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New Hampshire eyes offshore wind potential with state-federal task force


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New Hampshire eyes offshore wind potential with state-federal task force

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu has asked the federal government to form an intergovernmental task force on offshore wind, kicking off the first step for the Granite State to become a serious player in New England's fast-moving offshore wind industry.

In a Jan. 2 letter to the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's acting director, Walter Cruickshank, Sununu, a Republican, said the task force would "facilitate coordination and consultation among federal, state and local governments on renewable energy commercial leasing proposals in federal waters offshore of New Hampshire." Matthew Mailoux, an energy adviser for state's Office of Strategic Initiatives, will serve as the state liaison with federal agency, known as BOEM.

"The task force will mirror those in other states. Its purpose is to facilitate coordination with federal and New Hampshire stakeholders to determine the feasibility of offshore wind in federal waters off New Hampshire's coast," Mailoux said in an email. "This is a preliminary step in a lengthy process prior to any decision."

New Hampshire has a renewable portfolio standard target of getting 25% of its electricity from renewables by 2025, but it has not established specific procurement goals for offshore wind nor a timeline on when it wants to build offshore wind facilities off its coast. BOEM's first stage in developing an offshore wind project, when state and federal governments solicit comments from stakeholders and analyze potential lease areas, takes about two years, while it could take more than a decade before the state sees steel in the water. BOEM's operations are currently restricted due to the partial federal government shutdown.

However, Sununu's request has the clean energy sector excited about joining the bustling offshore wind activity in the Northeast after Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut in solicitations last year agreed to contract for a combined 1,400 MW of offshore wind capacity in 2018.

Catherine Corkery, the chapter director and senior organizing representative for the New Hampshire Sierra Club, said offshore wind has been on the minds of New Hampshire residents for years, starting with Renny Cushing, a Democratic member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives who spearheaded a legislative committee in 2014 to examine's the state's potential role in offshore wind.

"We're not the biggest user of electricity in ISO New England and we have enough capacity to use what we have, but it's about cleaning up our electricity," Corkery said in an interview. "We need to replace [coal power plants] with clean energy sources as well as increase our energy efficiency and offshore wind would be a great direction for us to go in."

In the fall of 2018, Michael Behrmann, director of business development at business organization Clean Energy New Hampshire, led a group of energy developers on a trip to Denmark to meet with offshore wind developers to determine what role New Hampshire could have in the offshore wind sector. He saw that taking an economic look at a country that was a pioneer in the global offshore wind sector helped the group realize the state's potential.

"We felt like New Hampshire has a lot of existing opportunities to help craft at least a portion of the necessary supply chain that the region is going to need and we can compete with the rest of the market," Behrmann said in an interview. "It was a good idea to take that approach because it is needed in this market, but it was even better because of the position we were in without having gone through the task force."

Shortest coastline of any US state

New Hampshire's 2014 update to its 10-year energy plan suggests that the state has an offshore wind potential of about 3,500 MW, though the 2018 update does not give any estimates. New Hampshire's coastline is only 18 miles long, making it the shortest coastline for a U.S. state and giving project developers fewer options for connecting wind facilities to shore. But given its proximity to Massachusetts and Maine, New Hampshire could have options to build some projects off its coast or be a supply chain hub for projects in nearby states.

"New Hampshire might not have the best wind study results, but what we do have is this great location strategically for developers to manufacturer and have their business here," Corkery said.

Being able to do build projects and supply others in nearby states would be the most ideal, Behrmann said. The state could have a "pretty impacting" development off its coast, though supporting other projects in their supply chains may be easiest. The state's tax structure and its deepwater port Pease International Tradeport would attract manufacturers and help bring down project costs.

Another option for New Hampshire is to purchase offshore wind power from regional utilities such as Eversource Energy. Eversource is involved in offshore wind developments through its Bay State Wind LLC venture and its electric distribution utility in Massachusetts has contracted for power from offshore wind. Eversource also owns New Hampshire's largest electric distribution utility, known legally as Public Service Co. of New Hampshire. Behrmann said that since New Hampshire is in ISO New England market, the state will receive some of the power from the offshore wind contracts that are pending approval.

"Having spoken with a few utilities about the issue, there is definitely interest in potential procurement of [offshore wind]," he said, citing technology advancements, declining prices and the popularity of clean energy. "New Hampshire is a small state, but we could absolutely have some large impacts as we start to really go down that path."