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As offshore wind falters, Mass. makes its move to boost giant wind farm in Maine

The state will partner with its northern neighbor on a huge wind farm in Aroostook County, with enough energy to power 180,000 homes here.

Wind turbines atop Saddleback Mountain in Maine.Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

After working for years to spark a wind industry in the waters off New England’s southern coast, Massachusetts officials are now putting their juice behind a massive onshore wind farm in far northern Maine.

The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources on Friday decided to move ahead alongside energy officials in Maine in setting up contracts that would finance a wind farm with roughly 170 giant towers in Aroostook County, by the Canadian border. The Massachusetts agency made its ruling right before a Dec. 31 deadline, with Governor Charlie Baker about to leave office. The agency said the wind-farm project will help Massachusetts meet its clean energy goals while improving the regional electricity grid’s reliability in the winter.


The ruling sets up Massachusetts ratepayers to procure 400 megawatts of electricity, or 40 percent of the Maine wind farm’s power, enough for an estimated 180,000 homes here. The entire project, known as King Pine, would generate 1,000 megawatts.

The issue now heads back to the Maine Public Utilities Commission. The commission in October essentially said another state should help with some of the load, when it gave an initial approval to Boston-based Longroad Energy to build King Pine and picked developer LS Power to connect Aroostook County to New England’s main grid with a 100-plus-mile transmission line. Maine Senate President Troy Jackson said he expects the Maine utilities commission, which predicts the project would bring substantial savings to ratepayers, will finalize the deal now that Massachusetts is on board.

“The fact they actually did it before the 31st and ... said they would take up to 40 percent makes me very happy,” Jackson said. “I think everything should be a go for the Maine PUC to greenlight the project.”

The decision comes at a time when the offshore wind industry is struggling with rising interest rates, supply chain issues, and unexpected cost increases.


Avangrid says it can no longer finance its Commonwealth Wind project south of Martha’s Vineyard under the terms in the contracts the company signed with Massachusetts utilities, raising questions about that project’s future. Similar questions are being raised about nearby Mayflower Wind. Only one of three offshore wind farms to be financed with Massachusetts contracts — Vineyard Wind, an Avangrid joint venture — has begun construction, following years of planning and permitting.

In Maine, with its deeper coastal waters, offshore towers are harder to build, so lawmakers there are focusing more on onshore wind for now. The bidding process that Longroad won was set in motion by a 2021 law championed by Jackson, who hails from Aroostook County and sees this as a potential economic boon for the vast rural county.

“In the long run, it’s going to be great for both states,” said Representative Jeff Roy, House chair of the Massachusetts Legislature’s energy committee.

Massachusetts’ role in this process quietly took shape last summer. Several bidders had hired lobbyists to make their case on Beacon Hill, arguing that Massachusetts’ buying power would make a big Maine project more likely to succeed. Among those lobbyists: Brian Dempsey, who used to lead the powerful House Ways and Means Committee when he was a state rep, and now represents Longroad.

The Massachusetts State House in Boston on July 16, 2020. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

As a result, the wide-ranging climate bill that Baker signed in August included a provision that gave the state energy office the authority to join another New England state for a clean-energy procurement, if a decision was made by Dec. 31.


“It’s a step in the right direction for our long-term goal to have clean, reliable energy that I think will reduce costs for consumers in Massachusetts and lead to a clean energy future,” said state Senator Barry Finegold, who proposed the legislation as an amendment to the broader climate bill. “We have to find alternatives to natural gas power plants, as our electricity demand is increasing and we are pushing people to go into electric vehicles.”

Longroad chief executive Paul Gaynor said he doesn’t expect to be tripped up by the issues that plague Commonwealth Wind. Permitting could take up to three years for the $2 billion King Pine project, which would be built primarily on land owned by Irving, a Canadian forestry conglomerate. Construction could be done by the end of 2027.

“We feel confident in our track record and our ability to deliver the project,” Gaynor said. “We’re excited to be working on a cost-effective and competitive project for the ratepayers of Maine and Massachusetts.”

For its part, LS Power issued a brief statement saying it is looking forward to working closely with Maine and Massachusetts officials to complete the project over the next five years.

If Maine’s public utilities commission moves ahead, the state’s two primary electric utilities, Versant Power and Avangrid subsidiary Central Maine Power, would buy 60 percent of King Pine’s electricity on behalf of their Maine customers. Eversource, National Grid, and Unitil would procure the rest for Massachusetts customers.


A National Grid spokesman said the utility is reviewing the decision to ensure it will benefit customers. And an Eversource spokeswoman said all three utilities are requesting additional information before the contracts can be negotiated. The utilities, she said, want to ensure a reliable electric supply while helping the state meet its clean energy goals.

Those goals are ambitious: Massachusetts law requires the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to be cut in half from a baseline of 1990 levels by a 2030 deadline.

Going green hasn’t been easy. Vineyard Wind was delayed by federal bureaucracy during the Trump administration. The other two Massachusetts offshore wind farms face potential cost issues. And the fate of a giant power line proposed for western Maine to bring power from Hydro-Quebec’s dams in Canada to Massachusetts remains up in the air amid litigation, after the project was voted down in a statewide referendum.

As far as Senator Michael Barrett is concerned, Massachusetts needs it all.

“We do need everything,” said Barrett, who is the Senate chair of the Legislature’s energy committee. “We need the offshore wind. We need 400 megawatts of onshore wind from Aroostook County. And we need Hydro-Quebec, which may come to us yet.”

Jon Chesto can be reached at Follow him @jonchesto.