Marine Commerce Terminal Will Serve Offshore Wind Industry

Mar 20, 2014

The Cape Wind project has been ongoing for more than a decade, and the developer says the first of the 130 wind turbines could he installed in Nantucket Sound by early 2015. Outside Massachusetts and along the entire East Coast, interest in offshore wind continues, as projects enter the planning stages in states such as Maine, Rhode Island, and Delaware. But these offshore turbines are massive in scale, hundreds of feet high with footings that go deep into the seabed. They require complex port facilities to assemble, transport and install the enormous blades and towers. The New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal was specifically designed for just this purpose – constructing windmills. But it’s gearing up to do much more. 

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When planners of the Marine Commerce Terminal set about to design the project, they had a clear goal in mind: Think big.

“The name of the game in this project is size and capacity,” said Eric Hines, Technical Adviser to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, which is overseeing construction of the terminal. When finished, Hines said, the site will span 28-1/2 acres along New Bedford Harbor, making it one of the highest-capacity ports in the world. It will be able to deploy huge wind turbine blades, or support a 1,200-ton crane lifting a 500-ton piece of equipment.

It’s a complex construction project, partly because the Terminal will need to be extremely flexible in the way it operates.

“We’ve had to not only think about the initial projects that may happen but also what comes down the road, and how do we actually kick off a marine industry,” said Hines.

The terminal’s goal is to and boost the economy create jobs. Bill White of the Clean Energy Center said the site will employ 150 people by the time it’s fully online. There already are about 100 people working there.

“They range from pile-drivers to marine operators, dredgers, equipment operators,” White said. “We also have a team of engineers. We have geo-technical consultants. So we have a pretty large mix of professionals putting this project together.”

Construction began last year, and now those workers are pushing to get the terminal completed on schedule. The project is funded through State bonds, and has a budget of $100 million. Much of that money – about 20 percent - is devoted to removing the highly toxic compound PCB’s and other contaminants from the site, which Bill White called “an old, contaminated site, like many old industrial sites along the east coast.”

New Bedford Harbor is one of the country’s largest Superfund sites.  From the 1940s to the 1970s, two manufacturing facilities dumped industrial wastes, contaminating part of the harbor floor. Workers at the terminal site removed 250,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment as they constructed a navigation channel.

“We carefully dredged that out, because it’s contaminated material including PCB’s. And that was all disposed of to EPA-approved landfill facilities across the country,” White said. “And then on the land side, we basically did a lot of excavation of material – actually, almost 16,000 cubic yards.”

With cleanup complete, workers are focusing on building and reinforcing the terminal itself. The facility mostly will assemble and deploy offshore wind turbine components. And the first customer is expected to be Cape Wind. Each of Cape Wind’s 130 turbines will have 3 blades, each measuring about 160 feet.

“So, a staggeringly long blade, all of which will be deployed and assembled here on this facility,” said White.

Eric Hines of the Clean Energy Center said the terminal is designed to handle turbine components like Cape Wind, but it’s also purposely versatile, able to support high-volume bulk and container shipping, industrial equipment, and large specialty marine cargo - because it’s not just the wind industry that requires such a large capacity operation.

“All the components and all of the vessels are getting larger and larger. They’re also getting heavier. And the shipping industry has to be able to be nimble enough with these very large components to move them around in ways that suit a particular project,” Hines said.

The US is years behind its European renewable energy counterparts. But according to Bill White, offshore wind farms will inevitably become part of the landscape.

“The United States has been a little bit slow in picking this opportunity up. Obviously, Cape Wind has had had its challenges which we’re all aware of, but I think, usually, once America kinda moves toward something and figures it out, they do it in a big way. And I actually do believe, once these projects actually become real, it’s gonna be a game-changer,” White said.

When it comes online next year, the Marine Commerce Terminal will be the first of its kind in the nation. The hope among its supporters is that it will revitalize a portion of New Bedford harbor. More than that, that it will put in place some of the infrastructure and technology needed for the East Coast’s emerging offshore wind industry.