Library filed under Offshore Wind from Massachusetts
In 2009, The Providence Journal wrote about the race to build the first offshore wind farm in the United States, with projects off Block Island and Cape Cod at the front of the pack. Five years later, the race continues.
The company seeking to build a wind farm in Nantucket Sound announced Thursday that it has contracted with Prysmian Cables and Systems USA to supply the transmission cables for the offshore project.
Cape Wind has long held out the promise that it would become the nation’s first offshore wind farm, using 130 large turbines to provide clean, renewable energy for 75 percent of customers on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. But in a decade-long drama, it has been fiercely challenged: by wealthy homeowners who say it would ruin their views; by businesses that fear substantial rate increases; and by fishermen who say it would interfere with their catches.
The Jones Act, passed to protect maritime merchants, requires vessels transporting cargo or equipment between two U.S. points to be American flagged and manufactured. Because the offshore wind industry has not yet taken off in the states, the only vessels capable of helping it along are manufactured in Europe.
Just days before an important deadline to qualify for crucial federal tax credits, Cape Wind has signed a deal with Siemens to build the project's turbines and an electric service platform to convert its power for transmission.
A $200 million investment -- the only one of a specific dollar amount Cape Wind has announced -- is conditioned on whether developers can fully finance the rest of the project by year's end. With less than two months until the deadline, Cape Wind isn't publicly discussing financing efforts.
It wasn't a large plume of smoke. More like a puff. It was white, with a dim flash of red at the beginning. Roughly 30 seconds after the smoke dissipated, a small fountain of water bubbled up to the surface. It was the first of what will be 50 blasts in the bedrock to make way for large boats carrying turbine components to the under-construction South Terminal. Bill White is director of offshore wind for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, which owns South Terminal.
Parker hopes that Cape Wind can't find lenders to help pay the more than $2 billion it will take to build 130 wind turbines, each one rising more than 400 feet out of Nantucket Sound. Cape Wind at one point said they would have no problem borrowing money to build the wind farm if the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities approved generous agreements with power companies.
Cape Wind, based in Boston, has spent more than a decade pursuing the $2.6 billion project in Nantucket Sound, fighting opposition from environmental groups, local fishermen and members of the Kennedy family. It must begin construction by Dec. 31 to earn the federal investment tax credit.
Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for EMI, tells me the firm didn't bid on the offshore leases because its team is completely focused on securing financing for Cape Wind by the end of 2013. The company has made some progress this year in that regard, but it still has a ways to go for a project that will likely exceed $2 billion in cost. Rodgers says EMI will strongly consider other offshore wind areas that could be the subject of future lease auctions.
The offshore wind developer has said publicly it will use New Bedford's South Terminal to stage its materials and equipment provided the port facility is completed within its 19-month timetable. In order to use the new facility, Cape Wind would need to revise its construction plan with the federal Bureau of Offshore Energy Management, something it has not yet done.
A flood of unexpectedly cheap natural gas could put a damper on offshore winds' fresh enthusiasm. Electric utilities may find it cheaper and easier to enjoy cheap gas while they can and put off more costly investments in alternatives, at least in the near term. "There's some truth that the decline in gas prices has changed people's perception about the urgency of renewables."
Officials have been studying the feasibility of constructing four or five offshore wind turbines, enough to power the entire town under ideal wind conditions. But the project has been on hold for several years, and a recent report suggests it may be too expensive and generate too little revenue to make it worthwhile.
Rodgers said Cape Wind has periodically met with other ports as the project has progressed, and he would not go into detail about the meeting. But he said among the topics they discussed was whether Quonset would be able to take on at least some of the work Cape Wind planned to do in New Bedford.