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Vineyard Wind 1 Project Under Way in Waters Off Massachusetts Could Power Up by October

Mon August 07, 2023 - Northeast Edition
Cape Cod Times & Politico

Out past the state’s famed islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, the Atlantic Ocean rises and falls around a massive, bright yellow structure that soon will serve as the foundation for a turbine tower that will spin wind into power. (Avangrid photo)
Out past the state’s famed islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, the Atlantic Ocean rises and falls around a massive, bright yellow structure that soon will serve as the foundation for a turbine tower that will spin wind into power. (Avangrid photo)

America's first major offshore wind farm is coming into focus on waters off Massachusetts.

Out past the state's famed islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, the Atlantic Ocean rises and falls around a massive, bright yellow structure that soon will serve as the foundation for a turbine tower that will spin wind into power.

The length of a football field, the electric substation looms three stories above the water. A total of six yellow T-shaped poles will be built one nautical mile from each other to support the Vineyard Wind 1 offshore wind farm, a joint project of Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners.

The endeavor's first turbines are scheduled to be installed in the second week of August.

On the morning of Aug. 2, two massive vessels worked to complete installing a transmission cable that will bring power to the mainland as several state legislators and their staff members, as well as local officials, environmental activists, Avangrid employees, members of the media, and others took a day-long visit out to the site south of Martha's Vineyard.

The Environmental League of Massachusetts sponsored the boat excursion.

Among those standing on the upper deck of the Captain John & Son II, a charter boat, was Massachusetts Rep. Jeffrey Roy, D-Franklin, who leaned on the railing, pulled off his sunglasses, and squinted as the cylindrical constructions came into view.

"It's amazing to see this here," Roy told the Cape Cod Times as he spotted a cable-laying ship working alongside the structure. "This power is going to provide the energy independence that we have long wanted and needed for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. And it's also going to provide the robust, clean energy that we need to make the transition to fossil free by 2050."

Wind Farm Could Be Producing Power in October

The foundational structures the group viewed are part of what will eventually be 62 wind turbines planned for the 806-megawatt Vineyard Wind 1 enterprise — the first commercial-scale offshore wind-power project in the nation — located about 23 nautical miles south of Martha's Vineyard.

The work is a major step for Massachusetts and the Biden administration, both of which are relying on offshore wind to meet their climate goals. When it is completed next year, Vineyard Wind will generate enough electricity to power 400,000 homes while reducing the amount of carbon emissions from 320,000 cars a year, reported Politico, an online political news site based near Washington, D.C.

Saygin "Sy" Oytan, Avangrid's chief operating officer for offshore wind, told the Cape Cod Times that the project's turbine blades, and tower parts are already in New Bedford, and will soon start getting loaded onto barges and transported offshore for installation. The first components will be erected before summer's end and will begin generating power as soon as October.

"Final commercial operation will be mid-2024," he said.

The project carries a price tag of $4 billion.

For Roy, co-chair of the state Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, seeing the beginnings of the wind farm, including the remotely operated offshore substation that will relay wind-generated power to the mainland via submarine cables, is the realization of a decade of work.

It also is the start of a project to address worrisome climate change as well as building energy independence and developing new jobs.

"When I look at this, I think of the Hoover Dam that was built back in the 1930s to power the western states," Roy told members of the media on the tour. "This is our generation's Hoover Dam, right here off Massachusetts."

Reaching this point has been an American odyssey. A plan to install 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound fell apart in 2017 after almost two decades of legal battles.

It has since been replaced by a new wave of projects. President Joe Biden promised to permit 16 offshore wind farms before the end of his first term next year, with Vineyard Wind being the first, noted Politico. The planned 62 turbines near Martha's Vineyard are a substantial increase over the seven total turbines that were previously installed in U.S. waters.

Construction on the enterprise began in 2021 with the laying of a 35-mi. transmission cable. When foundation installations began this summer, thick fog halted the work several times because it impeded mandated lookouts for endangered whales and raised safety issues for construction workers.

For the most part, though, Oytan said, "Construction and installation operations have been very smooth," noting the project had recorded 2 million work hours without any injuries.

'A Fight to Save the Planet'

Until the Vineyard Wind 1 project started, the effort to develop a "robust, clean energy source" in waters off Massachusetts had been an idea existing on paper since it was first discussed in the early 2000s.

"It's the first time that the abstract has become real," said state Sen. Michael Barrett, D-Lexington, co-chair of the utilities and energy committee with Roy.

"This is what Massachusetts needs, and what the climate needs," Roy added, not to mention being "a big deal" for the nation and "a testament to what visionary thinking can do."

Barrett agreed, saying it is an important endeavor in the ongoing "fight to save the planet."

Creating clean wind energy, he said, "is literally the work of our lifetimes."

State Rep. Kip Diggs, D-Barnstable, said he, too, was impressed to see the Vineyard Wind site taking shape.

Though he recognized there are issues to work through with other Avangrid wind projects presently in early permitting stages, Diggs called the Vineyard Wind project an example of how offshore wind can be a benefit, combating the climate problem, providing jobs, and bringing new revenue to Barnstable as a host community to help pay for needed infrastructure, like sewers.

More Wind Projects Planned for Cape Waters

Avangrid has two other projects proposed in the waters south of Martha's Vineyard: An 804-MW Park City Wind project associated with Rhode Island, to include a proposed landing at Craigville Beach in Barnstable, Mass., and the company's 1,232-MW Commonwealth Wind project eyed for landing at Barnstable's Dowses Beach.

Because of unforeseen cost increases, the company elected to end its previous procurement contract for Commonwealth Wind in favor of re-bidding the project under new terms, though permitting is continuing. Avangrid also is hoping to work with Rhode Island on updated terms for the Park City project.

Roy told the Cape Cod news source that the state has "a very large procurement coming up in January with up to an additional 3,600 megawatts" at stake.

Roy acknowledged concerns about the power grid, which he said, "needs improvement." For that reason, the Massachusetts Legislature has formed the Transmission Planning Working Group and the Grid Modernization Advisory Council "to take the steps necessary to modernize our grid," he explained.

Wind Project's Proponents Excited About Its Potential

The mood aboard the charter vessel giving the tour around the Vineyard Wind construction site was perhaps best captured by Massachusetts Rep. Patricia Haddad, an influential Democrat on Beacon Hill who was instrumental in the passage of legislation in 2016 that paved the way for the important project.

She is from a community in the southeastern part of the state that was once home to two coal plants and has long argued offshore wind could replace coal.

Seeing Vineyard Wind come to fruition validates that argument after years of delays and challenges, explained Haddad, who noted that she is prone to seasickness but was not going to let it stop her from catching a glimpse of the construction.

"We all dreamed about it, but to actually see it in the water is amazing," she told Politico.

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