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Two SouthCoast lawmakers are proposing energy legislation on Beacon Hill this year that they say could jump-start the developing – and lately, beleaguered – offshore wind industry while also fueling a broader conversation about the state’s future power needs.
State Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral, D-New Bedford, said Tuesday that his “Act to Promote Offshore Wind Energy” would require all utilities in the state to place orders for designated amounts of future offshore wind power in procurement periods between 2016 and 2018.
Cabral said the bill could help offshore wind developers that have purchased leases in federal waters south of Martha’s Vineyard, by providing future power orders that would enable those developers to secure financing for turbine development. That development could directly utilize New Bedford’s South Terminal, he said.
“The bill that I filed is creating an opportunity for a jump-start of this industry in the short-term,” Cabral said, calling the bill a form of subsidy.
“We know that this industry cannot get off the ground without subsidies,” he said.
Deepwater Wind paid $3.8 million in July 2013 for a development lease on nearly 165,000 acres of federal waters in the Rhode Island/Massachusetts Wind Area. Late last month, OffshoreMW and RES Americas bought wind development leases – at much lower prices – in the adjacent Massachusetts Wind Energy Area, about 12 miles south of the Vineyard.
RES Americas bought its 187,523-acre lease for $281,285. OffshoreMW paid the minimum bid price – $1 an acre – for its 166,886-acre lease.
Two other leases available in last month’s federal auction went unsold. But Abby Ross Hopper, director of the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said the bureau was happy with the auction results and had set the minimum bids lower than in previous auctions because of water depth and other factors.
She said one of the other factors was that, unlike Massachusetts, other states had offered offshore wind credits and other financial incentives to renewable energy developers. Hopper said the bureau would be watching legislation proposed in Massachusetts this year.
Rep. Patricia Haddad, D-Somerset, said Monday it could be a while before any action on energy bills, though, as the Legislature digs out from Boston’s heavy snow and addresses the more than $765 million budget deficit declared by Gov. Charlie Baker. Legislative committees, to which bills will be referred, have yet to be assigned early in this year’s session.
An energy bill Haddad has filed, “An Act to Promote Energy Diversity,” is more wide-ranging and long-term than Cabral’s. Haddad’s bill, like Cabral’s, is a response to substantial energy conversations that took place during last year’s session, when a broad energy bill that emphasized hydrological power and was proposed by the governor’s office eventually died in committee.
Haddad’s bill would require utilities to purchase set amounts of power sources – including hydro, offshore wind and others – in the state’s long-term energy plan.
“It’s really meant to be a jumping-off point,” Haddad said Monday. “I’m hoping that this bill starts a very important conversation, a large part of which is the potential for offshore wind, and the potential that it holds for southeastern Massachusetts.”
Michael Durand, spokesman for Eversource Energy – formerly NStar and Northeast Utilities – said the utilities are aware of the bills.
“We’re reviewing all of the current energy bills and look forward to working with the Legislature, including Rep. Cabral and Rep. Haddad, as they address these important energy issues,” Durand said Tuesday.
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