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From a pitched battle over offshore wind power to open arms in just a few years, Massachusetts represents a sea change for the US wind industry.

Clean Power

Finally, Smooth Sailing For Offshore Wind In Massachusetts

From a pitched battle over offshore wind power to open arms in just a few years, Massachusetts represents a sea change for the US wind industry.

The great state of Massachusetts was once the scene of a years-long legal battle over the very first offshore wind farm in the USA. No, not the Block Island wind farm. That’s in Rhode Island. It was the proposed Cape Wind project. A group of local opponents won the battle, with some help from a member of the Koch family. Now the tide has turned and a massive new flotilla of wind turbines is rising up over the horizon.

offshore wind Massachusetts

In the latest news from the Codfish State, last week the proposed Vineyard Wind offshore wind farm passed a major hurdle on its way to a planned construction start sometime later this year. At 800 megawatts, the Vineyard project is almost double the size of Cape Wind’s ambitious but ill-fated 468 megawatts.

Vineyard Offshore Wind Farm Clears Another Hurdle

So, what happened?

One of the factors that doomed Cape Wind was the lack of a taker for all those clean megawatts. That’s not surprising. Legal challenges created an environment of uncertainty that scared off purchasers. The relatively high cost of offshore wind was also in play.

Well, that was then. Wind turbine technology is improving, economies of scale are kicking in along the supply chain, and evidence about the added value of offshore wind is piling up.

In addition, the US Energy Department has been going out of its way to reassure global investors that the nation’s energy policy is firmly on the side of wind power, regardless of what the Commander-in-Chief* says about wind turbines.

On top of all that, the 2016 Massachusetts Energy Diversity Act calls for up to 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind by 2027.

Vineyard Wind Jumps Another Hurdle

With all that in mind, let’s turn to The Cape Cod Times, which reported on the latest development in the Vineyard offshore project last week:

State public utility regulators have approved long-term offshore wind contracts between Vineyard Wind and electric distribution companies in Massachusetts, giving the offshore wind farm developer a crucial approval needed to start construction by the end of the year.

Do tell! Follow the link to support local journalism, but if you’re in a big hurry here is just one key detail that the Times teases out: not one but three different utilities jumped on the opportunity to purchase clean power from Vineyard.

Those were Eversource, which bills itself the largest energy provider in New England, and another New England energy company called Unitil, along with the regional company National Grid.

The next key hurdle is getting approval for a high-voltage cable. That’s supposed to happen on May 9, so stay tuned for more on that score.

Offshore Wind Power Plus Energy Storage

The Times (here’s that link again) also notes that Vineyard will drop a cool $15 million into a state fund aimed at ramping up the use of energy storage, including energy storage systems for low income communities.

That’s interesting because more energy storage will enable more renewable energy into the grid, However, all three of the offtakers — Eversource, Unitil, and National Grid — are natural gas providers as well as electricity providers.

They’re not necessarily working against their own interests, though. Just as some of the world’s leading oil and gas producers are diversifying into renewables, EV charging and other clean tech, local utilities are beginning to switch up their games.

If gas consumption in buildings go down, electrification could replace that revenue stream for local utilities. In fact, Massachusetts is among a number of states pursuing strategic electrification, aka switching from fossil fuels to electricity for use in buildings. That includes heating, cooling, hot water, cooking, and clothes drying.

One main avenue for building electrification is to switch out of gas or oil for heating, and into electric heat pumps.

Stay tuned for more on that. CleanTechnica is reaching out to Eversource to see what their future looks like after the Vineyard wind farm comes online.

Follow me on Twitter.

*Developing story.

Photo: via Vineyard Wind.

 
 
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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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