New England Grid-Scale Wind Project Development Update
New England Grid-Scale Wind Project Development Update
Wind power development in New England experienced a lull in 2012, driven in large part by the uncertainty over the federal Production Tax Credit extension. The uncertainty was resolved through a January extension and change to apply to projects commencing construction before the end of 2013. Wind development activity then picked up for projects seeking to respond to 2013 long-term power purchase agreement opportunities (see related article). In addition to new wind farms beginning commercial operation, several other projects are progressing through the development process. Projects are continuing a general trend toward longer blades and higher hub heights, with new turbine designs providing improved economics. An evolving policy environment, including changes to wind turbine siting and operating requirements, has led to challenges for some projects in the region. The policy changes are indicative of the struggle between state and local decision-makers, as well as concerns over health, sound, visual, and environmental impacts. These issues have changed the way developers interact with state and local stakeholders and the project layouts. Meanwhile, three offshore wind projects (Cape Wind, Deepwater Wind's Block Island Wind Farm, and the Deepwater Wind Energy Center), continue to make incremental advances under longer timeframes.
New Grid-Scale Wind in 2013
Four major wind projects came online by mid-2013:
- Green Mountain Power Company's 63-megawatt (MW) Kingdom Community Wind project in northern Vermont
- First Wind's 34-MW Bull Hill Wind project in Maine
- Iberdrola's 28.5-MW Hoosac Wind Farm in western Massachusetts
- Iberdrola's 48-MW Groton Wind project in New Hampshire.
No additional large wind projects are slated to be online by the end of 2013.
State Permitting Activities
A number of wind projects continue to make progress through permitting, while others have encountered resistance or rejection. The status of each major project that has reached the public stage of development is summarized below.
- The state's Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) approved the 8.5-MW Jericho Mountain Wind proposal submitted in January 2013. This project is expected to achieve commercial operation by the end of 2014.
- In December 2012, Pioneer Green Energy LLC, the developer of Timbertop Wind, filed a petition asking the New Hampshire SEC to assert jurisdiction over the proposed 15-MW wind facility in New Ipswich and Temple. In June 2013, the SEC voted unanimously to not intervene in the Timbertop project, citing the limit on SEC's discretionary authority to projects exceeding 30 MW and the legislative authority given to towns to develop local regulations for wind farms. It is unclear whether the project will move forward without the SEC's intervention.
- In February 2013, the SEC voted to reject Eolian Renewable Energy LLC's proposed 30-MW Antrim Wind project. The denial was based on the perceived adverse visual impacts of the project. After a lengthy process, the SEC denied its request to re-hear the case in July, likely ending the project's efforts to secure a permit.
- First Wind's 150-MW Oakfield Wind Project cleared its final state regulatory hurdle in January 2013, when Maine's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) gave its approval. The project faces an expected civil court appeal by opponents and must obtain a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.
- In January 2013, First Wind subsidiary Hancock Wind LLC submitted its application for a 54-MW project. The DEP approved the project in July.
- A 22-MW project being developed by Patriot Renewables in Canton is progressing through the permitting process. The DEP held a series of public meetings in the first half of 2013.
- In November 2012, the DEP rejected Quantum Utility Generation's application for the 42-MW Passadumkeag Wind Park because of the potential negative scenic effect on the nearby Saponac Pond. The developer appealed this decision shortly after. In March 2013, the Maine Board of Environmental Protection (BEP) voted 5-1 to reverse the DEP's denial of the wind farm. After a public comment period, in August BEP found that the project complies with the state's wind siting and environmental standards. BEP voted unanimously to revise the DEP's decision and granted the appeal of the application, allowing the project to move forward.
