SOMERSET – The state’s renewable energy requirements need to include wind power opportunities as massive coal plants like Brayton Point Power Station shut down.
Wind power is a resource that can be tapped into within miles of this region’s coast.
That’s the message SouthCoast political, business and environmental leaders are making as they put on a full-court press to amend energy legislation that could be enacted this month.
A House clean energy bill adds delivery timetables and addresses the state’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts by 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.
As written, the bill specifically defines clean energy generation as hydroelectric power production.
By Oct. 1, Massachusetts power distribution companies must jointly solicit clean-energy developers to deliver up to 18.9 million megawatt hours of electricity. That coverts to 2,400 megawatts or 2.4 gigawatts, industry officials said. That’s enough to power about 750,000 homes.
The bill is pending before the House Ways and Means Committee after the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee recommended it, reported state Rep. John Keenan, D-Salem.
“There’s a wonderful opportunity for everyone to have a piece of the energy bill that makes a lot of sense,” said Matthew Morrissey, New Bedford Wind Energy Center managing director.
In addition to the 2.4 gigawatts targeted for hydroelectric power, which would be transmitted from Canada, Morrissey said wind energy advocates will submit an amendment to this clean energy bill.
Their efforts coincided with a widely supported National Wildlife Federation report issued Thursday that said wind energy generated off New England’s coast could produce more than 8,000 megawatts – enough to power about 2.5 million homes.
The draft legislation Morrissey supplied asks that – in addition to required hydro procurements – distribution companies would need to “conduct four joint solicitations for proposals from offshore wind energy developers.”
The competitive bid process would be for 200 megawatts a year staggered over four years to total 800 megawatts, enough to provide electricity for about 250,000 homes.
“It is a modest size,” said Morrissey, New Bedford’s former economic development director. This week, he met at the Statehouse with the SouthCoast legislative delegation, including Rep. Patricia Haddad, D-Somerset.
Like other leaders, he noted the clean energy that wind power would bring. He also emphasized job opportunities that could benefit Massachusetts.
Haddad said her regional colleagues unanimously support the amended version to add specific wind-development requirements. Without the amendment, the bill features just a few sentences at the end stating that agencies “shall study how to best advance the development of (off-shore) wind generation opportunities …”
“It’s kind of a good deal for hydro,” Haddad said of the bill’s current version she had wanted held.
Haddad said the state could bring about real opportunities by requiring a modest amount of offshore wind energy development. She said the legislative delegation from Fall River and New Bedford – including state Rep. Anthony Cabral, D-New Bedford, whom she’s worked with on the bill amendment – all support it.
The designated wind area of about 750,000 acres, 25 to 35 miles off the region’s coast, “is a straight shot into Brayton Point,” Haddad said during a Thursday teleconference focused on the release of the NWF report.
She said the transmission lines and infrastructure that for decades has enabled Brayton Point to produce 1530 megawatts of power, mostly by coal, has included the permitting and contracts to generate that power.
Earlier this year, the new owners of Brayton Point stated their intention to close the plant in mid-2017, and local officials are encouraging the state to foster wind-energy opportunities into Somerset.
During the teleconference – chaired by Catherine Bowes, NWF’s senior climate and energy manager – Haddad explained that Brayton Point and the shuttered Montaup power station supplied “60 percent of the tax base at one point.
“We had one of those industries we thought was too big to fail,” Haddad said.
Haddad said she fought for the two coal plants for years, “not because I’m so married to fossil fuels,” but because of the tax revenue and jobs the plants meant to her small town.
With the proximity of coastal wind farms and infrastructure in place in Somerset, Haddad said, “We can also look at ourselves as bringing energy to the grid in a different way.”
Haddad noted the long distance hydro-electric energy would be brought in from Canada. With the wind farms close by, “It’s an opportunity to be at the beginning of the pipeline and not at the end of the hydro pipelines.”
George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, said during the teleconference that many groups are on the same page. They include business, labor and political leaders, said Bachrach, pointing out the “sense of urgency” to act before states like New Jersey and Maryland undertake similar offshore wind opportunities.
“This amendment provides a solid new job creator for the SouthCoast of Massachusetts,” Morrissey said. “I am confident that the legislative leadership and the governor’s office will support it … and bring a new industry to Massachusetts.”
Brayton Point official James Ginnetti, a senior vice president for EquiPower Resources, said Thursday he was not ready to respond to emailed questions submitted a day earlier on the company’s stance on the legislation and wind-power initiatives.
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