Massachusetts Ocean Plan Outlines Areas for Wind Energy Development

July 09, 2009

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick announced the first-in-the-nation plan to manage development of the state’s coastal waters. The Massachusetts Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs released the Massachusetts Draft Ocean Energy Plan at the end of June after more than 100 public meetings and what Department Secretary Ian Bowles called more than a year of stakeholder input. The plan was developed with the assistance of the Ocean Science Advisory Council consisting of nine scientists with expertise in ocean sciences and data management.

Proposals for large-scale energy infrastructure projects—including wind, ocean wave, and liquid natural gas terminals—and the accompanying public reaction had prompted the state to develop the plan.

In May 2008, the Mass. Legislature passed the 2008 Ocean Act, which called for the state to develop the plan. That legislation encourages development of appropriately scaled renewable energy systems in state waters, except for the Cape Cod Ocean Sanctuary offshore from the Cape Cod National Seashore.

The Mass. Draft Ocean Energy Plan restricts development in what it calls ocean sanctuaries, which comprise all of the southern shores from Cape Cod to the Rhode Island border and the northern coast from Massachusetts Bay, where Boston is located, to the New Hampshire border. Thus, only 25% of the state’s offshore waters are open to development commercial wind power plants. For details, view a map of the Massachusetts Ocean Management Planning Area and Ocean Area Sanctuaries (PDF 889 KB).

In a radio interview on July 1, Ian Bowles said that the proposal for the Buzzard’s Bay commercial wind power plant would not be able to move forward as proposed because would be located between the shore and Martha’s Vineyard inside the Cape & Islands Ocean Sanctuary.

However, Bowles said that another, much smaller wind farm consisting of about three turbines proposed by the town of Hull would be able to proceed under the guidelines because the town had given its approval. In fact, Hull already has a wind turbine (rated at 660 kilowatts, which is less than one-quarter of the rated capacity of large, off-shore wind turbines) that the town installed with help from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources in the 1990s. You can read a case study about the project titled Wind Power on the Community Scale (PDF 715 KB).

Bowles predicts that other states and the federal government will follow the precedent set by Massachusetts in setting guidelines to encourage off-shore infrastructure development. He pointed out that the Obama administration had initiated a similar process two weeks earlier to set guidelines for energy development in federal waters, and California has carried out a number of environmental protection studies for offshore areas. Massachusetts takes the studies a step further and outlines a zoning process that large-scale energy infrastructure developers can use to move projects forward in the state.

Read a related story published June 10 by the U.S. Department of Energy in EERE Network News titled Federal Regulators and Washington State to Collaborate on Water Power.

To read more about renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in Massachusetts, see: