New England offshore wind advances

Friday, February 24, 2012

Plans to generate electricity from offshore winds off the southern New England coast appear to be gathering some momentum, as a series of events unrolling this month favor offshore wind development.

On February 3, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management took the initial steps in its process to lease sites for offshore wind projects in federal waters off Massachusetts.  BOEM requested information about uses of an area of sea about about 12 nautical miles south of the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, as well as expressions of interest by developers identifying particular sites.  Responses to the call for information and nominations, as the key document is known, are due in mid-March.

Last week, Massachusetts officials announced a proposed settlement that would allow utilities NSTAR and Northeast Utilities to merge, but only on the condition that the resulting utility sign a long-term contract to buy power from the proposed Cape Wind project.  Cape Wind already has a power purchase agreement with utility National Grid for half the project's output; if the NSTAR deal is approved, Cape Wind would have power purchase agreements in place for 77.5% of its expected output.  Proponents hope that this increased certainty around the project's revenues could enable the project to be financed and built.

This week, Boston hosted a major offshore wind industry conference.  Today, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management plans to make an announcement "latest milestone in commercial wind energy planning and leasing in the area of mutual interest offshore of Rhode Island and Massachusetts."

None of these steps alone may be sufficient to spur offshore wind development in New England waters, but collectively these steps illustrate how multiple levels of government are promoting offshore wind.  Will their collective result produce power in the near term?

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