Three offshore wind energy developers bid Wednesday on contracts to sell electricity to Massachusetts power companies, taking the next big step in a process that could set turbines spinning south of Martha’s Vineyard within the next five years.
“It’s in the hands of the utilities,” Vineyard Wind Chief Development Officer Erich Stephens said.
By April, Vineyard Wind, Bay State Wind and Revolution Wind will hear whether their bids have been selected for negotiation by the handful of electric distribution companies that will buy the wind energy. By the end of July, the utilities and offshore wind energy companies are expected to finalize long-term contracts and hand them over to the state Department of Public Utilities for review and approval.
Depending on the wind energy company, construction of anywhere from 50 to 100 turbines in federally leased, submerged areas could begin within two to five years. In addition to securing contracts to sell their energy, the companies face federal and state permitting requirements, including through the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
“The critical path is the federal permit,” said Bay State Wind representative Michael Ausere, who is also vice president of business development for Eversource, which distributes electricity on Cape Cod and the Vineyard and is one of the utilities that would buy power from the wind farms. “This will be the first large-scale offshore wind farm.”
All three projects would be located 15 to 25 miles off the coast.
The country’s first offshore wind farm is in state waters off Block Island, Rhode Island, where a five-turbine, 30-megawatt project began operation a year ago. In the Block Island project, though, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management regulatory reach only covered a transmission cable right of way through federal waters.
The hurdles for wind farm projects in federal waters south of the Vineyard are quite a bit higher.
“As soon as we get the permits, we’ll start construction,” Ausere said.
All three companies declined to comment on pricing information in their bids, which were not immediately available to the public. But they each promised job creation, which was a key factor in the 2016 energy legislation signed by Gov. Charlie Baker, which led to the upcoming purchase of up to 800 megawatts of offshore wind energy. A total of 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind energy must be purchased by the electric distribution companies no later than 2027, under the law.
Officials with Revolution Wind, which submitted bids for 200- and 400-megawatt projects, said they expect to create about 2,000 direct and indirect jobs in and around New Bedford.
Bay State Wind, with bids for 400- and 800-megawatt projects, expects to create 1,200 new jobs for construction, and 10,800 direct and indirect jobs over the life of the project.
Likewise, Vineyard Wind, which also submitted bids for 400- and 800-megawatt projects, would create 2,500 full-time equivalent jobs over the life of the project.
Apart from job-seekers, homeowners could expect that a 400-megawatt offshore wind turbine project would generate power equivalent to what more than 200,000 homes use in a year on average, said Meaghan Wims, spokeswoman for Revolution Wind.
One area in which the three companies differ dramatically is how they propose to handle the vagaries of consumer demand for electricity and the unpredictability of wind speeds.
Revolution Wind is a partnership of companies that includes a hydroelectric and energy storage company, with a facility in Northfield, which will store wind energy when demand is at its lowest and deliver it to consumers when they need it.
“We can now deliver that power even when the wind is not blowing,” said Jeffrey Grybowski, CEO of Deepwater Wind, a partner in Revolution Wind. Deepwater Wind developed the Block Island wind farm.
Bay State Wind will construct a 55-megawatt battery storage system for peak hours near where the project’s transmission cable makes landfall, at the old Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset. The company intends to use its expertise in placement and operation of turbines to smooth out variations in demand and supply, Ausere said.
Vineyard Wind will avoid a one-source method of handling peaks and lulls in demand and supply, based on input from islanders, Stephens said. The company will invest at least $1 million in a fund for communities on the Cape and Islands to have a decentralized system of batteries, extended in life with solar panels, that can be locally controlled, he said.
“What we heard from them was that they are concerned about this issue of being out on an island if a big storm came, and they are without power,” Stephens said.
As planned, towns would be able to identify locations such as emergency shelters and public safety buildings as priority uses for deploying the battery storage, he said.
The power in the batteries would be charged during normal demand situations and then discharged in emergencies. Towns could realize savings by avoiding high use during peak demand, and those savings could replenish the fund, Stephens said.
“We think it’s the right way to go,” he said.