Four ways you can help.

About the author

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John Rogers is energy campaign analytic lead at the Union of Concerned Scientists with expertise in clean energy technologies and policies and a focus on solar, wind, and natural gas. He co-managed the UCS-led Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative, a multi-year program aimed at raising awareness of the energy-water connection, particularly in the context of climate change, and motivating and informing effective low-carbon and low-water energy solutions.