By Chris Halfnight, NRDC
Posted August 11, 2014
A short walk from the famous Whalemen’s Chapel of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, offshore wind power is getting a major push. With construction of a new, $100-million marine commerce terminal well underway in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the city is on track to become a central hub for the emerging offshore wind industry in the United States – good news for the local economy, wind developers, and clean energy advocates alike. Recently, I had a chance to tour the site for this new marine commerce terminal and learn more about its goals and prospects. I’m grateful to Apex Companies’ Project Manager Dario Quintana for showing me around, and to Bill White and Matt Kakley at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center for arranging the visit.
Called the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal, the new port is the first of its kind in North America, specifically designed with the size and heavy capacity necessary to be a major staging ground for assembling and deploying large offshore wind turbines along the Atlantic coast. Developed by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center – a key force behind the state’s nation-leading support for clean energy policies – the 28-acre terminal sits just north of New Bedford harbor’s hurricane barrier. In addition to handling offshore wind, the terminal is also designed to manage other forms of bulk, container, and large specialty marine cargo.
Governor Deval Patrick broke ground on the project in the spring of 2013. On my recent visit, the future terminal was beginning to take shape: over the past year, the project team has filled and built much of the dock’s foundation and remediated contaminated soils in the harbor, which is a Superfund site. Construction is set to finish this coming December, with completion of a newly dredged, 30-foot-deep shipping lane to accommodate the large-scale vessels used in assembling and installing offshore wind turbines.
This impressive new terminal is helping revitalize New Bedford, a city with 350 years of maritime history and once the world’s preeminent whaling port. It’s also heralding the imminent rise of a new and robust American industry: offshore wind power, which the Department of Energy estimates could create by 2030 more than 43,000 permanent jobs, along with 1.1 million job-years in manufacturing and installation.
Indeed, the terminal is already bringing significant benefits to the local economy: about 40% of the project’s 120 jobs have gone to South Coast residents, the terminal’s general contractor is New Bedford-based Cashman-Weeks NB, and construction has relied on supplies and services from at least ten local businesses – a huge boon for a city that has suffered high unemployment in recent years.
New Bedford is well positioned to help Massachusetts capture substantial first-mover benefits from the emerging offshore wind industry, including a wealth of local jobs and economic development – a head start on building a skilled workforce that may soon be in high demand along the east coast. The potential windfall for first-movers is enormous, with the federal government having already designated more than 1.5 million acres off the Atlantic coast for wind energy development – a total area that could feasibly provide over 16,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity capacity and could power more than 5 million homes. The New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal is located and engineered to be able to handle the staging, assembly, and deployment for many of these potential projects. One of these developments – the nearby Cape Wind offshore wind project – has cleared all of its regulatory hurdles and is set to begin construction in the next year.
New projects in the area are also on the way: last September, Deepwater Wind secured the nation’s first competitive lease in federal waters off Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The company plans to develop approximately 1000 megawatts of generating capacity in the site, which it estimates would power 350,000 homes and displace more than 1.7 million tons of carbon dioxide annually – equivalent to removing four million cars from our roads. And, on the same day as my visit, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management hosted a public meeting in New Bedford to advance the leasing process for another wind energy area 12 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.
Offshore wind power – with huge potential capacity, no fuel costs, and no air pollution – is set to become a central pillar in our clean energy future. Europe leads the way on offshore wind, with 73 offshore wind projects already producing carbon-free electricity. But momentum is building here in the United States, and continued policy and infrastructure investment will finally bring this enormous clean energy source online. Properly designed and well-sited offshore wind power makes good sense for local and national economies and the environment alike. Massachusetts and New Bedford are smart to invest now in the clean energy future.