Logan Airport is an essential part of Massachusetts’ economic infrastructure — without it, we couldn’t be a global hub for health care, education, finance, biotechnology and clean energy. But imagine if we were designing Logan from scratch and kicked off the process by inviting Delta and JetBlue to locate and build their individual gates first and only later decide where to place and pave the general-purpose runways.
As Massachusetts is taking its first steps to build significant offshore-wind generation 15 to 25 miles off our shores, we are in danger of building the gates first and worrying about the runways later. This situation would thwart the full promise of establishing a world-class offshore-wind industry here in the Bay State.
In our airport metaphor, the gates are the wind farms that will contribute to the 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind energy required by Gov. Baker’s 2016 energy bill. The runways are the transmission infrastructure that will relay those clean electrons to homes and businesses onshore. If the planning is done upfront with thoughtful infrastructure design and siting, we can and should ultimately build up to twice the megawatts of wind capacity off the Massachusetts coast. This would result in many more jobs related to manufacturing turbines, towers and blades, along with testing, transportation, staging and assembly of those components, and ongoing repair, maintenance and upgrades.
Building the essential foundation for a large-scale industry will only be possible if Massachusetts acts now to plan, design and build a shared, independent offshore transmission system — the backbone of the new industry. Doing so would allow us to locate a few central offshore collection stations that each offshore wind farm would tie into, and to run only a few transmission lines from those to substations onshore.
To attain these goals, there are some hurdles to overcome. For this procurement, only three wind energy developers (who had successfully purchased offshore leases from the Interior Department) were invited to bid. The process also placed two primary electric utilities in roles of both bidders as well as potential recipients by serving on the committee selecting the winning bid. Thus we’d also like to encourage state leaders to improve the offshore wind selection process to include the following factors:
- Greater transparency: Complete disclosure of the criteria and process for selection
- Complete fairness: Inclusion of all qualified companies in the bidding, including independent transmission developers, and the establishment of a neutral official to select the final awardee
- Ultimate wisdom: Require the transmission infrastructure be developed independent of the wind farms to enable future expansion that is cost-efficient, minimizes environmental impacts, and builds future capacity
We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a new industry here in the commonwealth, triggering, among other things, significant economic development. Let’s get it done the right way — from the start.
-Tim Vaill, former chairman and CEO of Boston Private, is a senior partner and CFO at Anbaric Development Partners. Kevin Knobloch is a senior research fellow at the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a consultant to Anbaric.