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Offshore wind farm starts generating power

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The country's first large-scale offshore wind farm hit a historic milestone this week. It started sending power to the grid for the first time. Vineyard Wind, off the coast of Massachusetts, delivered five megawatts of electricity from one turbine. Now, that may not sound like much, but it is a big deal for this new industry. Barbara Moran from member station WBUR joins me. Hey there.

BARBARA MORAN, BYLINE: Hello.

KELLY: OK, I just said it's a big deal. How big a deal?

MORAN: It is a huge deal. I would say it is hard to overestimate how big a deal this is. And that's because Vineyard Wind is going to be the first really big utility-scale offshore wind farm in the United States. And it's been a really long road getting here, and I think supporters of the industry are really breathing a sigh of relief this week.

KELLY: So, so far, they have cranked out five megawatts. This is one turbine...

MORAN: Yeah.

KELLY: ...Generating power. But how big is Vineyard Wind going to be when it's done?

MORAN: It should be finished later this year. And when it's done, it will generate enough electricity for 400,000 homes. And that power will come from 62 turbines spaced about a mile apart in the Atlantic Ocean. And there are a couple other projects producing power, but they're much smaller, with only a handful of turbines. There's South Fork Wind near Long Island, which began producing electricity in December. And the Block Island Wind Farm is generating power off Rhode Island. Yesterday I spoke with Klaus Moeller, the CEO of Vineyard Wind, and he said that his project is really, like, next level compared to those.

KLAUS MOELLER: That's the upside of offshore wind - that you can do it in the ocean in a scale that is similar to power plants, right? And that's why we say we are the first utility-scale project. We are really a power plant offshore.

MORAN: So Moeller told me that Vineyard Wind achieved first power, as they call it, around midnight on Tuesday. And I asked what they did to celebrate. And he said they're doing their traditional celebration and eating cake.

KELLY: Eating cake - sounds good to me.

MORAN: (Laughter).

KELLY: OK. The wider industry, the offshore wind industry - it's young, it's small. It has faced some headwinds, if I may use the term, in the past year and a half. What's going on?

MORAN: Yeah. Headwinds are a good way to describe it. So there's been supply chain backlogs, these high interest rates, permitting challenges. And then in October, Orsted, which is the world's largest offshore wind developer, they just outright canceled two projects in New Jersey. That was a big blow. And then just on Wednesday, developers of a huge New York offshore wind project backed out of their contract. Now, that project will probably still get built, but the developers want more money. So - but I think in a way, these setbacks have made this week's announcement from Vineyard Wind kind of all the more important. And that's because offshore wind supporters are hoping it gives developers more confidence that this industry is for real.

KELLY: Yeah, that's what I'm so curious about. How will they know if it's...

MORAN: Yeah.

KELLY: ...For real?

MORAN: (Laughter) Well, we'll see, right? The - we'll see. The federal government recently approved the second-largest - or the largest project in the country so far off the coast of Virginia. And when that's finished in 2026, it'll power close to a million homes. Right now, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island are taking bids on their next offshore wind project. And there's increasing action in the rest of the country as well. So California is trying to start up offshore wind, and there's a little bit of slow-moving action in the Gulf of Mexico too.

KELLY: And help us understand, Barbara, how this fits into President Biden's climate agenda. I have seen he wants to have 10 million homes powered by offshore wind by the year 2030. Is that realistic?

MORAN: Yeah. Well, it's an ambitious goal for sure. And, you know, these financial and manufacturing challenges that the industry is facing will ease up, but they're not going to go away immediately. And as the offshore wind industry grows, so does the opposition to it. Some of that's coming from the fossil fuel industry and some is coming from concerns that projects in the ocean will hurt the fishing industry and also harm marine animals, like the critically endangered right whale in the Atlantic Ocean.

KELLY: WBUR's Barbara Moran. Thanks for your reporting.

MORAN: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF STORMZY SONG, "HIDE AND SEEK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Barbara Moran / WBUR