What if you spent more than $100 million on a party and no one showed up?
Officials in the Baker administration were asking themselves that question in 2015 as they tried to figure out what to do with a New Bedford terminal built for a future offshore wind industry. Cape Wind had leased the space, but the controversial project fell apart. The dock was at risk of turning into a costly boondoggle.
The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center has found other interim uses, although it’s still not serving any wind farms.
But they are finally on the horizon — thanks to a 2016 state law requiring the state’s big electric utilities to buy up to 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power over time. (There’s already talk about increasing that amount.) The first round winner is expected to be announced this month, though the selection committee may miss an April 23 deadline. Three teams are bidding in this round for contracts that could help finance windmills south of Martha’s Vineyard.
They may soon have company. The US Interior Department just opened up two more sections, further offshore, to development. These areas went unwanted in a lease auction three years ago. Now that state-mandated contracts are in play, they’re much more valuable. Statoil and PNE Wind have already expressed serious interest.
Some questions that dogged Cape Wind haven’t gone away. Utility customers will ultimately pick up the tab; hopefully, the competition helps ensure we get a better price. Fishermen remain worried about their livelihoods, sending a strongly worded letter today to Governor Charlie Baker about the wind farms’ potential impact. At least it’s looking more likely that the state’s hefty investment in a New Bedford dock will pay off after all.Jon Chesto is a Globe reporter. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.