You know offshore wind power has finally arrived when Associated Industries of Massachusetts is now among its most enthusiastic backers.
AIM, you might remember, had energetically fought Cape Wind, dogging what would have been the nation’s first offshore wind farm at every turn. Many critics of Cape Wind owned luxury properties overlooking Nantucket Sound, or had ties to people who did. But AIM’s chief concern had nothing to do with aesthetics and everything to do with the failed project’s massive price tag, one that would have been borne by ratepayers.
Lately, though, the employer group has emerged as an unlikely champion of offshore wind power.
AIM’s top energy expert, Bob Rio, sent a passionate letter in late October to Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt, urging the Trump appointee to expedite permitting for Vineyard Wind’s eponymous project, planned for waters south of Martha’s Vineyard. Rio attended General Electric’s unveiling of the largest offshore wind blade in the world last week; he seemed as happy as a kid in a toy store.
Has AIM turned a new leaf?
Rio said the group takes a completely different view of Vineyard Wind than of its doomed predecessor. The utility contracts that would finance Vineyard Wind were competitively bid. And the price promised by Vineyard Wind, a joint venture of Avangrid and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, was essentially a third of what Cape Wind’s would have been. Rio said AIM has no problem moving to a carbon-free future, but wants to make sure that transition can be done as cost efficiently as possible.
Lucky for Vineyard Wind, it got an early start in the permitting, although it was unable to placate many commercial fishermen who trawl those waters. Then the Interior Department surprised the developer in August by delaying its review, so the government could first conduct a thorough study of all offshore wind projects in the pipeline and their cumulative impact.
The move rattled renewable energy supporters here, prompting some to wonder if Vineyard Wind would go the way of Cape Wind. This was to be the first major offshore wind farm in the country. A delay meant other states could take the lead.
More important, Vineyard Wind’s valuable federal tax credits are at risk. The developer is counting on a 24 percent tax credit for the first half of the 800-megawatt project – enough power for 400,000-plus homes – and an 18 percent tax credit for the second half. To pull it off, Vineyard Wind would need to be plugged in by the end of 2021. An impossible deadline now.
Avangrid chief executive Jim Torgerson tried to reassure investors in an Oct. 30 conference call. He explained how Vineyard Wind is petitioning the IRS for an extension of the tax credits, essentially because the delay can be blamed on the government and not the developer. One silver lining: Torgerson said the extra time has given Vineyard Wind the opportunity to consider larger rotors for the project that might make its layout more amenable to the fishermen.
In his letter requesting that Interior issue its permit by March, Rio talked about the jobs that offshore wind would bring. You might expect that from a big business group. But Rio also pointed to the need for Massachusetts to do its part to combat climate change. Offshore wind is crucial, he wrote, for reducing emissions in the energy sector.
A spokesman for Vineyard Wind said it’s pleased to have the business community’s support, and it remains committed to working with Interior to build the first utility-scale wind farm in the US as soon as possible.
Guess who also welcomed the support from AIM? The Environmental League of Massachusetts, another former adversary. The erstwhile antagonists now work together on several energy-related issues. Among their shared goals: helping a multistate effort to curb transportation carbon emissions known as the Transportation & Climate Initiative, one that would impose a sort of fee on motor fuels at the wholesale level.
ELM general counsel Eric Wilkinson said it’s fantastic to have business interests on his group’s side. Wilkinson, by the way, was on his way to Washington to lobby lawmakers on Wednesday to extend the offshore wind tax credit for several more years.
Once, offshore wind in the US was little more than an environmentalist’s daydream. But several rounds of state-mandated buying efforts across the Northeast are finally making it viable here. Money is arriving by the boatload from companies based in Europe, where the sector is well established.
All three developers who bid for Massachusetts contracts — Orsted, Mayflower Wind, Vineyard Wind — are now among AIM’s roughly 3,500 members, just like Orsted partner Eversource, and founding member GE.
Welcome to the club. It may have taken years to join the establishment, but offshore wind can now count itself among AIM’s associated industries.
Jon Chesto can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.