Wind power off Seacoast years away: What NH is doing to get ready and a look at potential

Mark Sanborn, New Hamphire Department of Environmental Services assistant commissioner, left, is introduced during the New Hampshire Offshore Wind Summit Tuesday, Sept. 27 in Portsmouth. Other members seen here are state Sen. David Watters, Chris Ellms of the Depatment of Engergy, Cheri Patterson of New Hampshire Fish & Game and Erik Chapman of New Hampshire Sea Grant .
Mark Sanborn, New Hamphire Department of Environmental Services assistant commissioner, left, is introduced during the New Hampshire Offshore Wind Summit Tuesday, Sept. 27 in Portsmouth. Other members seen here are state Sen. David Watters, Chris Ellms of the Depatment of Engergy, Cheri Patterson of New Hampshire Fish & Game and Erik Chapman of New Hampshire Sea Grant .

PORTSMOUTH — New Hampshire and states around the region have been exploring offshore wind power for a number of years. There has been an added sense of urgency to push for these kinds of projects in 2022 as electricity and natural gas rates surged.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu on Tuesday called the volatility of the New England electricity market a “regional crisis” that is affecting New Hampshire residents and families.

As New Hampshire evaluates the potential for offshore wind power, industry leaders and state officials say that they are taking a slow, methodical approach to ensure future projects are in the Granite State’s best interest.

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Gov. Chris Sununu at the New Hampshire Offshore Wind Summit Tuesday, Sept. 27 in Portsmouth.
Gov. Chris Sununu at the New Hampshire Offshore Wind Summit Tuesday, Sept. 27 in Portsmouth.

Officials gathered for the inaugural New Hampshire Offshore Wind Summit in Portsmouth on Tuesday, to address where the state stands on offshore wind. The event was hosted by the Seacoast Chamber Alliance, and the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association.

Wind power off NH Seacoast is still years away

Mark Sanborn, assistant commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, said planning for a Gulf of Maine offshore wind project is still in its early stages and several years away from becoming a reality. However, he said, there is a lot of leg work that needs to happen in the meantime.

Sanborn said while the federal government undergoes its process, the state is conducting its own research and actions to prepare.

Sununu said while some say progress on wind power isn't moving fast enough, he cautioned against rushing such a "complex project" without extensive research and due diligence. He said the state can use the time to strategize and learn from other states.

“This is a complex issue, so we need to make sure that all the right stakeholders are in the room, that all the voices are heard,” Sununu said.

Why wind power?

New Hampshire state Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, who is chair of the New Hampshire Commission to Study Offshore Wind and Port Development, touted the potential.

“The message is we are open for business in New Hampshire when it comes to offshore wind, and I think that the timing is really right because of the renewed interest in renewable energy,” Watters said. “That of course, is going to drive extraordinary economic opportunity.”

Watters said the first three to five gigawatts of power generation from Gulf of Maine development will contribute to billions of dollars spent in construction, workforce and the supply chain. The project has potential to build enough turbines to generate 30 gigawatts, which in turn helps local economies, he said.

"We're here, we're scaling up and we're getting ready," Watters said.

According to the New England for Offshore Wind coalition, the wind off the New England coast is strong and consistently powerful enough year-round to be an ideal spot for offshore wind. The state's 10-year energy plan, published in July, states that the Gulf of Maine in particular has the "highest consistent offshore wind speeds in the nation." The coast's shallow waters, also make it an accessible and ideal solution.

In order to protect New Hampshire’s interests in terms of grid and price reliability, economic development, infrastructure, and business, Sununu said that we “have to leave politics out of it” and approach this as a nonpartisan issue.

In 2019, Sununu called for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to establish a tri-state federal task force to plan Gulf of Maine lease areas.

Watters said the state Commission to Study Offshore Wind and Port Development has sought input from experts and stakeholders and other interested parties of offshore wind to push legislation to help spur the development of the offshore wind industry.

Legislation keeps wind power on track

Watters said passage of two key bills helps solidify the state’s interests and goals in wind energy by creating a process and consistency.

Senate Bill 268 was passed this year, setting up a process allowing mitigation efforts and impacts of offshore wind to be studied. Watters said this is in place to “help protect our fishermen and other environmental interests out there.”  It also states that under federal statute, if the state can demonstrate an economic or other interest in those federal waters, where the project would be built, it can declare an interest and have some regulatory authority.

Senate Bill 440, which was also passed this year, directs the Department of Energy to determine parameters for contracts that will be brought to the state for offshore wind. Watters said that it will “be crucially important to make sure that New Hampshire interests are represented.”

NH working with federal officials

Sanborn, of NH DES, said it doesn’t matter if the state supports offshore wind or not, it’s going to happen. The turbines would sit in federal waters, so the federal government has the final say.

Sanborn said it's important now to ensure New Hampshire has a seat at the table, which the state has done by the creation of and participation in multiple commissions, task forces, committees, and organizations.

Sanborn said the state's five priorities in supporting offshore wind projects in New Hampshire are: support through existing and new transmission infrastructure, positive economic development, strengthened supply chain through the port, strong labor workforce, and the use of the state’s small manufacturing companies for technical work.

The state Department of Energy has an impact assessment study under way to look at what potential environmental, economic and energy effects that offshore wind could have on New Hampshire. This is just one of the many assessments being done behind the scenes.

Experts said the impact on cargo routes, commercial and recreational fishermen, and charter boats are also being studied.

Chris Ellms, New Hampshire Department of Energy deputy commissioner, said offshore wind “represents a new and unique resource.”

“As we look to a changing energy landscape, we will see huge shifts in technologies and usage. Offshore wind represents a unique factor in that transition,” Elms said. “The Department of Energy is doing our due diligence to ensure that the efforts related to offshore wind meet the interest standards for affordability, promote New Hampshire's priorities of regional discussions, and attempts to minimize the risks to our energy interests and protect our state from unintended consequences.”

This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: What NH is doing to get ready for future wind power in Gulf of Maine