The first large offshore wind farm in New England has started producing electricity, a milestone for an industry that has struggled to get off the ground over the past year.
The power started flowing late on Tuesday. For now, the Vineyard Wind project, located off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., can send only five megawatts of power to the grid from a single towering wind turbine. But the companies behind the project, Avangrid and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, plan to install a total of 62 turbines with 800 megawatts of capacity, or roughly enough electricity to power 400,000 homes, by the end of this year.
“We’ve arrived at a watershed moment for climate action in the U.S., and a dawn for the American offshore wind industry,” said Pedro Azagra Blázquez, the chief executive of Avangrid, an American subsidiary of Iberdrola, the Spanish utility.
Vineyard Wind is the nation’s second utility-scale offshore wind farm to start generating electricity. Another large project off the coast of New York, South Fork Wind, began producing power in December. Once completed, South Fork will be capable of producing 132 megawatts of electricity.
The two projects are coming online at a turbulent time for the nascent offshore wind industry. To fight climate change, many Eastern states are hoping to install dozens of large wind farms in the Atlantic Ocean that can generate electricity without emitting any planet-warming greenhouse gases. But lately, developers of those projects have struggled with soaring costs, high interest rates, supply chain delays and bursts of local opposition.
Developers have already terminated contracts for several large, planned wind farms in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York, saying that the deals were signed before rising inflation and interest rates upended the profitability of those projects. As a result, analysts at BloombergNEF say they expect that just 15,000 megawatts of offshore wind will be installed in the United States by 2030, about one-third less than they had expected as recently as June.
The latest cancellation came on Wednesday, when Equinor and BP announced that they were terminating a contract with New York to sell the state electricity from Empire Wind 2, a proposed 1,260-megawatt offshore wind farm that would be located southeast of Long Island.
The Empire Wind project is not necessarily dead, analysts said. The companies could still rebid this year for a new contract to sell power to New York State at even higher prices. Many Eastern states are now confronting the reality that offshore wind will probably prove more expensive than initially planned.
The Biden administration has made offshore wind a priority, essentially aiming to create an industry from scratch. But the United States remains far behind Europe, which has already installed more than 32,000 megawatts of capacity in its waters.
Developers have been trying to build offshore wind turbines near Cape Cod, Mass., since the early 2000s. An initial project proposed near Nantucket, known as Cape Wind, was ultimately canceled after a backlash from residents who said the turbines would spoil views of the sea. Its successor, Vineyard Wind, was proposed farther off the coast in 2018 but took years to secure federal permits after the Trump administration hit pause on the project. But in 2021, under the Biden administration, Vineyard Wind became the first large-scale wind farm to receive federal approval. Construction got underway in June.