Offshore wind energy technology uses wind turbines located in ocean waters to generate electricity from wind energy. Electricity is then transmitted via 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 land-based wind due to higher and more consistent wind speeds. However, constructing and operating offshore wind farms is more challenging due to the rigorous conditions. As the technology advances and the local supply chain develops, the cost of offshore wind is expected to continue to decline and 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 to site and develop potential offshore wind projects responsibly, reduce their risks, and cultivate jobs in the 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.
Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan
In 2008, the state’s Ocean Sanctuaries Act was amended 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, including the siting and management standards for offshore wind. The plan has specific provisions to advance the proactive planning and siting of transmission corridors to bring electricity from offshore wind projects located in federal waters across state waters to access the mainland grid.
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:
- Offshore Wind Transmission Study (2014): assessed the best possible transmission infrastructure and location for offshore wind facilities.
- Metocean Data Needs Assessment and Data Collection Strategy Development (2015): reported on existing metocean conditions in BOEM lease areas near Massachusetts and developed a strategy to collect additional data to aid planning, construction and operation of offshore wind facilities.
- Marine Wildlife Surveys (2016): A three year study to survey seabirds, large whales and sea turtles off the shores Massachusetts.
MassCEC is also supporting the economic development of the offshore wind supply chain through:
- New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal constructed in 2015 is a multi-purpose facility specifically designed to construct, assemble, and deploy offshore wind projects.
- Wind Technology Testing Center in Charlestown offers a full suite of certification tests for turbine blades up to 90 meters in length.
- Port Infrastructure Assessment, begun in 2017, is a two phase project that aims to identify waterfront properties that could support additional construction and operation activities for offshore wind facilities.
Massachusetts Energy Diversity Act
On August 8, 2016, Governor Baker signed the Act to Promote Energy Diversity, which among other important legislative elements, allows for the procurement of up to 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2027. On June 29, 2017 the Massachusetts Electric Distribution Companies, in coordination with the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for long-term contracts for offshore wind energy projects. On May 23, 2018, the winning bid of the procurement was announced, with the Vineyard Wind Project for 800 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind energy generation selected by the Distribution Companies. The final acceptance of the bid and the award of a contract is conditional upon the successful negotiation of the contract and required regulatory approval at the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, as provided in the Section 83C RFP. Further information is available at MA Clean Energy.
Offshore Wind Study 2019
On August 9, 2018, Governor Baker signed An Act to Advance Clean Energy, which among other important legislative elements, requires the Department of Energy Resources to investigate the necessity, benefits and costs of requiring distribution companies to conduct additional offshore wind generation solicitations of up to 1,600 MW. The additional 1,600 MW builds upon the initial 1,600 MW authorized under The Act to Promote Energy Diversity by Governor Baker in 2016. DOER is required to file the report with the Legislature no later than July 31, 2019.
Further information is available at DOER’s Offshore Wind Study web page.