The Vineyard Wind consortium now has $2.3 billion in financing to install 62 - 13 Megawatt GE Haliade-X wind turbines 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard’s beaches. The project has a 2023 target to start delivering power and can produce a maximum of 800 megawatts, or about 10% of Massachusetts’ power need. It will be the first US commercial scale offshore wind farm. Each of the turbines is massive – the tower is the height of a 60-story building, and the spinning blades are each longer than an NFL football field.
This project is the first of many, as the plan is to install over the next decade 2,000 turbines to produce 30,000 megawatts (30 gigawatts) of power for NY, NJ, CT, MA, ME, NJ and VA. The turbines will be installed in 13 federally leased plots in the Atlantic Ocean. The GE turbines are TWICE as big as prior generations and can be installed in depths up to 180 feet of water – well out of sight of land. The power is delivered to the grid with submarine cables buried in a trench dug in the sea floor with a robotic rover/digger.
Atlantic offshore wind is a key element to a zero-carbon electricity grid within 15 years. The natural gas power plants that currently provide about 60% of power on the Eastern Seaboard have to be replaced. NIMBYism means no new nuclear power for the foreseeable future. Solar power from rooftops and solar farms is dramatically ramping up and is a big part of the solution, but only works when the sun is out. These wind turbines won’t run 24 x 7 as there is not always wind, but the NE Atlantic is a very windy place, especially 800 feet above the sea surface.
The main contractors for the project have their roots in Europe, where offshore wind development is a decade ahead of the US. The turbine hubs come from GE but are manufactured in France. The turbine blades come from LM Wind and are also manufactured in France. But well over 90% of the structure is the fabricated steel that the hub and blades sit on. That steel must be produced and then fabricated into tubes and legs. Ideally, most of that happens in the US, in close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean locations. The installation work also should be done by local skilled US workers, and they will need US Jones Act compliant, installation and support vessels.
Large scale OSW projects are supposed to provide lower priced power to consumers. The price of the electricity from Vineyard Wind is expected to be in the $.07 per kilowatt range. We have seen other estimates around $.10 per kilowatt and given the scale, novelty and complexity, we are open minded but skeptical about the ultimate cost of power. A new natural gas plant produces power at around $.07 but that assumes they get to emit CO2 and warm the planet – and do it for free. A $100 price on CO2 emissions is coming, and eventually natural gas power plants will be uneconomic.