Vineyard Wind LLC said Tuesday that it has picked General Electric to provide the turbines for what would be the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the United States, a major step forward for the long-delayed project.
The wind farm developer, a joint venture owned by Avangrid and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, had originally planned to install turbines from the manufacturer MHI Vestas in waters about 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.
But the federal permitting delays that have beset the $3 billion project and the expiration of a contract with MHI Vestas prompted Vineyard Wind to reimagine the layout of the wind farm. Instead of 84 towers, Vineyard Wind’s first project will consist of 62 of Boston-based GE’s Haliade-X towers, the most powerful offshore-wind turbines on the market.
Vineyard Wind’s chief executive, Lars Pedersen, portrayed the switch as good news, though it will further stretch out the already-protracted permitting process. The company doesn’t expect the delay to last more than a few months, Pedersen said. He still plans to start construction in the second half of 2021 and to start commercial operation by the end of 2023.
“The key piece of the puzzle, we have that in our hand,” Pedersen said. “We can start building the rest of the puzzle. We can show we’re confident that this is moving forward, and we can build a great project.”
Pedersen said that because the timing is not changing dramatically, the shift to a new manufacturer shouldn’t affect the utility contracts or federal tax credits that will be crucial for financing.
The preferred-supplier contract should provide a public relations boost in the industry for GE as it seeks to build a formidable offshore wind business around the Haliade-X, a next-generation turbine that can generate up to 13 megawatts of power with blades that reach more than 800 feet above the water. Vineyard Wind, which has offices in Boston and New Bedford, also considered other major wind turbine manufacturers, including Siemens Gamesa and former business partner MHI Vestas.
“To be selected as the preferred supplier is an important sign of confidence for our proven technology and for all our employees around the world,” John Lavelle, GE’s top offshore wind executive, said in a statement.
GE’s renewables business is based in Europe. The turbines will be manufactured there and shipped by freighter to New Bedford for final onshore assembly before being carried out to the ocean by barge.
Vineyard Wind hopes to generate 800 megawatts at the wind farm when it’s complete, or enough power to supply more than 400,000 homes. The electricity has already been purchased through contracts with Eversource, National Grid, and Unitil, via an auction overseen by the Baker administration and put in motion by a clean-energy law that the Legislature passed in 2016.
At the time, Massachusetts was considered a leader in launching the offshore wind industry in this country, but several other East Coast states have since held bidding contests, as well. Only two offshore wind farms have been built in the United States, and they are small: five turbines off Block Island and two turbines near the Virginia coast. In Massachusetts, another 800-megawatt wind farm, proposed by the Mayflower Wind venture, is next in line.
Vineyard Wind was about to get a key federal permit in 2019 when Interior Secretary David Bernhardt put the review on hold so a thorough examination could be conducted of the cumulative impacts of the many potential wind farms off the East Coast. That decision blindsided Vineyard Wind and delayed the project by about two years. Bernhardt said he was responding to concerns raised by the commercial fishing industry. But wind industry supporters worried the delay was political; Bernhardt’s boss, President Trump, has expressed disdain for offshore wind power.
“It’s been a tough time for us,” Pedersen said. “It was very unexpected. . . . We had to completely redesign our project.”
The delays continued in November, when Vineyard Wind learned it would not get its final sign-off until mid-January, a month later than the most recent expectation.
Now, that process will take even longer. Vineyard Wind plans to temporarily withdraw its construction and operations plan from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to incorporate the Haliade-X in the project design.
“As soon as we have completed that review, we will resubmit,” Pedersen said. “We will ask BOEM and other federal agencies to restart from where they left off.”