- In May 2013, First Wind submitted an application to the Maine DEP to build a 62-turbine wind farm in Somerset and Piscataquis Counties. The first public hearing took place in July. With a proposed generating capacity of 186 MW and a cost of $400 million, Bingham Wind would become New England's largest wind project. It would be built in three communities: Bingham (11 turbines), Mayfield Township (29 turbines), and Kingsbury Plantation (22 turbines). Bingham Wind would differ from most other wind projects in New England since it will be built on lower-elevation hills across a large elevated plateau rather than on mountain ridges. The project would also use new 3-MW wind turbines designed for low-wind-speed sites, relying on taller towers and longer blades than most other wind farms in the region. In its permit application, First Wind cites the tangible benefits of the project, including support of 350 full-time jobs for the construction period and an estimated $145 million in project spending in Maine. The developer has also signed community-benefit agreements with stakeholders affected by the project. The DEP is currently reviewing the application. If approved, construction could begin in 2014.
- Citing violations of the Migratory Bird Act, Bald and Golden Eagle Act, and Clean Water Act, Friends of the Boundary Mountains sued the Army Corps of Engineers over permit approvals for the expansion of TransCanada's Kibby Mountain Wind Farm to nearby Sisk Mountain in northwest Maine. The lawsuit primarily cites the permitting of TransCanada's plans for protecting wetland habitats that are utilized by golden eagles and the Bicknell's Thrush.
- The 9-MW Pisgah Mountain Wind Project was unanimously approved by the Clifton Planning Board in October 2011. Residents appealed the approval to the Superior Court in March 2012. The Superior Court affirmed most of the planning board's approval of the environmental impacts, financial capability, and decommissioning of the project but required the town planners to reassess the tower heights and sound levels. In July 2013, the board held a hearing on the case in which the developer and a group of residents presented their findings, but no decision was made. Workshops were held in August to review arguments and generate new findings.
- In April 2012, the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) initially rejected First Wind's Bowers Mountain wind project, a project first proposed as 69 MW in northeast Maine. In late 2012, First Wind reduced the number of turbines from 27 to 16 (and reduced the project's capacity from 69 MW to 48 MW) and submitted the new application to Maine's DEP, which has assumed LURC's role for larger projects. The DEP asked First Wind to provide additional information related to the project's viewshed impacts, the most controversial issue associated with the proposed development. In August, the DEP rejected the application, citing the adverse impacts of the project on views from Scenic Resources of State or National Significance in the area near the development. It is unclear whether the developer will appeal the rejection.
- In March, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the newest DEP regulations lowering nighttime noise limits from 45 dB to 42 dB will apply retroactively to the already-permitted Patriot Renewables' 33-MW Saddleback Ridge Wind Project in Dixfield. The sound limit was reduced as a result of legislation passed in 2012 and was not in place when the project was originally permitted by DEP, so this ruling potentially sets a precedent for future cases. Completion of the wind farm is expected by mid-2014.
- First Wind's 40-MW Sheffield Wind Project was granted an endangered species taking permit for four little brown bats. The Agency of Natural Resources granted the permit after First Wind agreed to implement a program to monitor and study the bats and to curtail turbine operation accordingly. The Public Service Board (PSB) found the project to be in compliance with state noise regulations based on an independent monitoring study.
- In response to abutter noise complaints, officials from Green Mountain Power's 63-MW Lowell Mountain project completed a noise study report in February 2013 that characterized the noise violations at the operating project. The study found that over a 703-hour period, 2 hours in one location exceeded the maximum allowable noise limit. The PSB issued an order in July 2013 finding that exceeding the noise standard is a violation of its order approving the project and its certificate of public good. As a result, the PSB denied Green Mountain Power's claim that a penalty be assigned only if the project fails to take remedial steps necessary to comply with standards. Instead, the PSB decided to impose a civil penalty to be addressed via subsequent hearings.
- The Town of Hubbardston joined West Rutland, Castleton, and Pittsford in opposition to Reunion Power's proposed 50-MW Grandpa's Knob Wind Park. In September 2012, residents voted 94-6 against the ridgeline development. While the vote carries no authority under current law (which leaves such decisions to the PSB), the proposed project has met substantial local resistance from the surrounding communities from the start and faces an uphill battle in the permitting process, given the possibility that the PSB would take local sentiments into account. In March 2013, two landowners in Pittsford filed lease termination paperwork with the town, citing lack of payment as their reason for cancelling the contracts. The proposed Grandpa's Knob wind project may be downsized or abandoned after loss of these leases.
