Wind Farm Off Massachusetts' Coast Would Harness Ocean Wind

Nov 7, 2018
Originally published on November 7, 2018 12:21 pm
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NOEL KING, HOST:

One of this country's biggest sources of energy has not yet been harnessed - that's ocean wind. Now there's a plan to build the country's first full-scale wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts. Stephanie Leydon of member station WGBH reports.

STEPHANIE LEYDON, BYLINE: The city of New Bedford first prospered as a whaling capital. Now it's scallops that make this the country's most valuable fishing port.

ED ANTHES-WASHBURN: So you can see the fuel barges. We have multiple fuel operators. We have multiple ice houses.

LEYDON: Ed Anthes-Washburn runs the port, and he's giving me a tour. We're onboard a not-so-small boat, but it feels tiny next to the massive fishing vessels that surround us.

ANTHES-WASHBURN: So this is a typical scalloper.

LEYDON: They're painted in bright oranges, reds, blues - clusters of them lining the port. But these days, not all the boats here are for fishing.

ANTHES-WASHBURN: So these are research vessels for the offshore wind industries.

LEYDON: New Bedford is poised to be the launching point for the country's first full-scale offshore wind farm. Think windmills in the ocean but far bigger than the kind you see on land, each one the size of a skyscraper.

ANTHES-WASHBURN: And the - some of the foundation pieces are between 1,200 and 1,600 tons. So they really are massive.

LEYDON: They've built a staging area here for those massive wind turbine pieces, so they can be loaded on barges and, like a giant Lego set, assembled out in the ocean.

ANTHES-WASHBURN: I mean, it's a - I think a $2 billion construction project, so...

LEYDON: What's that mean for the city?

ANTHES-WASHBURN: We're hoping that it means a lot of jobs and a lot of guys in boots.

LEYDON: More than 100 wind turbines are planned off the coast of Massachusetts. They're expected to generate thousands of jobs and enough electricity to power 400,000 homes, about 6 percent of the state's electricity needs. And that's only the beginning. In the next decade, Massachusetts plans to double its offshore wind production. But there's concern that harnessing the ocean's wind will harm this community's lifeblood.

DANNY EILERTSEN: We have a very sustainable fishery at the moment.

LEYDON: Danny Eliertsen owns a small fleet of boats dedicated almost entirely to scallops. He supports clean energy but worries it's going to get a lot harder to reach the scallop grounds if he has to navigate dozens of skyscraper-sized wind turbines.

EILERTSEN: So if your autopilot goes out, if the wind blows up, if your engine fails, and you start to drift off the course, I mean, all you're going to have is obstacles to hit. And you're not that close to shore, so, you know, it could be very dangerous.

LEYDON: Eilertsen would like to see the turbines spaced far apart or, better yet, fewer of them. He's also concerned another proposed wind farm off New York is right in the middle of a scallop breeding area. States all along the East Coast are planning offshore wind projects, all the more reason, says New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, to make sure Massachusetts sets a good precedent.

JON MITCHELL: We need to make sure that offshore wind is done the right way. Offshore wind is not going to supplant fishing here in New Bedford, not by a long shot. It's really - we want to set things up so that the two industries complement one another.

LEYDON: New Bedford, he says, has the infrastructure and expertise to support both. For NPR News, I'm Stephanie Leydon in New Bedford, Mass. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.