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'A very special moment': New Bedford receives first delivery for an offshore wind future

The first vessel carrying turbine parts for Vineyard Wind arrived in New Bedford Harbor.
Jennette Barnes
The first vessel carrying turbine parts for Vineyard Wind arrived in New Bedford Harbor.

The first massive parts of an offshore wind turbine for Vineyard Wind arrived in New Bedford from Europe yesterday.

The wind farm of 62 turbines to be installed south of Martha’s Vineyard will be the first large-scale offshore wind development in the United States.

Supporters say it represents a history-making and urgent step away from American dependence on fossil fuels for energy.

Speaking later in the day from the New Bedford hurricane barrier — a protective wall of rocks across the opening of the harbor — New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said the “City That Lit the World,” so-called for its role in the whale-oil industry, now plays a leading role in producing energy in a new way — one fights climate change.

“It's a big step for the whole country,” he said. “And frankly, it represents yet another era in New Bedford's history of economic leadership.”

The Portuguese-flagged ship UHL Felicity, specially designed for carrying and lifting heavy loads, could be seen on New Bedford’s southern horizon by 4 p.m. It passed safely through the narrow gate in the hurricane barrier shortly before 5 p.m.

The scene was mostly quiet, except for a light wind and a single blow of the ship’s horn.

The ship moved northward toward the inner harbor and then turned slightly and was pushed backward along the western shore of the harbor until it reached its berth at the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal at about 5:30.

A crew in hard hats met the ship at the terminal. At the hurricane barrier, overlooking the terminal, most of the people who witnessed the ship’s arrival were members of the media or had some connection to the project.

A few people who were fishing from the rocks or walking with children said they were unfamiliar with the project and didn’t know what the ship was for.

Overlooking the dock from the hurricane barrier, Vineyard Wind CEO Klaus Moeller said the arrival of the first turbine parts marks another turning point for a new American industry.

“It's a proud moment for the industry in the U.S., bringing offshore wind to the U.S.,” he said. “This is the biggest tower and the biggest turbine ever delivered in the U.S. … So this is a very special moment, finally having equipment here in New Bedford.”

For the city, a long effort of advocacy is coming to fruition, Mitchell said.

“We've done everything we can, because we see this industry as being a key to the city’s and the region’s economic future,” he said. “And now it's made manifest.”

The turbines are so large that the first ship contained only a few major parts: three sections of the tower for the first turbine visible on the deck, and two more sections below.

Many more ships are coming. They’ll carry towers, blades, and rotor-generator assemblies, which are called nacelles.

Huge cranes will unload the parts at the Marine Commerce Terminal.

Each turbine will be partially assembled on shore before installation begins this summer, 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.

Vineyard Wind expects to begin generating power with some, but not all, of the turbines by the end of the calendar year.

This story has been changed to reflect updated information about the number of pieces shipped on the Felicity.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.