Let the Massachusetts Wind Rush begin

Baker signsAt 11:59 a.m. on April 22, 1889, around 50,000 people on horseback and wagon lined up just outside five vast unassigned tracts of land totaling 2 million acres in present-day Oklahoma.

At noon they were off in a made dash to lay quick claim to the most desirable tracts. By the end of that day, about 10,000 people had already settled in empty places that would become Oklahoma City and Guthrie.

It was the Oklahoma Land Rush and it made landowners out of thousands of people looking to homestead on land that previously had been home to Native Americans, bison and antelope, and thousands of square miles of prairie grass.

It’s not hard to imagine something like it today just a handful of miles off Martha’s Vineyard, where three tracts of ocean will be the designated homes for a new Massachusetts offshore wind industry created earlier this month with the signature by Gov. Charlie Baker (see above photo) on a bill that requires the state’s public utilities to purchase 1,600 MW of power from wind farms that will be built there.

It’s a lot of power: equal to approximately to 10 percent of the total produced by Massachusetts. And with perhaps $10 billion worth of development available, offshore wind has the potential to remake the state’s economy, especially here in greater New Bedford, whose port is among the finest on the East Coast and which boasts the only marine commerce terminal built especially to serve the offshore wind industry.

The contract for the first phase of the project, an expected 4,000 MW, should be signed by next spring or summer, and shortly thereafter construction can start. In the meantime, dozens of local businesses, training organizations, colleges and universities are gearing up to identify roles they can play.

New Bedford’s Matthew Morrissey, who formerly headed the New Bedford Wind Energy Center and now will lead Deepwater Wind Massachusetts (expected to be one of the bidders on the first project to be bid) and fishing industry consultant Jim Kendall, who will advise Bay State Wind (a subsidiary of one of the other expected bidders, DONG Energy) already are at work.

It’s just the beginning. The New York Times earlier this week reported on the completion of Deepwater Wind’s small wind project just off Block Island and noted that it was the harbinger of a transition to sea-based renewable energy.

And here we are, with thousands of trained marine services employees and commercial fishermen, located just a few hours sail from the site of the new wind farms off the Vineyard. It’s a historic opportunity, and greater New Bedford is in a good position to serve this new industry as the Massachusetts Wind Rush begins.