Offshore wind advocates in New Hampshire have high hopes after federal regulators this week approved construction of the Vineyard Wind project in Massachusetts – the largest offshore wind farm yet to reach the construction stage in the U.S.
At 800 megawatts in capacity, Vineyard Wind’s 62 turbines will be able to generate as much power as many nuclear reactors.
The project’s approval comes after delays under the Trump administration and is a first step toward President Biden’s climate change goals, which include the development of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030.
The Gulf of Maine will likely house many of those turbines, but it will be years before any are approved or built. New Hampshire is working with Maine and Massachusetts on a federal task force to plan for that new industry, but the group has met only once, in late 2019 at UNH.
Michael Behrmann has since become New Hampshire’s first director of offshore wind industry development. He said Vineyard Wind’s hard-fought success gives people like him something real to point to – besides pilot projects, or past failures like the scuttled Cape Wind proposal – in courting an industry they hope will create thousands of jobs.
“What this does… is send that important signal to the rest of the market that this industry now has its foothold and is going to expand in the next several decades,” Behrmann said. “And New Hampshire can participate – potentially at this early stage, but absolutely in the future.”
Vineyard Wind could present some supply chain opportunities for the Granite State, he said, but future projects closer to home will make a far bigger impact. Behrmann said he’ll be watching as the $2.8 billion-dollar Massachusetts project moves forward to see if the lofty economic predictions for the region’s wind industry will come to pass.
“Until you actually reach that point of steel in the water, as they say, it can be difficult to really visualize and understand how important this particular technology can be,” he said.
There are key differences between Vineyard Wind and the projects that are anticipated in the Gulf of Maine. For one thing, federal waters here are deeper and will require still-evolving floating turbine technologies, whereas Vineyard Wind will use fixed turbines.
Behrmann’s office is now working on a supply chain registry of New Hampshire businesses that could sell parts and services to wind projects. He said developers want to see what they can obtain locally, rather than shipping from Europe, where the wind industry is more established.
New Hampshire’s wind efforts lack one component that many other states with similar aspirations have elected to put in place: a procurement program, where legislators or the governor’s office work with utilities to spur the development of large-scale wind farms and other renewable energy projects as a climate solution and economic driver.
Vineyard Wind is the result of one such procurement in Massachusetts. The same is true for Central Maine Power’s prospective Canadian hydro-powered transmission line, the successor project to Eversource’s defunct Northern Pass proposal in New Hampshire.
Supporters and wind industry leaders have said a procurement program is essential to signal the state’s interest in being part of the industry. These requests for proposals can include a range of requirements, such as for diverse and inclusive hiring, using local businesses and workers, or limiting passed-on costs to ratepayers.
A committee in the Republican-controlled New Hampshire Senate advanced a procurement program for the state earlier this year. But the bipartisan-backed bill stalled after that and is now being held over for reconsideration in a future session.
Behrmann declined to comment on that bill specifically, but acknowledged that procurements in states like Massachusetts have been instrumental in helping bring offshore wind to the U.S. and New England.
“It is likely that those signals to the market from the three jurisdictions that are participating in the Gulf of Maine [New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts] will further help that type of presence that we’ve witnessed from developers, and therefore the economic and workforce impacts associated with that,” he said.
New Hampshire’s Republican Gov. Chris Sununu previously vetoed a bill that would have had the state study renewable energy procurements. He hadn’t signaled whether he would support the procurement bill that stalled this year in the state Senate.
Overall, though, Sununu has become highly supportive of offshore wind development – including creating the office now run by Behrmann, who formerly worked for the state’s clean energy advocacy group, which is often at odds with Sununu on similar issues.