SALEM — City and energy industry leaders gathered at Blaney Wharf on Thursday to announce “Commonwealth Wind,” a partnership to transform 42 acres of undeveloped land around Salem Harbor Footprint that would support an offshore wind facility.
The partnership is one of two proposals competing for the right to develop offshore wind off Martha’s Vineyard, with Mayflower Wind out of Boston and Fall River representing the other proposal, according to the mayor’s office. Bids were due Sept. 16.
For the last several months, city officials — and those at Footprint Power — have been warming to the idea of Salem serving as a “marshaling yard” and landside base of operations for the offshore wind industry. As a marshaling yard, jobs would be created locally to build wind turbines, which would then be shipped out to the ocean and connected to the grid.
Under the terms of this deal, were it to win the state’s bid, Crowley Wind Services — a New England-based subsidiary of Crowley Maritime Corporation — would buy the full 42 acres of Footprint land and “serve as the long-term offshore wind port operator for the site,” read the city’s announcement of the deal.
Crowley would then work with Vineyard Wind and its partners as tenants to use the property “for the Commonwealth Wind project as well as other projects in the company’s portfolio,” the announcement read.
“Vineyard obviously helped form Commonwealth Wind, a newly proposed offshore wind project that submitted a response to the commonwealth’s Sept. 16 procurement process,” said Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll on Thursday.
Lars Pedersen, CEO of Vineyard Wind, said Massachusetts “ was home to the first offshore wind port, and we’re very proud today to announce that we’d be looking to build the second offshore wind port right here in the Commonwealth.
“It benefits from the strong and consistent winds that we have offshore. It needs shallow water, which we also have south of Cape Cod, and it’s a technology that benefits ... you can inject the power directly to where it’s being used in the load centers along the shoreline,” Pedersen said. “That’s why some people call the Northeast the ‘Saudi Arabia of offshore wind.’ If you look at the golden maps, this is one of the prime places to do offshore wind.”
The partnership would create an estimated 400 full-time equivalent jobs during the revitalization of the port, and up to another 500 FTEs over the first five years of operation for construction and staging for wind projects, and also day-to-day port operations, according to officials.
The news was celebrated at a hastily scheduled press conference on Blaney Wharf on Thursday morning. The event was twice interrupted, though briefly, by the arrival and departure of the Salem Ferry.
“We’re standing, or sitting, on this public pier, next to the home of our publicly owned ferry, next to our public marina,” Driscoll said. “None of this existed in its current iteration just a few years ago. We’ve put together a waterfront plan and then marshaled the assets — mostly state and federal funding — to build out this vision. It’s a testament that we’re willing to embrace change — not always easily, but we do.”
The proposal — again, if it wins the state bid — represents the fulfillment of a dream for Salem Alliance for the Environment (SAFE).
“We’ve seen the potential for wind for over 20 years — onshore wind and offshore wind,” said Pat Gozemba, one of two co-chairs of SAFE. “We were thwarted with our onshore wind dreams; although we’re really thrilled to see places like Ipswich, Gloucester and Hull succeed. Now, we’re delighted to be part of the offshore wind industry, because that’s really where the action is. That’s really where the power is.”
Cindy Keegan, SAFE’s other co-chair, said the announcement is “fulfilling our hopes that this particular site is transitioning from a dirty coal and oil plant, eventually, to a gas plant — that we always saw as a transition to cleaner power — to now finally being able to usher in our clean power future. Allowing us to participate in that is really important.”
The news is also seen as a boom to the maritime industry and its many players, including Bob Blair, a senior pilot with Essex Point Pilots, an often unseen force that helps guide ships in and out of regional harbors.
“Rather than condominiums occupying the waterfront, we’re back to the seaport business,” Blair said. “We have a real mission that’s going to run for decades regarding offshore wind. It’s going to facilitate more cruise ships coming — the plans and transition of the physical port will change a lot through investment, and more docks, and more facilities, and more vessels.
“This is really historic,” continued Blair. “This is a landmark day in a long history of a very important port in America. It’s staying as a port, and that’s what is so amazing about today.”