The Next Big Step in Massachusetts Offshore Wind: The Bids are in

December 21, 2017 | 1:40 pm
Image: Flickr/mmatsuura
John Rogers
Energy Campaign Analytic Lead

Something big to celebrate in the world of US offshore wind as 2017 winds down: We’ve just hit the deadline for proposals to build the first projects in response to Massachusetts’ pioneering 2016 energy diversity law. And the responses from the three holders of offshore wind leases off Massachusetts are in.

What’s on offer

More on the way! (Credit: J. Rogers/UCS)

Offshore wind is brand new in this country. So you could have bet that each new proposal would have a unique flavor. The proposals bear that out.

Deepwater Wind owns the title of First in the Water, with their five-turbine, 30-megawatt offshore wind farm near Block Island, RI, that went online in late 2016 as the first offshore wind farm in the Americas. For this Massachusetts move, they’ve partnered with National Grid Ventures and the Northfield Mountain pumped hydro storage facility in a project they’re calling Revolution Wind.

The partnership with the Northfield Mountain, located in north-central Massachusetts, Deepwater says, would mean that “offshore wind can act like a baseload resource,” supplying energy around the clock.

With National Grid Ventures, an affiliate of National Grid (one of the utilities tasked with buying offshore wind based on the 2016 law), Deepwater is looking to build a transmission backbone, enough capacity to move electricity not just from their own project, “but also future offshore wind farms, even if they’re built by [their] competitors.”

The Deepwater proposals would result in 200-400 megawatts of new offshore wind capacity. The company is aiming to start construction in 2022, for operation in 2023.

Vineyard Wind, a collaboration between a Danish fund management company (Copenhagen Investment Partners) and a subsidiary of a Spanish utility (Avangrid Renewables), is looking to supply half or all of the energy from a planned 800-megawatt project in its lease area. The company, according to Chief Development Officer Erich Stephens, is

…confident that its proposal… is the right approach for local residents and businesses eager to reap the abundant environmental and economic benefits that are associated with large-scale renewable and sustainable wind energy…

Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Thaaning Pedersen says the project “will serve as an accelerator for the local clean energy economy and green tech workforce…”

Both Copenhagen Investment Partners and Avangrid have strong offshore wind experience in Europe, directly or through affiliates, and Avangrid is one of the largest developers of land-based wind in the US.

The company is looking to start construction in 2019, and be online by 2021.

Bay State Wind, like Deepwater, is incorporating energy storage, but in the form of a 55 megawatt battery, which it claims will be “the largest battery storage system ever deployed in conjunction with a wind farm,” aimed at “helping to ensure power is available during peak hours when it is needed most.”

Like Vineyard Wind, Bay State Wind is offering 400-800 megawatts, which it says will allow it to “provid[e] energy at the lowest cost to consumers, all while bringing significant environmental and community benefits.”

Bay State Wind is a partnership between Danish power company Ørsted and Eversource Energy. Ørsted (formerly DONG Energy) is the owner of thousands of megawatts of offshore wind, developed the very first offshore wind farm in the world (in 1991), and is working on what will likely be the largest offshore wind project in the world. Eversource Energy is New England’s largest utility (and another of the offtakers for whichever projects win these bids).

What’s next

Three projects, lots of partners, decisions to make.

The state-approved process calls for “projects for negotiation” to be selected by May 22, 2018, for contract negotiations to be done by October 3, and for the utilities to submit their proposed contracts for approval by the department of public utilities by November 1.

Cost will certainly be one factor in the decision making, but far from the only one. The 2016 legislation, in fact, had a boatload of criteria for would-be projects, including:

(i) provide enhanced electricity reliability; (ii) contribute to reducing winter electricity price spikes; (iii) are cost effective to electric ratepayers in the commonwealth over the term of the contract… (vii) allow offshore wind energy generation resources to be paired with energy storage systems; (viii) where possible, mitigate any environmental impacts; and (xi) where feasible, create and foster employment and economic development in the commonwealth. 

It also required that preference be given “to proposals that demonstrate a benefit to low-income ratepayers in the commonwealth, without adding cost to the project.”

The wide variety of issues and opportunities will make sauce out of attempts to do apples-to-apples comparisons. Each proposal will likely offer appreciable advantages over others in one area or another.

The important thing, for now, is that, in our path to the eventual 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind that the law requires, we’ve passed the next big milestone for Massachusetts’s embrace of this incredibly exciting new technology. On to 2018.

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.