About 24km south of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, a structure emerges from the Atlantic Ocean. It will have the biggest turbines in the Atlantic stacked on top.
It is the first offshore power substation in the US and in October it is expected to start delivering electricity from Vineyard Wind, the nation’s first commercial-scale offshore wind farm. By 2024, the project is expected to generate enough electricity to power 400,000 homes.
A few miles away are the first six monopiles, foundations fixed to the seabed that will hold the turbines, which developers, Avangrid and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, are set to begin attaching next week, said Sy Oytan, Avangrid’s chief operating officer for offshore wind.
“Seeing the first monopile in the water was such a relief,” Mr Oytan said. “It was the point of no return.”
The monopiles are the most tangible sign of progress for US offshore wind, but they come at a time when the industry is struggling. While construction on Vineyard Wind is increasing, other projects have stalled after inflation and rising financing rates drove up costs.
Developers are seeking to renegotiate power-delivery contracts they signed years ago, before surging component prices made the deals unviable. And some states are baulking at the prospect of higher electricity rates from offshore turbines. That is why Mr Oytan is so pleased this project is taking shape.
Strong, consistent winds combined with shallow water make the US North-east one of the best places in the world for offshore wind, said Mr Oytan.
He was leading a tour of the site on the Captain John & Son II on Wednesday, about two hours from Hyannis, Massachusetts, for about 75 politicians, environmental advocates, labour representatives and local community leaders. The 26-metre vessel was dwarfed by the substation, which is almost the size of an American football field.
And that will look tiny compared to the 62 turbines that will be installed by early 2024. The General Electric systems will each have about 13MW of capacity and rise about 259 metres.
They will be the biggest in the Atlantic, according to Eric Hines, a Tufts University engineering professor. And GE is expected to introduce taller versions of its Haliade turbines.
“This is real,” said Joe O’Brien, the political and legislative director for the North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters. “Ten years ago it was hypothetical.”
Mr O’Brien represents some of the union workers who are eager to see the industry take off, and deliver high-paying jobs to the region. President Joe Biden has set a goal of 30GW of turbines in operation in US waters by 2030, and several North-east and mid-Atlantic states have established their own targets.
But those goals are threatened by the economic turmoil that has beset the industry. Avangrid agreed in July to pay $49 million to cancel a power-purchase agreement for its 1.2GW Commonwealth Wind project, saying rising costs had made it unviable.
Vineyard Wind managed to avoid those issues because it lined up supply deals before inflation drove up costs.
These issues are temporary setbacks, according to industry advocates. Demand for clean energy will only increase, driven by the push to electrify more of the economy and the increasing urgency of the fight against climate change.
That will spur more utilities to pursue offshore wind, especially in the Northeast where there are few alternatives, said Susannah Hatch, director of clean energy policy for the Environmental League of Massachusetts.
“There might be a little bit of a lull,” she said. “It doesn’t mean the industry isn’t moving forward.”
There are two wind farms in service in US waters now, one near Block Island, Rhode Island, that has five turbines and a total of 30MW of capacity, and a two-turbine project in Virginia that has 12MW of capacity. Both are viewed as demonstration projects that laid the groundwork for larger projects like Avangrid’s 806MW Vineyard Wind.
Besides the Avangrid project, another wind farm is under construction nearby, the 132MW South Fork project east of Long Island, New York.
The smaller project is a joint venture of Eversource Energy, a Massachusetts utility, and Orsted, a Danish energy developer, will have 12 turbines.
It began offshore work in June and will probably be complete before Vineyard, although Avangrid executives expect their project will be able to deliver electricity to the grid earlier.
The emergence of offshore wind projects has brought together disparate groups, said Mr O’Brien, the union official. Labour groups and environmentalists historically have found themselves in opposition.
But looking around the deck of the Captain John & Son II, Mr O’Brien pointed to the different groups of people who had all come to see the result of their years of effort promoting the offshore wind industry.
“Everyone wants this,” he said. “Now we’re all in the same boat.”