By Robert A. DeLeo and Thomas Golden
Special to Digital First Media
Offshore wind grew up overnight last week right off the coast of Massachusetts, with a federal auction for ocean plots fetching lucrative prices from developers competing for the right to build among the first commercial-scale offshore wind farms in the nation.
A total of 11 companies engaged in 32 rounds of a two-day bidding war for three federal lease areas auctioned by the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), with each tract selling for $135 million each. That is a far cry from what offshore wind plots were able to command in 2014, when two parcels were sold for just a few hundred thousand dollars.
This growth spurt didn’t happen by accident. Rather, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts set the stage with clean energy legislation in 2016 and 2018. Since then, the competition for offshore wind development has been fierce up and down the East Coast. States like New Jersey, New York and Virginia are joining Massachusetts in making their own significant commitments to pursue renewable offshore wind. That’s good for our planet and good for our green economy.
One of the winners of the auction, New Bedford-based Vineyard Wind, was selected earlier this year by the Commonwealth to build an 800-megawatt project. Vineyard Wind plans to build the wind farm on an ocean lot that it had won in a previous federal auction. The other winners of last week’s auction include Equinor, a Norwegian company, and Mayflower Wind Energy LLC.
The auction set a record for most companies to participate in an offshore wind lease sale to date and was the highest grossing offshore wind lease sale ever -- competition that is good news for consumers.
Driving this competition was Massachusetts’ 2016 law requiring the electric utility companies to conduct solicitations for 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind. In 2018, we directed a state energy agency to study the potential gains for doubling it, and authorized them to do so if they came back with positive findings.
But this is not just a marketplace success story, it’s an environmental one. Fully developed, the lease areas off the Massachusetts coast could provide clean, renewable energy to power roughly 5 million homes in the region -- twice the number of residences in Massachusetts.
That means the equivalent of pulling more than 2 million cars (and their emissions) off the road annually. This power source will help to cut greenhouse gas emissions at a price that will continue to stabilize energy bills for Massachusetts ratepayers.
More than that, the offshore wind industry will create thousands of direct and indirect jobs. The U.S. Department of Energy projects 76,000 to 80,000 jobs will be created nationally by 2030. If we look to Europe, with an established industry after 25 years, offshore wind has created over 75,000 jobs. In a Massachusetts hub, this means maritime jobs, trade jobs, service jobs, engineering jobs, construction jobs and more. International offshore wind corporations have already made Massachusetts home. Today we have more than 110,000 clean energy jobs in Massachusetts and that number stands to grow with the advent of offshore wind. In April, 2018, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center published an offshore wind workforce assessment, which estimated the creation of 10,000 jobs and approximately $2.1 billion in economic impact over a 10-year period for the current commitment of 3,200 megawatts.
Offshore wind is a bipartisan, bi-cameral issue. Two Massachusetts governors -- one a Democrat and one a Republican -- have supported the development of offshore wind. Long-standing champions of offshore wind development in both the Massachusetts House and Senate ensured successful passage of these laws.
Once again Massachusetts is leading the way in embracing a clean energy future. While there is more work to do, Massachusetts will continue to serve as national model for how the U.S. can reap the environmental, economic, and jobs benefits this vibrant new industry will provide.
Robert A. DeLeo represents the 19th Suffolk District and is Speaker of the House. Thomas Golden, of Lowell, represents the 16th Middlesex District and is the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy.