Shoring up New Bedford’s offshore wind dream

The components of offshore wind turbines are so massive that they are best welded, molded, and loaded as close to their wind farms as possible. With the federal government having designated 1,200 square miles of ocean for wind farms more than a dozen miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, it would seem that the $100 million the Patrick administration is sinking into the nation’s first port terminal geared for the offshore wind industry is a well-placed bet. Like all forms of government economic investment, it’s a risk — but one that seems grounded in a realistic assessment of the potential growth of offshore wind power, and Massachusetts’ ability to play a leadership role in developing new technologies.

In a groundbreaking ceremony last week, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell predicted the project in his city would be transformative for “a corner of the state that has had its hopes dashed so many times.”

Officials from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and port designers from Apex Companies say the terminal is being built to handle future generations of wind-power equipment, well beyond the immediate needs of the 130-turbine Cape Wind project. The terminal will have to attract many years of business to justify its cost. Extension of federal assistance for new offshore wind projects is uncertain, particularly with declining energy prices. And even the most efficient of offshore wind projects can take many years to get in the water. Thus, it’s helpful that the Patrick administration is hedging its bet: The port will also be outfitted to handle traditional commercial cargo. For all the hopes for offshore wind, an ordinary container ship may be the vessel that holds this project together until the offshore ship truly comes in.