Offshore Wind Power Moves Forward In Massachusetts
This segment is part of The State of Science, a series featuring science stories from public radio stations across the United States. This story was reported by Miriam Wasser on WBUR.
Back in 2016, the state of Massachusetts pledged to begin buying wind energy from local sources within the decade. The next year, a company called Vineyard Wind filed paperwork proposing an offshore wind farm that would involve 62 turbines situated about 12 miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. The project has been stalled in regulatory review and limbo ever since. Now, there are signs that the project may finally be moving forward.
Environmental journalist Miriam Wassser of WBUR updates Ira on the project, including how it may contribute to Biden administration plans to go all-in on wind power.
Miriam Wasser is a reporter for WBUR’s environmental vertical, EarthWhile in Boston, Massachusetts.
IRA FLATOW: This is Science Friday. I am Ira Flatow. Now it’s time to check in on the state of science.
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Local science stories of national significance. If your goal is to increase your reliance on renewable energy, a windy out of the way place seems ideal. How about the coastline of New England? Strong winds, proximity to the population all sounds good. For years though, a project called Cape Wind never had the wind at its back with powerful opponents saying it would damage iconic coastal views. But now a different wind project positioned further offshore is close to getting the green light from federal regulators.
Joining me now to talk about the Vineyard Wind Project and what happens now is Miriam Wasser, a reporter for WBUR’s environment team. Welcome to Science Friday.
MIRIAM WASSER: Hi Ira. Thanks for having me.
IRA FLATOW: Nice to have you. OK, so this is a major offshore wind farm. I know the company bills it as the first utility scale offshore wind energy project.
MIRIAM WASSER: Correct, the Vineyard Wind Project which will be located about 12 miles off of Martha’s Vineyard is going to have 62 turbines. And it will provide about 800 megawatts of power, which is enough to provide electricity for like 400,000 homes in the state every year.
There are seven wind turbines off the Atlantic coast right now. Five of them are off the coast of Rhode Island. That’s the Block Island Project, which started producing some power in late 2016. But it’s pretty small. It produces about 30 megawatts of power. So compare that to a vineyard wind 800 megawatts. And then there are two research turbines off the coast of Virginia. But they don’t feed power into the grid.
IRA FLATOW: Years ago we talked a lot about a similar project called Cape Wind that was bogged down in regulatory review for years. What was it about this project that allowed it to go much further than the Cape Wind Project?
MIRIAM WASSER: I think there’s two things. The first is just the fact that Cape wind was going to be about– I think it was like four and a half miles off the coast of Cape Cod. You would definitely see it from the land. And it just got a ton of pushback from local residents and actually some pretty prominent elected officials in Massachusetts, because people were worried that it was going to ruin their ocean view scape. And you don’t have that with Vineyard Wind. It’s farther off the coast. You’ll see it a little bit from Martha’s Vineyard, but again finked and in the distance.
Factor two I think is just the context. And that context being climate change. I think a decade later more people realize just how dire this situation is and that we need to rely more on renewable energy and carbon free sources of power and we don’t really have time to wait.
IRA FLATOW: This project sort of checks off many boxes in the Biden Building Plan. Not only just building wind turbines and green energy, but creating thousands of jobs along the way.
MIRIAM WASSER: Yeah there’s going to be hundreds of construction jobs, just like literally putting these things together in the water. Because they’re so big that they all have to be constructed offshore. Each turbine blade is about the size of a football field.
IRA FLATOW: Pretty big.
MIRIAM WASSER: These are ginormous. Yeah, so hundreds of construction jobs and then jobs for people who need to lay underground cables and people who need to build the ships that we need to manufacture all this stuff, cable manufacturing, steel manufacturing, concrete manufacturing, there’s just, there’s a lot. Like this could really revitalize a lot of coastal places up and down the Atlantic coast.
IRA FLATOW: Now we haven’t got the final ruling yet, the final green light from the feds. But if the ruling is favorable, which seems likely, Vineyard Wind could start offshore construction next year and deliver power by when?
MIRIAM WASSER: Late 2023 is their plan.
IRA FLATOW: Wow, that’s pretty that’s pretty fast.
MIRIAM WASSER: Yeah it’s huge. And there are a lot of other projects right in the pipeline behind them. And the Biden Administration has pledged to get 30 gigawatts of offshore wind in the next couple of decades. And vineyard wind is 800 megawatts and there are 1,000 megawatts in a gigawatt, so you can extrapolate out just how big this is going to be.
IRA FLATOW: Wow Thank you Miriam. We’ll be watching.
MIRIAM WASSER: Thank you.
IRA FLATOW: Miriam Wasser, a reporter for WBUR’s environment team.
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