NEW BEDFORD – The year 2015 is shaping up as a “pivotal” make-or-break year for wind energy in New Bedford and all of Massachusetts, Wind Energy Center Managing Director Matthew Morrissey said.
He said that the last year or so has seen a dramatic upswing in the knowledge and interest of the public in wind energy, “What it is and what it isn’t.” That informed public is going to be angry at the pending 37 percent increases, driven by natural gas shortages, for electrical power this coming winter, he said. Ratepayers will be putting pressure on the Legislature to do something about it, he said.
At the same time, the New Bedford Maritime Commerce Terminal is going to have its ribbon-cutting opening ceremony and Cape Wind will begin turbine assembly operations there, probably in March. Morrissey predicted.
But the real drama will be in the Legislature, where an energy bill will likely be filed by House Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad, D-Somerset, she confirmed for The Standard-Times.
Haddad took an interest last year when a bill submitted by Gov. Deval Patrick foundered because it dealt was so focused on bringing hydroelectric power down from Canada that offshore wind power was lost in the shuffle.
This year, changes in the House and Senate leadership will make it necessary for Haddad and other wind power proponents to help colleagues on a steep wind energy learning curve, Haddad said. There also will be a new governor, who will face much the same challenge.
One goal of the energy legislation would be to reserve a substantial amount of market share for offshore wind, Haddad said. She said that a framework for a bill could be fashioned by late November, in advance of a filing in early January, leaving plenty of time for the committee process to run its course.
Morrissey said this is where it is important that offshore wind supporters make it clear that although wind energy is more costly than natural gas or coal, it will not be responsible for huge rate spikes because it will still be a small percentage of the 31 gigawatts consumed in New England each year.
It will, however, be available to help close a growing hole in energy production, which will drop by 8 gigawatts in the coming decade or so, Morrissey said. It will also give the region an economic boost that could be felt for years to come, which is the intention in building the Maritime Terminal for turbine assembly and installation.
Morrissey said it is critical that lawmakers understand that emerging technologies always cost more than established ones. “Offshore wind will not compete with established technologies,” he told The Standard-Times editorial board. Rather, wind power companies ought to be competing against themselves for the leases and market share that will be available soon.
He said that he would like to see 800 megawatts set aside for offshore wind to give the developers enough incentive to invest billions of dollars in Massachusetts.
Building the offshore wind energy industry will be an epic story, taking years and probably decades should it take hold. But Morrissey said that if the Legislature mishandles this, “it could really hurt in this fragile period.”
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