NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — The ocean has been good to New Bedford.
This coastal Massachusetts city was once one of the richest in the world thanks to a booming whaling industry, serving as a home base for mariners searching for fortunes in whale oil.
That was in the 1850s, when in his novel “Moby-Dick,” Herman Melville described the city with its “opulent” homes and gardens as “the dearest place to live in all New England.”
It’s not like that anymore.
The city of 100,000 has been in decline ever since whaling’s demise. Manufacturing initially replaced whaling as the top industry, but those jobs have since been outsourced, leaving behind a dozen abandoned mills sitting on useless, contaminated land. Now New Bedford’s economy is led by its commercial fishing fleet, which is more often than not in port thanks to federal quotas. Today, the former homes of whaling captains sit dilapidated, divvied up as multifamily rentals.
New Bedford is in need of a renaissance. To bring it, officials are looking to the sea once again in an attempt to reinvent the city as a hub of the offshore wind industry.
It’s a risky strategy.
With no active offshore wind farms in the United States, the industry is in its infancy. And Cape Wind, which is set to be the city’s first offshore wind customer, has been dealt blow after blow this month with the loss of two power purchase agreements and a suspension from participating in New England’s wholesale energy markets. The prospect of other projects getting steel in water anytime soon also seems more unlikely this year with the expiration of federal renewable energy tax credits.
But Massachusetts has spent $113 million on a new port facility in New Bedford built specifically to cater to offshore wind farms, bolstering widespread community support for the strategy. The city’s location near two federal areas off the coasts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island slated for wind development also buoys residents’ hopes.
Says Mayor Jon Mitchell: “The arrival of the offshore wind industry in America, and especially the Northeast, is inevitable. And when it comes, New Bedford will be ready.”