When the US Department of the Interior last week awarded a Providence-based firm the right to develop wind-power projects in 257 square miles of federal waters between Martha’s Vineyard and Block Island, the prospect of additional renewable energy wasn’t the only benefit for New England. The plans by Deepwater Wind, which won the US government’s first lease competition for wind energy development rights offshore, to plunge up to 200 turbines into the ocean beginning in 2017 should also establish southern New England as a hub for wind energy equipment and services. Offshore wind energy, in short, isn’t just an environmental boon; it promises to be an economic one as well.
With the long-delayed Cape Wind project moving ahead with its own plans to install 130 turbines in shallower state waters in Nantucket Sound, the region is already slated to add hundreds of long-term jobs — in building underwater foundations, laying cables, and ferrying construction equipment and workers back and forth to wind farms. But Deepwater Wind’s project is even more ambitious. CEO Jeff Grybowski said in a telephone interview that his project is so large, with each turbine blade nearly 250 feet long, that it will likely require more than one staging area. Components will roll out of both Quonset Point, R.I., and the new Massachusetts wind-turbine port being constructed in New Bedford.
Fortunately, Deepwater Wind is unlikely to provoke the kind of local opposition that has served to delay Cape Wind. Placing skyscraper-high turbines in waters that cannot be seen from land should erase much of the political opposition to offshore wind power, even as it increases the logistical obstacles. But it’s well past time for the United States to begin wrestling with the challenges of offshore wind power. Europe is closing in on the 2,000-offshore-turbine mark, while the United States has yet to develop any offshore wind power. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell appropriately called Deepwater Wind’s lease a “major milestone for our nation.”
Indeed, a much vaster wind energy area south of Martha’s Vineyard has yet to be auctioned off. That area should only become more attractive as local firms gain experience and as a nearby supply chain develops. It’s good news for New England that the United States is finally exploring the potential of offshore wind power.