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Chesto Means Business | Jon Chesto

Offshore wind industry could come to Gulf of Maine

Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire has asked for a task force that would study offshore leasing proposals.
Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire has asked for a task force that would study offshore leasing proposals.(John Blanding/ Globe Staff/File 2017)

The offshore wind gold rush has largely blown past the Gulf of Maine.

Not anymore.

German utility EnBW just joined a lobbying and trade group, Clean Energy New Hampshire. Normally, such a minor corporate move goes unremarked. But this one represents an important milestone: EnBW becomes the first offshore wind developer to publicly show an interest in developing waters near the New Hampshire coastline.

Bill White, EnBW’s North American managing director, says his company is also eyeing the wind potential in waters off Maine and northern Massachusetts. EnBW competed in the federal government’s December auction for offshore wind leases south of Martha’s Vineyard, but was outbid.

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The fierceness of that auction surprised just about everyone involved. That is where the action has been: the waters south of New England’s coast. Vineyard Wind, a developer with European ties, had already won a big power agreement to supply Massachusetts utilities, and hopes to start construction within a year. Danish rival Orsted will supply electricity to Rhode Island and Connecticut customers. Meanwhile, New York and New Jersey are racing each other to get wind farms built south of Long Island.

The ocean waves north of Boston, however, remain untouched by the frenzy. The Gulf of Maine generally is considered too deep for traditional wind farms that rely on metal poles drilled into the seabed. Instead, floating turbines are probably necessary. White says the floating technology is starting to show promise, as evidenced by a small but successful project off the Scotland coast known as Hywind.

Fortunately for the industry, the political winds are shifting, too. In Maine, Janet Mills, a big believer in renewable power, replaced Paul LePage, an antagonist to environmentalists, as governor. And in New Hampshire, Governor Chris Sununu appears to have found religion. He sent a letter to the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in January, asking for a task force that would study offshore leasing proposals.

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That’s an important step toward prompting BOEM to carve up areas of the Gulf of Maine for wind farms, as the agency did off Martha’s Vineyard. Construction is years away. EnBW would need to win two contests: an offshore leasing rights auction, and a state-sponsored procurement for clean energy.

White says conversations between his company and the Sununu administration have already begun.

By hiring White in the fall, EnBW landed one of the foremost authorities on offshore wind in the United States. He previously ran the offshore wind efforts at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, and oversaw the construction of its wind turbine terminal in New Bedford. That project got scant use when it first opened, but the Vineyard Wind project should keep it busy soon.

It’s possible, White says, a similar hub of industrial activity could take shape in Portsmouth, N.H. White plans to open an office in Boston’s Seaport this spring and another one in Jersey City, N.J., as his company chases opportunities off the Jersey shore.

The Gulf of Maine may pose some of the same challenges that previously confronted other developers: coastal homeowners who want to keep their views intact, fishermen who worry about hazards in their routes, environmental groups who want to protect endangered right whales.

These contracts help the states meet their carbon reduction goals, and support the grid’s reliability as older power plants go offline. With northern New England opening up, Greg Cunningham of the Conservation Law Foundation sees greater potential for states to join together for larger energy bids.

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EnBW may be the first wind developer to check out the Gulf of Maine. But it likely won’t be the last — not when there is money to be made by harnessing the fierce winds off New England’s coast.


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.