Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Can Offshore Wind Revive America's Ports?  New Bedford Hopes So

New Bedford is located near the offshore areas leased for wind production in Massachusetts. (Credit: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management) Click to Enlarge.
States up and down the Atlantic coast are rushing to become the capital of America's burgeoning offshore wind industry, hoping the massive turbines will breathe new life into ports mired by a shrinking fishing industry and a flagging industrial base.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) wants to bring 2,400 megawatts of wind power online by 2030.

But few places are betting on offshore wind quite like New Bedford.

'Diversification play'
This blue-collar city of roughly 95,000 people on the south coast of Massachusetts is the closest commercial port to one of the best offshore wind resources in North America, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.  And where offshore wind development has struggled in the past, the ocean is now open for business.  Three companies have secured federal leases for projects 14 miles south of Martha's Vineyard.

New Bedford officials have wasted no time positioning their city as the port of choice for the emerging industry.  Massachusetts has invested $113 million in the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal, a 26-acre parcel designed to withstand the heavy loads needed to accommodate large wind turbines.

A consortium of local colleges has created a curriculum to prepare students for the day that specialized watercraft is needed to ferry technicians out to the hulking turbines.  And state and local officials are busy hosting workshops intended to create an onshore supply chain to serve the growing industry.
"This is the largest commercial fishing port in the United States.  Our people know what they're doing out in the mid-Atlantic.  We have all those things going for us," said New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell.

"For us, the offshore wind industry represents a strong diversification play," he added.  "This is an industry that will be around for the foreseeable future.  It will be the source of a variety of types of jobs.  And we want to play up our attributes and make the most of the opportunity.  It isn't an end-all, be-all.  It's more about diversifying our industrial base."

Europe's decaying fishing ports offer a tantalizing example of what New Bedford could be. Ports along the United Kingdom's eastern coast have witnessed £400 million ($512 million) in investment related to wind development since 2011, according to a 2016 report commissioned by the Offshore Wind Industry Council. 
State and city officials are similarly optimistic that this time is different.  Unlike Cape Wind, which would have been visible from the shore, developments proposed today are at least 14 miles south of Martha's Vineyard, where they cannot be seen by the naked eye.

The federal leasing process off the coast of Massachusetts was designed to address the concerns of fishermen, siting turbines outside prime fishing grounds, shipping channels, and migratory paths.

Today's turbines are also bigger, capable of producing 6 to 8 MW of power.  That is up from the 3.6-MW turbines proposed by Cape Wind.

Costs are falling as a result.  A University of Delaware study of Massachusetts' wind proposals predicted that costs could fall from 16.2 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2023 to 10.8 cents per kWh in 2029, when accounting for transmission.  Cape Wind, by contrast, projected costs of 24 cents per kWh.

New law requires wind
But by far the biggest change is the legislation passed in Massachusetts last year.  It requires utilities to purchase 1,600 MW of offshore wind, enough to power a quarter of Massachusetts homes.  The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center estimates that the turbines will reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2.4 million tons.

Just as importantly, the law effectively creates a market for offshore wind at a time when many of the aging coal, oil, and nuclear units that underpinned New England's electric grid are retiring.

Read more at Can Offshore Wind Revive America's Ports?  This Town Hopes So

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