- Vermonters for a Clean Environment (VCE) and seven other plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment with the U.S. District Court of Vermont over Iberdrola's Deerfield Wind Project. In October 2012, Iberdrola announced plans to update turbine specifications for the project. The change includes an extension of the blade length/rotor diameter for most of the turbines, which in turn affects several aspects of the project's impact study. Iberdrola also supplied the U.S. Forest Service with updated analyses for shadow flicker, sound, visual impacts, and wildlife impacts. Because these changes have an impact on the pending request for summary judgment from VCE, both sides agreed to a motion to stay in November 2012 for a term of 6 months. In May 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service released a Final Supplemental Information Report, which concluded that the proposed changes would not create appreciable changes to the environmental impacts that were described in the Final Environmental Impact Statement. In July, the Forest Service accepted the report and found that the proposed blade length change would have minor environmental effects.
- Seneca Mountain Wind is an early-stage project under development by Eolian Renewable Energy. The developer made progress in 2013, receiving approval for met towers from the Public Service Board and installing them, as well as signing a memorandum of understanding with Lyndonville Electric Department for an interconnection study. The project was met with resistance in Newark and Lyndonville, which was the genesis of much of the last legislative session's activity seeking to provide host communities with a voice in wind power permitting.
- The state's Superior Court issued a decision in October 2012 in favor of BNE Energy by upholding the siting council's approval of the developer's 4.8-MW wind project in Colebrook. An appeal from a local opposition group and Colebrook residents is currently pending before the State Supreme Court.
Offshore Wind Projects
In July 2013, the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) held its first offshore renewable energy lease sale on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management offered 164,750 acres offshore of Rhode Island and Massachusetts for commercial wind energy leases. The Wind Energy Area was auctioned as two leases:
- The North Lease Area (Lease OCS-A0486) consists of approximately 97,500 acres.
- The South Lease Area (Lease OCS-A0487) consists of approximately 67,250 acres.
Deepwater Wind LLC won both leases, with total bids of $4 million for the 257-square-mile lease area. Among the nine developers eligible to participate in the auction, only Deepwater, Sea Breeze Energy, and U.S. Wind placed bids. Of the bidders, Deepwater Wind was the only company submitting a bid that possessed a joint development agreement with the state of Rhode Island, a factor weighing in Deepwater Wind's favor. Deepwater Wind plans to develop a wind farm with more than 100 turbines with up to 1,000 MW generating capacity in the Rhode Island Sound development area. The auction must undergo an antitrust review by the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission before the leases become official.
Cape Wind achieved major milestones in recent months. In November 2012, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) approved Cape Wind's 15-year power purchase agreement with NSTAR Electric for 27.5% of the project's output. In March 2013, Cape Wind announced execution of a term sheet with The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ as its coordinating lead arranger of the commercial bank portion of the total debt financing for the project. Since then, Cape Wind announced it secured a pledge from PensionDanmark, a Danish pension fund, for $200 million in capital investment. Cape Wind aims to complete project financing and begin construction by the end of 2013, which would allow the project to secure federal investment tax credits before their expiration. In further financial news, the Department of Energy (DOE) is reconsidering a loan guarantee to Cape Wind, which was tabled in 2011. The DOE currently has the authority to back about $1.5 billion in renewable energy loans. Several other notable developments include:
- Commencing a major geotechnical and geophysical survey operation on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound. The operation is part of the final construction design and engineering process.
- Announcing the location of project headquarters in Falmouth, Massachusetts, where operations are expected to create 50 new permanent jobs
- Signing a $15 million contract with Falmouth-based construction contractor Lawrence-Lynch Corporation to provide the upland construction work necessary to bury the project's electric cables
- Breaking ground on the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal. The terminal will act as a hub for staging construction for offshore wind projects such as Cape Wind, due to the terminal's ability to handle high bulk and large marine cargo.
