For the first time in the United States, turbines are sending electricity to the grid from the sites of two large offshore wind farms.
The joint owners of the Vineyard Wind project, Avangrid and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, announced Wednesday the first electricity from one turbine at what will be a 62-turbine wind farm 15 miles (24 kilometers) off the coast of Massachusetts.
Five turbines are installed there. One turbine delivered about 5 megawatts of power to the Massachusetts grid just before midnight Wednesday. The other four are undergoing testing and should be operating early this year.
Danish wind energy developer Ørsted and the utility Eversource announced last month that their first turbine was sending electricity from what will be a 12-turbine wind farm, South Fork Wind, 35 miles (56 kilometers) east of Montauk Point, New York. Now, a total of five turbines have been installed there too.
Avangrid CEO Pedro Azagra said 2023 was a historic year for offshore wind with "steel in the water and people at work, and today, we begin a new chapter and welcome 2024 by delivering the first clean offshore wind power to the grid in Massachusetts." Avangrid is an energy company headquartered in Orange, Connecticut. Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners is a large fund manager and global leader in renewable energy investments.
"We've arrived at a watershed moment for climate action in the U.S., and a dawn for the American offshore wind industry," Azagra said in a statement Wednesday.
Nearly 200 countries agreed last month at COP28 to move away from planet-warming fossil fuels — the first time they've made that crucial pledge in decades of U.N. climate talks. The deal calls for tripling the use of renewable energy, and offshore wind will be crucial to meeting that target.
But the industry has had hard times recently. Developers have canceled several projects along the East Coast, saying they were no longer financially feasible.
On Wednesday, Equinor and BP announced a "reset" for Empire Wind 2, a 1,260-megawatt offshore wind project off the coast of New York, citing changed economic circumstances on an industry-wide scale. The project isn't canceled, but it will take longer to continue the development and participate in a future offshore wind solicitation. They did not change the first phase of the project to develop an 800-megawatt wind farm in the same lease area, Empire Wind 1.
Large offshore wind farms have been making electricity for three decades in Europe, and more recently in Asia. Vineyard Wind was conceived as a way to launch offshore wind in the United States, and prove that the industry wasn't dead in the United States at at time when many people thought it was.
The first U.S. offshore wind farm was supposed to be a project off the coast of Massachusetts known as Cape Wind. The application was submitted to the federal government in 2001. It failed after years of local opposition and litigation. Turbines began spinning off Rhode Island's Block Island in 2016. But with just five of them, it's not a commercial-scale wind farm.
Vineyard Wind submitted state and federal project plans to build an offshore wind farm in 2017. Massachusetts had committed to offshore wind by requiring its utilities to solicit proposals for up to 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power by 2027.
Vineyard Wind would be significantly farther offshore than Cape Wind and the first utility-scale wind power development in federal waters.
In what might have been a fatal blow, federal regulators delayed Vineyard Wind by holding off on issuing a key environmental impact statement in 2019. Massachusetts Democratic Rep. William Keating said at the time the Trump administration was trying to stymie the renewable energy project just as it was coming to fruition.
The Biden administration signed off on it in 2021. Construction began onshore in Barnstable, Massachusetts. This spring, massive tower sections from Portugal arrived at the Port of New Bedford to be assembled out on the water.
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said Wednesday's announcement is a "great way to kick off 2024."
The 800-megawatt wind farm will power more than 400,000 homes and businesses in Massachusetts. Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey said 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.