The Block Island wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island was the nation's first offshore wind project. Credit: District 4 United Steelworkers / Creative Commons

The Granite State is the last in the Northeast to notify the federal government of its interest in offshore wind.

After years of lobbying and organizing by offshore wind proponents, New Hampshire has finally taken its first official step to develop an offshore wind industry in the state.

Gov. Chris Sununu filed a letter with federal officials this month saying the state would create a task force to begin looking at developing the resource. The letter to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is required by any state looking to develop offshore wind in federal waters.

New Hampshire is the last state along the Northeast coast to take this action.

“The purpose of the task force would be to facilitate coordination and consultation among federal, state and local governments on renewable energy commercial leasing proposals in federal waters off of New Hampshire,” the Jan. 2 letter states.

Sununu first indicated his intent submit the letter in an interview with New Hampshire Public Radio last month but did not commit to a time frame.

New Jersey, New York and three New England states have each announced goals to attract 10,000 megawatts of offshore wind development over the next decade. In a recent federal auction, developers bid a record-breaking $405 million for rights to three sites off the Massachusetts coast.

Clean energy advocates have been laying the groundwork for the past few years while lobbying former Gov. Maggie Hassan and current Gov. Sununu for support. In the last couple years, proponents shifted tactics, emphasizing the industry’s job-creating rather than generating potential. Successful efforts included gathering resolutions in favor of offshore wind from town governments.

“We started to show community support for offshore wind by working with local towns. There are 21 towns throughout the state, and not just those on the coast, who approached it as a non-partisan issue, one to lower utility bills and create green jobs,” said Lila Kohrman-Glaser, operations coordinator for climate activists 350 New Hampshire.

At 13 miles, New Hampshire has the shortest coastline in the U.S., limiting its potential as either a site for a large number of offshore wind turbines to generate power or as a landing spot for transmission cables to connect that power to the land-based distribution network.

“People started looking at our coast, but we don’t have a very large one, so the question was how much we could really participate in that market,” Clean Energy New Hampshire’s director of business development Michael Behrmann said. “What we began to focus on was the business development side of the industry” recognizing that the state is just a small part of a much larger regional energy market.

The previous concentration on massive, multi-hundred-megawatt projects obscured the potential benefits to the state’s economy and what New Hampshire is better-positioned to offer: supply chain manufacturing and an existing deep-water port that could accommodate wind turbines, towers and blades. That equipment would likely be imported in the early stages of New England’s project development and later the port could act as a launch site for domestically manufactured equipment.

“Offshore wind has entered the public narrative on energy in the state, and we’re seeing support from businesses and utilities,” Kohrman-Glaser said.

Wind proponents tapped into New Hampshire’s recent history to leverage its interest. Behrmann was part of a state delegation of business leaders that traveled to Denmark last fall to learn about the offshore wind industry and pitch New Hampshire’s virtues. The delegation included the state’s former U.S. Congressman Richard Swett, who also served as the ambassador to Denmark. That country is also a world leader in production of offshore wind energy and is home to some of the industry’s biggest players.  

“What we do understand is there will be competition for supply chain development. We think New Hampshire has a strong opportunity given some of the resources the state already has along the seacoast,” Behrmann said, conceding it wouldn’t be large enough to serve the entire Northeast.

He cited the Pease International Tradeport in Portsmouth, which includes one of the few deep-water ports on the East Coast, the facilities and size of the former Air Force base that it once was, direct access to the interstate highway system and proximity to the University of New Hampshire and its existing offshore energy development programs.

State economic development officials have also signaled interest in pursuing the business opportunities presented by offshore wind. State legislators of the new Democratic majorities that assumed power this month have also pushed offshore wind as one of the key renewable energy initiatives in the current session.

Offshore wind could also gain momentum through potential business development partnerships with Maine.

Maine was one of the first states to explore offshore wind’s potential nearly a decade ago, but those efforts foundered under former Gov. Paul LePage, who just left office. His successor, new Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, campaigned to support offshore wind, suggesting every coastal state from Maine to Virginia could now be vying for projects or supply chain manufacturing.

Faced with that competition, Clean Energy New Hampshire’s Behrmann is undaunted. “I’m just thrilled we’re no longer sitting on the sidelines,” he said.

Wind advocates hope that the task force would get organized during the first quarter and begin its work in earnest by early summer.

Bill is a freelance journalist based outside Albany, New York. As a former New England correspondent for RTO Insider, he has written about energy for newspapers, magazines and other publications for more than 20 years. He has an extensive career in trade publications and newspapers, mostly focused on the utility sector, covering such issues as restructuring, renewable energy and consumer affairs. Bill covers Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire and also compiles the Northeast Energy News daily email digest.