SALEM — State leaders want the offshore wind industry up and running in Salem sooner rather than later, and they’re throwing $45 million at the city to take some immediate first steps.
Gov. Charlie Baker, flanked by members of his administration and local officials, announced Wednesday during a press conference on Blaney Street wharf that $100 million from a $1.7 billion supplemental budget proposal would go toward port development in New Bedford, Salem and Somerset.
Salem’s share is $45 million. The cash will advance work to turn the empty land around Salem Harbor Footprint into an offshore wind turbine marshalling yard, state officials said Wednesday.
“The fact that this is one of the deepest deep-water ports naturally anywhere on the East Coast... that all by itself creates huge opportunities here,” Baker said.
The past year has seen local interest in the offshore wind industry surge. Prior visions for mixed-use development and housing on more than 40 acres of undeveloped land next to the power plant were quickly shelved midway into 2021 as a bidding window approached for the state’s third wave of offshore wind projects.
Salem became a player in one of those projects. The city was named last December in a successful bid to build turbines that would then be shipped out to waters around Martha’s Vineyard. Three quarters of the total 1,600-megawatt procurement prize, 1,200 megawatts, will be built on the North Shore through the Commonwealth Wind proposal.
“As this offshore wind industry continues to grow, we have to make sure that Massachusetts remains a strong place to build infrastructure that aligns with our goals to be a global leader in this space,” Baker said, “especially as the cost of projects continues to rise with supply chain delays and this minor thing we call ‘inflation.’”
Those challenges, it turns out, created an immediate need to get the Salem property transformed for wind marshalling, according to Baker.
While countless aspects of life have been maligned by the COVID-19 pandemic, tax revenues are surging beyond prior forecasts — currently with $1.7 billion extra expected to come in. Now, that tax revenue has a use: The supplemental budget proposal announced Wednesday would make complete use of the cash, according to Baker.
“We’re making these investments now, because we’re deeply concerned about what’s going to happen over the course of the next several years — with the supply chain and especially the cost of pretty much everything (increasing),” he said. “We anticipate these conditions will only get worse over time, and that’s why this unprecedented surplus needs to be put to work now — so we can get in and get started.”
A marshalling yard in New Bedford is already overloaded with work, which officials have used as justification for speeding up the marshalling yard in Salem. As an example of that, Bethany Card, Baker’s secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, pointed out the entire country — never mind Massachusetts — has just one testing facility for wind turbine parts.
“We need more space to do it, and we need to test more blades at a time,” Card said. “The time is now, and we don’t want to miss this opportunity. The clean-energy sector of the Commonwealth’s economy is expected to see a tremendous boost as our offshore wind projects continue to advance. We want to be ready with the trained staff, with the technology and with the ports to continue to do this work.”
The project to build the marshalling yard in Salem is expected to cost about $180 million, according to Seth Lattrell, the city’s harbor planner. The cash from the state ensures the property will be ready to go for its expected opening in 2025.
The $45 million coming to Salem “will allow us to pursue other federal and state grants,” Lattrell said. “It’s helping us to start building out the public forums. ... Our opening date is Jan. 1, 2025, so getting public commitment and investment like this is critical to us meeting that schedule.”