Renewable Energy

New England’s Untapped Clean Energy Poses Threat to Coal

Back in 1989, my wife and I were newlyweds always looking for great places to vacation. And we found one that we kept going back to year after year: Nantucket Island, Massachusetts.

Due to strict zoning regulations put in place in the ‘50s, downtown Nantucket looks much like it did in the 19th century. And right outside the town is a Dutch-style windmill.

Sailor and carpenter Nathan Wilbur constructed the mill in the 1740s. He learned how to build one in his travels through Holland.

Today, the mill is still used to grind cornmeal during the summer. Seventeen similar windmills dot the Cape Cod countryside.

Fast-forward to 2010: American pilot, entrepreneur and Massachusetts resident Daniel Wolf ran for a Massachusetts Senate seat to represent the “Cape and Islands” district.

He won and served three terms in the Massachusetts Senate. While there, he was a staunch supporter and advocate for renewable energy – even proposing that the Cape and Islands become energy exporters.

Wolf’s time in the Senate ended before he could see that happen, but – like all great ideas – it’s happening anyway.

A New England Whirlwind

In 2016, Massachusetts passed the Act to Promote Energy Diversity, mandating that all utilities and independent power providers include offshore wind in the state’s energy mix.

And for good reason. The further up the East Coast you travel, the greater the average offshore wind speeds are.

They peak in Massachusetts, where you can find the greatest offshore wind speeds in the entire country. No wonder Massachusetts is looking to procure as much as 800 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind… and that’s just the beginning.

There are three companies competing for Massachusetts offshore wind contracts. One of the leading ones is Vineyard Wind.

It plans to install an offshore wind farm roughly 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and roughly 30 miles from the shores of Cape Cod. It will cover an area of 160,000 acres.

The state-of-the-art offshore turbines will be spaced at least 0.8 miles apart. Each turbine will be sized to generate 8 MW of power or more.

The turbines will be connected to an offshore substation that will collect power from them. An undersea high-voltage cable will be used to transmit the energy to the power grid on the mainland.

The proposal is under review by more than 30 federal, state, local and tribal organizations and will need more than 25 permits. The project is scheduled to begin construction sometime next year.

When Vineyard Wind is operational, it will be the second offshore wind farm to go online in the U.S. The first was a tiny five-turbine system off the coast of Rhode Island called the Block Island Wind project.

Additionally, Massachusetts is going beyond just requiring renewable wind power. It’s creating the Windward Workforce program to support it.

This program will recruit, train and mentor Massachusetts residents who are interested in wind power. The state hopes to create a new offshore wind workforce to support this new industry.

Together, the Vineyard Wind project and the Windward Workforce program are a drop in the bucket compared to the 28 offshore wind project proposals the Department of Energy has received. If all projects are approved and built, they will have a collective generating capacity of 24 gigawatts.

That’s enough clean energy to power 16.8 million homes. And once the offshore wind industry really gets going, that number will only increase.

Offshore wind is out of sight, out of mind and clean. Why even bother with coal?

Good investing,

Dave