Vineyard Wind, the offshore wind energy development being constructed 15 miles southwest of Nantucket, delivered its first power to the New England power grid late Tuesday night.
While it was just a test of the first operational turbine, the delivery of five megawatts of power was hailed as a significant milestone for the state's fledgling offshore wind energy sector.
The test, conducted at 11:52 p.m. on Jan. 2, was part of Vineyard Wind's initial commissioning process. The first five turbines of what will eventually be a 62-turbine wind farm have been completed, and Vineyard Wind expects additional testing will occur in the coming weeks. The company hopes to have those first five turbines operating at full capacity early this year.
"This is a historic moment for the American offshore wind industry,” Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey said in a statement. “Soon, Vineyard Wind will be producing power equivalent of over 400,000 Massachusetts households. This is clean, affordable energy made possible by the many advocates, public servants, union workers, and business leaders who worked for decades to accomplish this achievement. As we look ahead, Massachusetts is on a path toward energy independence thanks to our nation-leading work to stand up the offshore wind industry."
The Vineyard Wind project, which is backed by the Spanish utility company the Iberdrola Group and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, aims to generate 806 megawatts, enough to power more than 400,000 homes and businesses in Massachusetts, when fully operational.
The company has already missed several self-imposed deadlines regarding construction progress, including the most recent that it expected to generate power by the end of 2023. A company spokesperson told the Statehouse News Service that the wind farm is now expected to be fully operational "in 2024" as opposed to the more specific "mid-2024" target Vineyard Wind had shared in August.
The first five completed GE Haliade-X turbines all reach 837 feet in the air at the tip of its blade, nearly as tall as the Eiffel Tower. Island residents have been watching the construction of the turbines, which are visible to the naked eye from Nantucket's south shore beaches on clear days.
“This truly is a milestone for offshore wind and the entire renewable industry in North America. For the first time we have power flowing to the American consumers from a commercial-scale wind project, which marks the dawn of a new era for American renewables and the green transition,” said Tim Evans, a partner at Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and head of the company's North American branch. “By delivering first power, we have broken new ground and shown a viable path forward with power that is renewable, locally produced, and affordable. Much of the credit for this milestone must go to our local partners, labor leaders and the project’s skilled union workforce, and local communities from New Bedford to Barnstable.”
Power from the project interconnects to the New England grid in Barnstable, transmitted by underground cables that connect to a substation further inland on Cape Cod.
While the company shared glowing statements of praise from political leaders and others this week, the milestone was essentially unheralded by Nantucket town government officials.
Two years ago, the town of Nantucket negotiated to receive $16 million in restitution for the potential historical, cultural, and economic impacts of Vineyard Wind’s offshore wind farm through a so-called "Good Neighbor Agreement." Cultural Heritage Partners (CHP), the law firm hired by the town to negotiate on offshore wind projects, secured this mitigation paymment as part of a lengthy dialogue with Vineyard Wind.
The agreement, which was also signed by the Maria Mitchell Association and the Nantucket Preservation Trust, essentially binds the town and those organizations to support - and not criticize - the Vineyard Wind project. Yet a press release issued by Vineyard Wind this week did not include statements from any Nantucket-based individuals or organizations.
In September, a group of Nantucket residents appealed the dismissal of a lawsuit aimed at stopping the Vineyard Wind wind project in federal court. The group ACK For Whales - formerly known as Nantucket Residents Against Turbines - filed the appeal with the First Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals and is seeking to overturn the May 2023 decision of U.S. District Court judge Indira Talwani, who dismissed the original complaint.
ACK For Whales believes that the federal agencies involved in permitting the Vineyard Wind project - including the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Marine Fisheries Service - failed to properly consider the impacts Vineyard Wind could have on endangered North Atlantic right whales.
Vineyard Wind has asserted the project will create 3,600 full-time equivalent (FTE) "job years," save customers $1.4 billion over the first 20 years of operation, and believes it will reduce carbon emissions by more than 1.6 million metric tons per year, the equivalent of taking 325,000 cars off the road annually.