By Mark Rodgers
This winter found many of us trying to get inside from the cold, where the comforts of modern life awaited -- warmth, lights, electronics, appliances, and a hot meal.
You may not have realized it, but the infrastructure that delivers energy to us, upon which all these comforts depend, was under great stress.
Massachusetts does not produce coal, oil, or natural gas. We are at the end of the energy pipeline for all those fuels. Over the past 30 years, our region has shifted more of our energy use away from coal and oil and toward natural gas. Yet our demand for gas, both in the heating and electric sectors, has been increasing much faster than the supply of gas that pipelines deliver us.
During this cold winter, we saw spot market prices for natural gas and electricity rise significantly. This not only made electricity generated by gas more expensive, it also meant that as the heating sector used more gas there was less available for power plants. There were times in this past brutally cold January when our region’s electric grid manager, ISO-New England, needed to run old, inefficient, and dirty “peaker” power units just to keep the lights on.
These cold periods that stress our energy infrastructure also tend to be quite windy. In fact, winter is our windiest season. Massachusetts is not at the end of the wind pipeline. In elevated locations, along the shore and particularly offshore, we have our own vast supply of clean wind energy waiting to be tapped.
Over the past 13 years, our company has been developing America’s first offshore wind farm, Cape Wind, off the coast of Cape Cod. During that time, Cape Wind would have provided significant energy, economic, and environmental benefits to Massachusetts and beyond.
During a severe three-day cold snap in January 2004, ISO New England contemplated the need for rolling blackouts because of the shortage of natural gas for electricity generation. The US Department of Energy studied the region’s energy vulnerability and noted that, during the entire three-day period, winds over Nantucket Sound were strong. Had Cape Wind been built, the project would have been operating at full capacity during most of that period and provided significant electric reliability benefits.
This past winter, Cape Wind would have eased the stress on the natural gas and electric spot markets and reduced price spikes. Had Cape Wind been operating, National Grid and NSTAR would have also saved millions of dollars this winter under their contracts with us compared with relying upon spot markets. Over time, Cape Wind’s impact in reducing electric spot market prices will be significant, more than $7 billion over the life of the project, according to a study by Charles River Associates. Wind power consistently reduces electric spot market prices wherever it has already been installed on a significant scale, such as in Europe or in parts of the United States.
Offshore wind is also particularly valuable during a less windy season, summer. One might think of the dog days of August when temperatures are high but winds are calm. Yet offshore, it’s a different story. The sea breeze kicks in during hot summer afternoons. In fact, we have found that, during the highest summer electric demand hours, Cape Wind would double its average hourly electricity production.
It has been a long road for Cape Wind, but we are now in our financing stage and preparing for project construction. Right now Europe is successfully operating 64 offshore wind farms that were built over the past 23 years, creating 58,000 offshore wind jobs in the process. Massachusetts has some of the best offshore wind resources in the world and will soon have North America’s first offshore wind farm. Cape Wind will provide greater energy independence and electric reliability while also creating good jobs and contributing to a healthier, cleaner, and more sustainable energy future.
Mark Rodgers is the Communications Director of Cape Wind, based in Boston. This piece originally appeared in Commonwealth Magazine April 2, 2014.