Salem's possible role in building off-shore turbines explored

Slide courtesy Massachusetts Clean Energy CenterOffshore wind power advocates are signaling the potential for Salem Harbor Footprint's roughly 45 acres of undeveloped land to be used for "marshalling" — or building — water-based wind turbines that would operate elsewhere.

SALEM — This may not be the wind power project you were thinking of.

Conversations surrounding offshore wind turbine projects around the North Shore are beginning to intensify. Salem Alliance For the Environment held a virtual event Thursday night calling for pressure on state leaders to bring more water-based wind projects to the Commonwealth.

The event focused on two topics: Massachusetts waning presence on the offshore wind market regionally, and how Salem could ultimately boost the industry. That largely focused on the Salem Harbor Footprint property and the idea of building a “marshalling” operation at Footprint.

Marshalling is effectively the second part of building and running an ocean-based wind turbine, according to information from the event. A floating platform that the turbine would be erected on is built elsewhere — the presentation focused on Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The platform is then shipped to the marshalling site, where the turbine would then be built on top of the floating platform before being sent out to sea and connected to the grid.

Slides presented at the event made clear that there are no active proposals being discussed, and that the process to move on offshore wind power has years of action behind it and even more time before it truly takes off.

Following a package from President Joe Biden sinking $2 trillion into clean energy measures, Gov. Charlie Baker is being called to sign a climate change bill that cleared Beacon Hill last week. The bill commits the state to a “net-zero” limit on greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and would require utilities to purchase 5,600 megawatts of offshore wind by 2035.

Thursday night’s event was led by Jen Benson and Amber Hewett, co-chairpersons of the MA Offshore Wind Coalition. Benson opened the conversation by recognizing state Sen. Joan Lovely and Rep. Paul Tucker, who were in attendance, and calling on them to pressure Baker to “bring on more procurement. Bring on more energy.”

“That’s our biggest hurdle right now,” Benson said, “really getting the governor to sign this thing.”

Wind power has frequently come up around the North Shore, often with anxiety from residents who oppose a turbine operating in their backyards. There are some turbines in the area, however, including three toward the end of Route 128 in Gloucester alongside large industrial buildings.

The offshore wind industry doesn’t move as quickly as some would hope, Hewett said, because “all the development has to take place in federal waters, so everything is hinged to action at the federal level.”

But there’s a push to get the industry up and running in the state, Hewett said. Massachusetts’s current commitment to offshore is 3,200 megawatts of power, while New York’s  9,000-megawatt commitment and New Jersey’s 7,500-megawatt call are pulling more business into those regions. She also noted that New Hampshire has 600 megawatts committed, and that Maine is starting to turn toward the industry as well.

“This has really made its way into every large-scale clean energy conversation,” Hewett said, “and something that’s going to be instrumental to reaching our clean energy goals.”

Salem enters the discussion because of the Footprint site. A deepwater port, the area is also one of 10 remaining designated port areas in the state perfectly suited for something like wind turbine marshalling, Lovely said. But the fact that it’s a designated port area could also be a barrier to putting certain uses on the roughly 45 acres of undeveloped land Footprint currently owns.

“As far as the future of wind, we don’t have many designated port areas in Massachusetts,” Lovely said. “Beverly gave up theirs a few years ago to go in another direction, and these are the types of industries we want to attract.”

Tucker also weighed in, calling the idea the “opportunity of a lifetime, right now.”

“We’ve got some good things happening. We’re going to get that bill done,” Tucker said. “We want the governor to sign it and stand to move very quickly.”

Visit bit.ly/2YMZdas to read live coverage of this meeting.

To respond to this story or suggest another, contact Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

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