Deepwater Block Island Wind Farm
Deepwater Wind is developing a pilot offshore wind project in state waters off the coast of Rhode Island. The five-turbine, 30-MW wind farm off the coast of Block Island will supply the power needs of Block Island, and the remaining power will be delivered to the mainland. The Block Island Wind Farm was originally projected to be completed by 2014, but due to legal challenges and a lengthy permitting process, Deepwater Wind now estimates the Block Island Wind Farm project will reach commercial operation in 2015. Over the past several months, Deepwater Wind has continued to make progress toward obtaining the necessary local, state, and federal permits for the Block Island project, including:
- Submitting the final application documents required for state and federal permits in the fall of 2012
- Addressing concerns of the Town of Narragansett associated with the transmission line between the shore landing and the grid interconnection point a mile away by modifying its plans to include an underground cable.
In addition, the Block Island Town Council voted 3-2 at its December 2012 meeting to submit a positive statement from the Electric Utilities Task Group in support of the project to the Army Corps. In March 2013, the Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan subcommittee voted 4-1 to deny the $700,000 fee waiver requested by Deepwater Wind for its Block Island Wind Farm.
Maine Offshore Wind
In 2010, the Maine legislature passed a law directing the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to issue an RFP for up to 30 MW of pilot demonstration projects from offshore wind and tidal energy. The selection process was intended to result in long-term contracts between the selected projects and the state's utilities.
In response to the RFP, Norway-based energy company Statoil proposed developing a four-turbine, 12-MW floating wind demonstration project called Hywind Maine in the Gulf of Maine. Statoil's proposal for a pilot project is a precursor to the developer's long-term plans to deploy a full-scale project. From late 2012 into the first half of 2013, Statoil's development of the offshore wind project achieved several milestones but experienced setbacks as well.
As part of the process of developing a power purchase agreement, in August 2012 Statoil filed a proposed term sheet with the PUC to establish the terms of a long-term contract for Statoil to sell power to Maine utilities. Because the majority of the PUC did not support the term sheet as initially proposed, Statoil submitted a revised term sheet in January 2013, including changes that:
- Lower the energy price
- Place upon Statoil the risk of securing available DOE funding
- Adjust the contract price escalation rate
- Increase Statoil's project spending in Maine
- Commit Statoil to involve Maine contractors in future regional development.
The PUC formally approved the revised term sheet in February 2013. The approval does not guarantee that the 12-MW pilot project will be built, but it was a critical hurdle for Statoil. Other recent milestones for Hywind Maine include:
- In December 2012, DOE announced awards to seven offshore wind projects, including the Hywind project. In the initial phase, each project will receive up to $4 million to complete the engineering, design, and permitting phase of the award. The DOE will then select up to three of the seven projects for follow-on phases that focus on siting, construction, and installation and aim to achieve commercial operation by 2017.
- Also in December 2012, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management issued a Notice of Determination of No Competitive Interest for the area requested by Statoil for a commercial offshore wind lease.
In the midst of reaching these milestones, the Hywind Maine project recently experienced a major snag. A new state law passed in June 2013 required that the PUC re-open the selection of an offshore wind demonstration project under the 2010 law by issuing a new RFP, specifically opening an opportunity for a competing floating offshore wind demonstration being developed by the DeepCWind consortium led by the University of Maine (see below). The new RFP effectively puts Statoil in direct competition with the University of Maine wind pilot project. In response, Statoil announced the suspension of its $200 million project until the total risk picture for investment in Maine is acceptable. Statoil stated it will assess the risks and legal changes due to the re-opening of the long-term contract docket and look for alternative locations.
Umaine's Floating Offshore Wind Turbines
After several years in design and development, in May 2013 the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center launched a scale version of North America's first floating offshore wind turbine at the Penobscot River. The University-led DeepCWind consortium plans to deploy full-scale wind farms in the Gulf of Maine.
The 2013 legislation mentioned above allows the DeepCWind project to be evaluated by the PUC for a power purchase agreement before the end of 2013, creating a path for the university's offshore wind pilot project to secure a long-term power sale contract with the state's utilities. In July, the PUC re-opened the original RFP process to accept bids submitted by September 1, 2013 from additional offshore wind projects, including the University of Maine's project.
This information was last updated on June 09, 2015