New Massachusetts offshore wind energy auction, and New Jersey project gets a boost

Two more Massachusetts offshore wind energy leases are moving toward auction by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, as southern New England and Mid-Atlantic states hasten their own planning for wind power.

The two lease tracts totaling 390,000 acres are located south of Martha’s Vineyard, near previous leases won by Deepwater Wind, Vineyard Wind and Bay State Wind. Plans by those companies could bring up to 1,100 megawatts of generation from turbines to be built on the outer continental shelf.

Much attention has focused on the Trump administration’s drive to expand offshore oil and gas exploration. But Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has been talking up offshore wind energy development in the Atlantic, and spoke at a major industry conference this month in New Jersey.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management plans to offer two more leases for offshore wind development (brown and green shaded areas at right) south of Martha's Vineyard. BOEM image.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management plans to offer two more leases for offshore wind development (brown and green shaded areas at right) south of Martha’s Vineyard. BOEM image.

“The Trump Administration supports an all-of-the-above energy policy and using every tool available to achieve American energy dominance,” Zinke said in an April 6 announcement of the Massachusetts leasing plan. “The proposed sale area has tremendous offshore wind energy potential and the responsible development of it continues to play a big role in the Administration’s America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.”

“This area represents the Department’s willingness to listen to stakeholder feedback, including the fishing community, and make the right adjustments,” said Zinke.

The East Coast commercial fishing industry issued its own call April 9 in a letter to Massachusetts Gov. Charles D. Baker Jr., asking that his state limit its first offshore wind project to no more than 400 MW.

The National Coalition for Fishing Communities laid out a possible new framework for the seafood and offshore wind energy industries to work together on avoiding conflicts, including making the New Bedford, Mass., Port Authority the lead facilitator for those negotiations. New Bedford is the East Coast’s number-one port by landings value, and state and city officials have also worked to position it as a hub for constructing and servicing offshore wind farms.

Originally, official thinking was New Bedford could be the staging area for Cape Wind, the ill-fated proposal to build the first utility-scale U.S. offshore wind array in Nantucket Sound. After that proposal foundered in the face of local opposition, Deepwater Wind claimed first place with its 30 MW Block Island project off Rhode Island.

Now another project that might have beaten Deepwater Wind to the starting gate could get a second chance. The Fishermen’s Energy proposal to build a similar array off Atlantic City would move forward under a bill passed in the New Jersey state Legislature April 12 and expected to be signed by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, a supporter of offshore wind development.

Organized by a consortium of New Jersey seafood companies, Fishermen’s Energy in 2014 secured $47 million in support from the U.S. Department of Energy, contingent on the group get power purchase agreements. But the proposal failed to win support from state utility regulators under the administration of Republican former governor Chris Christie, who also vetoed earlier attempts by Democratic legislators to push the project.

EDF Renewable Energy (EDF RE), San Diego, announced April 4 it has a preliminary agreement to acquire Fishermen’s Energy and move ahead on the 24 MW project, which would be in state waters. Deepwater Wind, U.S. Wind and Denmark-based Ørsted are making plans for much bigger arrays on federal leases off New Jersey, but EDF RE officials say a “near-term project…will enable New Jersey to gain a leadership position in the offshore wind industry.”

“This Atlantic City project is needed to establish New Jersey’s foothold in this new industry, said Kirk Meche, president and CEO of Gulf Island Fabrication Inc., Houma, La., who is working with Fishermen’s Energy to design turbine foundations. “The project can become a model for combining the Gulf Coast’s offshore fabrication experience with New Jersey’s labor, contractors and port infrastructure.”

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About the author

Kirk Moore

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been a field editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for almost 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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