THE HEADLINES Details on the emergence of a US offshore wind supply chain in its infancy are popping up in all sorts of places – a $ 250 million monopile in New Jersey in collaboration with wind farm developer Orsted and a wind tower manufacturer in Albany, New York, in collaboration with the wind farm developer Equinor.
But so far, none of these assets are being talked about or built in Massachusetts, sparking a longstanding debate in the state about whether priority should be given to economic development projects on land or low electricity prices in expanding the state’s offshore wind industry.
The recent procurement of offshore wind power in Massachusetts for up to 1,600 megawatts of power outweighs the price by a 70-30 margin over economic development. The split on the two previous procurements was 75-25.
The previous two tenders had bids from three companies, but only two companies – Vineyard Wind and Mayflower Wind, the winners of the first two tenders – are bidding this time. Their heavily edited public tender documents, which were filed with state regulators on Thursday, contain no information on price and little on economic development. The accompanying press releases are just as vague.
Vineyard Wind announces in its press release that it is making two offers, one for 800 megawatts and one for 1,200 megawatts. The company promises “Hundreds of millions of investments in offshore wind infrastructure, thousands of jobs and significant commitment to environmental justice communities,” and “transformable investments across the state.”
Mayflower Wind, the other bidder, is more specific in its press release. The company said it is making an unspecified handful of bids – the largest for 1,200 megawatts. The company pledges to build an operations and maintenance facility in Fall River and, if its largest offer is accepted, an additional $ 81 million for economic development, including “building the offshore wind supply chain,” employee training, port and infrastructure investments , and “Actions for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion”.
Michael Brown, Mayflower CEO, said in a telephone interview that his company’s focus will be on supporting tier 3 subordinate companies in the offshore wind supply chain.
On the last procurement won, Mayflower offered three pricing options – one with the absolute lowest price and minimal onshore economic development, one with a higher price and more onshore development, and a third with an even higher price and most onshore wind development.
Brown said that at the time of its most recent acquisition, his company was partnering with Marmen Inc., one of North America’s largest wind tower manufacturers, to create a manufacturing facility in Massachusetts.
Under current state law, there is a price cap that dictates that the bids for the last purchase must be lower than the successful bid for the last purchase, suggesting that onshore development will not be a high priority this time around, whoever is selected .
Brown said he had no position on what Massachusetts should prioritize. “It is not my place to tell Massachusetts what to do,” he said.
Homeowners took a boat out earlier this week to check out the tiny wind farm near Block Island, and used that backdrop to say they would try to approve an energy bill at that meeting that would lift the price cap would encourage more bidders and promote more onshore development.
“We’re going to look at these price caps. We will quantify and increase the impact of economic developments on future deals, ”said Jeff Roy of Franklin Rep. Chairman of the House Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, according to a report by State House Intelligence. “We’re going to be investing in offshore wind through a mutual fund and we’re trying to mimic what we’ve done for life sciences. We’ll look at the port infrastructure … we’ll look at grid modernization and transmission planning issues, and increase funding for universities working in space. ”
But there is another mindset circulating on Beacon Hill within the Baker Administration and Legislature that getting the lowest price on offshore wind power should be the state’s top priority rather than a costly bidding war for onshore production facilities respectively. After all, the state wants to use electricity from offshore wind energy to decarbonise the electricity grid and use a decarbonised electricity grid to electrify and decarbonise the transport and heating sectors. Why accept higher electricity prices to fund development on land when the ultimate goal is to use electricity as a tool to wean residents off fossil fuels?
It is also not clear whether Orsted and Equinor’s absence in the current bidding process is due to the state’s price caps. Orsted is busy with projects in New Jersey and Equinor is busy with projects in New York, so this may not be a good time for either company to bid in Massachusetts.
Transfer concerns may also prevent Orsted and Equinor from bidding. Electricity from the wind farms has to be brought ashore and then fed into the regional power grid. Vineyard Wind and Mayflower Wind plan to bring the power ashore from their first Cape Cod projects. Mayflower, if she won the current contract, would bring the electricity ashore at Brayton Point in Somerset. Vineyard Wind has not disclosed where it would get its power ashore if it wins the latest procurement.
The more wind farms that are connected to the grid, the more expensive access to the grid becomes, and the companies that build the wind farms have to bear these costs. Industry sources say the state is already starting to see grid interconnection agreements stalled with rising costs.
Like most offshore wind developers, Brown said he preferred to control both the construction of the wind farm and its connection to the grid. But he said it might make sense at some point in the future to centralize and socialize transmission – building a facility near the wind farms as a collection point for the electricity, and then laying power lines to areas on land that will receive the electricity is needed.
New Jersey is already exploring such an approach, although it is just one of many ideas being explored to reduce transmission bottlenecks and costs.