Photo of Block Island Wind Farm offshore wind turbine

Offshore wind energy harnesses wind power with turbines located in coastal and ocean waters to generate electricity that is transmitted by cables to the mainland grid. A sustainable and clean source of energy, offshore wind is one of several renewable energy options with significant potential to advance Massachusetts efforts to diversify energy sources and meet goals for greenhouse gas reduction. Offshore wind is more productive than onshore (or land-based) wind due to higher and more consistent wind speeds over the ocean. However, constructing and operating offshore wind farms—groups of turbines located together—is more challenging. As technology is optimized to regional site conditions, the local supply chain develops, and costs decline, offshore wind is expected to become an important source of electricity for many states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is actively working on many aspects of offshore wind energy to site and develop potential projects responsibly, reduce risk, and increase jobs and economic activity in the offshore wind sector. Highlights of these efforts include:

Offshore Wind Energy on the Outer Continental Shelf

The federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 gave the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) the responsibility for renewable energy development on the outer continental shelf (OCS). Since 2009, the Commonwealth has worked closely with BOEM and participated on an Intergovernmental Task Force consisting of federal, state, local, and tribal agency and elected official representatives in the planning, siting, and analysis of offshore wind areas in federal waters south of Massachusetts. This process has included significant community and stakeholder involvement through public meetings, workshops, consultations, and events.

To augment the BOEM intergovernmental task force process and engage directly with key stakeholders, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs’ Office of Coastal Zone Management and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center convened two working groups for fisheries and marine habitat issues. The Fisheries Working Group on Offshore Wind Energy is comprised of commercial fishermen and representatives from different ports and sectors, recreational fishermen, scientists, and state and federal agencies. The Habitat Working Group on Offshore Wind Energy includes scientists and technical experts from environmental organizations, academia, and state and federal agencies.

In 2013 and 2015, BOEM competitive auctions resulted in the execution of four commercial leases for offshore wind development. For more information on the federal offshore wind process in Massachusetts, see BOEM’s Massachusetts Renewable Energy Activities web page. On August 8, 2016, Governor Baker signed the Act to Promote Energy Diversity, which among other important legislative elements, calls for the procurement of up to 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2027.

Massachusetts Clean Energy Center

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) is working to make the Commonwealth a national hub for the emerging offshore wind industry along the East Coast (see the MassCEC Offshore Wind web page). To better understand offshore wind system impacts on the physical and biological environment, MassCEC has supported several offshore wind related studies, including an Offshore Wind Transmission Study to determine the best possible transmission infrastructure and location, a meteorological and oceanographic data needs assessment and data collection strategy, and comprehensive field studies on whales and sea turtles. MassCEC also oversaw the development of the Marine Commerce Terminal in New Bedford, a multi-purpose facility specifically designed to construct, assemble, and deploy offshore wind projects.  In addition, MassCEC’s Wind Technology Testing Center in Charlestown is capable of testing the world’s largest turbine blades.

Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan

In 2008, the state’s Ocean Sanctuaries Act was amended to modify a prohibition on offshore electric generating stations to allow for renewable energy facilities if consistent with the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan and subject to other conditions. First released in 2009, and updated and revised in 2015, the ocean plan provides a blueprint for the management and protection of critical marine habitat and water-dependent uses in state ocean waters. The ocean plan contains siting and management standards for offshore wind, identifying two areas in state waters as potentially suitable for community or pilot-scale projects. The plan also includes specific provisions to advance the proactive planning and siting of transmission corridors to bring renewable energy from projects in federal waters across state waters to landside grid tie-in locations.