The first clean wind power generated by the Vineyard Wind 1 project is expected to flow onto New England’s regional electric grid by mid-October and the first-in-the-nation offshore wind project should be fully operational by this time next year, project officials said Wednesday during a boat tour of the construction.
Project developers have maintained for years that the $4 billion project they are building about 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard would start to generate cleaner energy by the end of 2023, but they told a group of state lawmakers, clean energy advocates, organized labor representatives and others Wednesday that the target is now mid-October, just over two months from now.
At first, the project will send power generated by a string of six turbines onto the grid, totaling about 78 megawatts, with plans to ramp output up to between 200 and 300 MW by the end of the year and full commercial operations of 806 MW expected by mid-2024, according to Sy Oytan, Avangrid’s chief operating officer for offshore wind.
Vineyard Wind, a joint venture between Avangrid and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, began offshore construction activities in June by setting the foundations for the 62 turbines that will make up the 806-megawatt project that has been years in the making.
On Wednesday, about 15 representatives and two senators were among those who got to see the progress of that construction from aboard the Captain John and Son II, which was chartered for the tour by Avangrid, the Environmental League of Massachusetts and the New England for Offshore Wind Coalition.
When they are fully assembled, each of Vineyard Wind 1′s 62 turbines will stretch about 850 feet above the Atlantic Ocean — taller than any building in New England. There was not much to see in the way of towers or turbines Wednesday — those on the boat tour saw a series of foundations with “transition pieces” sticking up out of the water, each arranged one nautical mile away from others in a grid pattern.
More visually interesting was the offshore substation that Oytan said is the first to be installed in the United States. Each turbine will eventually connect into the substation, which accounts for about $900 million of the $4 billion project cost. Oytan said the facility will take power in at 66 kilovolts from each turbine and step up the voltage to 220 kV before sending it over an export cable that will connect to the regional power grid in Barnstable.
“One of the takeaways for me is that determination and follow-through is the name of the game. This fight to save the planet and create clean wind is literally the work of our lifetime. But how wonderful it is to realize that you can actually win. That’s what we’re seeing today,” state Senator Michael Barrett, who co-chairs the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, said. “All you hear about, and understandably, is how tough the climate problem is. And of course it’s every bit as tough as people say. Today, we’re gaining ground, we’re pushing back we’re making genuine progress.”
Once it is fully operational, Vineyard Wind 1 is projected to generate cleaner electricity for more than 400,000 homes and businesses in Massachusetts, produce at least 3,600 jobs, reduce costs for Massachusetts ratepayers by an estimated $1.4 billion over 20 years, and eliminate 1.68 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.
For state Representative Jeff Roy of Franklin, who handles offshore wind policy for the House as co-chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, it was the gargantuan effort in the 1920s to marshal government and industry to power the western states by building the Hoover Dam that came to mind.
“When I look out at what we saw today … we’re looking at our generation’s Hoover Dam, right here off the coast of Massachusetts,” Roy said. “This power is going to provide the energy independence that we have long wanted and needed for the commonwealth of Massachusetts, and it’s also going to provide the robust clean energy source that we need to make the transition to fossil fuel-free by 2050.”
Next week, Oytan said, workers will begin to install the towers that soar hundreds of feet skyward from the foundations, followed by installation of the energy generation components and lastly installation of the three 351-foot blades that will catch the wind and turn the turbine.
As the first utility-scale offshore wind project in the United States, Vineyard Wind 1 is at the front edge of a growing new industry that Massachusetts policymakers hope will be an economic engine in the Bay State — not to mention a key contributor to decarbonization efforts.
Vineyard Wind 1 was the first offshore wind project selected by Massachusetts utility companies with input from the Baker administration to fulfill part of a 2016 clean energy law, and is likely to be the only Massachusetts offshore wind project to become a reality until at least 2028 as subsequent projects have run into economic headwinds that developers say threaten their ability to finance their projects.
Both projects, including the Commonwealth Wind project that Avangrid is also behind, are seeking to terminate contracts they already agreed to with plans to bid the same projects at higher prices in the state’s next round of offshore wind procurement next year.
That Vineyard Wind 1 would be constructed at all has not always been a sure thing either. Project developers originally planned to begin on-shore construction work in 2019, put the first turbine into the seabed in 2021 and begin generating electricity in 2022. But the Trump administration held up a key permit in the summer of 2019 when it decided to undertake a broad study of the potential impacts of offshore wind projects planned up and down the East Coast. Vineyard Wind announced on Dec. 1 of that year that it was pulling its project out of the federal review pipeline. The Trump administration declared the federal review of the project “terminated.”
But Vineyard Wind’s decision to yank its plan from review also meant the project’s ultimate fate would not be decided under Trump, and less than a month into Joe Biden’s presidency, in February 2021, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced that it was resuming the federal review of the project. By May, construction was approved.