Offshore cable installation commenced this week for Vineyard Wind which is billed as the first commercial-scale offshore wind farm in the United States. The company used the launch as an opportunity to highlight its work with the U.S. merchant marine while attempting to put to rest a controversy over a foreign-flagged tug spotted by Offshore Marine Services Association (OMSA) at the site. At the same time, the next steps in Massachusetts’ offshore wind industry are uncertain as rising prices, shortages, and interest rates are impacting the development plans.
Vineyard Wind is an 800-megawatt project that will be located 15 miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. It will generate electricity for more than 400,000 homes and businesses in Massachusetts. The developers reported that the first work was started at the site approximately 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, but that nearshore cable work off the south coast of Cape Cod would also be beginning. Cable installation is scheduled to continue into early 2023.
“For a project that has achieved many firsts, the beginning of offshore cable installation is perhaps the most significant we have achieved so far,” said Vineyard Wind CEO Klaus Moeller. “To get to this point has required an amazing effort by the Vineyard Wind team. I want to thank all the local, state, and federal government agencies, which have been essential in thoroughly reviewing this project over the past five years and allowing us to reach this milestone.”
The cabling work is being conducted by Prysmian Group. The company’s 10,500 dwt cable layer Cable Enterprise, registered in the UK, is onsite. The vessel is said to be well suited to the assignment because she is designed for operation in heavy weather conditions, but her foreign registry and support vessels created a controversy.
OMSA reported that a Dutch-flagged, Dutch-owned tug had been seen at the location and was doing the job of handling anchors. The group has been calling on the U.S. Congress to enact legislation that would limit how foreign-flagged operators can work on the OCS. The group complained citing promises that the workboat projects would be handled by U.S. flagged vessels while it said two other U.K. registered vessels were also expected on the project.
The project team was quick to point out that Prysmian is being supported by Foss Maritime, a U.S.-based, unionized maritime service company. The firm’s Nicole Foss will assist with both the offshore and nearshore work in the coming weeks, they said, while saying the Dutch vessel was “an integrated unit that’s worked in tandem with the Cable Enterprise for a decade and is designed specifically for the highly technical nature of cable installation.”
Vineyard Wind said that the fully Jones Act compliant cable installation process permits the use of both U.S. and specialized European flagged vessels that work together. In addition to the Foss vessels involved in the project, they also noted that the fishing vessel Fleet King, which is being provided by Sea Services, is working alongside the Cable Enterprise to ensure good communication with fishermen and other mariners in the area. In the coming weeks, they further highlighted, Vineyard Wind will also begin nearshore at Covell’s Beach in Barnstable and will also employ fishing vessels to facilitate good communication with other local fishermen.
While Vineyard Wind is progressing and scheduled to begin delivering clean energy to Massachusetts in 2023, the state’s next projects are asking regulators for additional time to evaluate the current economic environment.
In May 2022, power purchase agreements for both the Commonwealth Wind and Mayflower Wind projects were filed for the projects which are currently in the permitting stage. The developers for both of the projects however have asked for additional time citing the impact of inflation and rising interest rates as well as prolonged supply chain constraints. The developer of Commonwealth Power said in a recent filing with the regulators that the project is no longer viable and would not be able to move forward without possible revisions to their contracts. The developers were asking for a delay so they could review recently enacted federal energy tax credits and other elements that could be used to improve the viability of the projects.