Posted on June 7, 2023 by Sam Gutter
Here in Falmouth, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, we look across Buzzards Bay towards New Bedford. Long a town in need of an economic fix, New Bedford was once the capital of the whaling industry. Fishing is still critically important to the city, especially among the thousands of Cape Verdean descendants who call New Bedford home. But the decline in fish stocks has led to shorter seasons and, with that, increased economic stress for those dependent on the fishing industry.
New Bedford hopes all that is about to change. A few weeks ago, on May 24, the vessel UHL Felicity arrived in the city’s port, carrying sections of wind turbines that will be assembled in the city’s harbor. This is the vanguard of the massive Vineyard Wind project, a partnership between Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid Renewables. Vineyard Wind will be the first commercial-scale offshore wind energy project in the U.S., located 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket islands. When complete, the project will include 62 wind turbines generating 800 megawatts of electricity annually (enough to power 400,000 homes, according to the company). New Bedford is slated to play a major role in the project.
Initially, a strike by New Bedford longshoremen shut down the unloading of the Felicity. The stoppage was quickly resolved, based on Vineyard Wind’s commitment to hire local longshoremen. The company has also been hiring New Bedford fishermen for project-related tasks.
While there has been considerable opposition to the project, the opponents have not fared well in court. A day after the Felicity docked in New Bedford, US District Court Judge Indira Talwani denied the opponents’ motion for a preliminary injunction, concluding plaintiffs had failed to establish either irreparable harm or a likelihood of prevailing on the merits. (Full disclosure, Vineyard Wind is represented by my former colleagues at Sidley Austin LLP.)
Herman Melville immortalized New Bedford in Moby Dick but, as we know, that didn’t end well. Fast forward to 2023, and we now look at whales as majestic mammals to be protected, not as beasts hunted for whale oil. It might be that, nearly 200 years later, New Bedford has found its energy substitute.