DARTMOUTH – State Rep. Paul Schmid said working on his Westport farm over the years has made him more certain about advocating for environmental causes in Boston.
“You can’t tell a farmer that the climate isn’t changing,” Schmid, D-Westport, said Friday at UMass Dartmouth, during the second and final day of the GAEA Climate Summit.
“We used to start our first cutting of hay on about June 15, and we would hope to be done by the Fourth of July,” Schmid told the crowd of scientists, regional planners, environmental activists, lawmakers and others.
“This year, we started our first cutting of hay on May 23, and we were finished by June 15,” he said. “Just in the span of 30 years, we have advanced almost four weeks. That really gets my attention.”
Schmid is chairman of the state legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. His comments Friday came near the close of the inaugural GAEA summit. The event began Thursday and drew more than 100 people to the university’s Woodland Commons, for a wide-ranging dialogue on global climate conditions, regional impacts and potential action.
“I thought this was an amazing thing to bring together, for our area,” state Rep. Patricia Haddad, D-Somerset, said during the event.
Steve Lohrenz, dean of UMass Dartmouth’s School of Marine Science and Technology (SMAST), said Friday that a primary goal of the summit was to guide policy directions for regional municipalities, planning agencies and governments.
“We really hope that we can leave today with some concrete, actionable items that we can take with us and follow through,” Lohrenz said.
He added that, “Hopefully, (we’ll) serve as a model for other activities elsewhere, not only in our region but throughout the world.”
The summit occurred as world leaders are meeting in Paris to address global impacts of climate change. The United Nations climate change conference, known as COP21, began Nov. 30 and continues through Dec. 11.
There was a small degree of synchronicity between Paris and Dartmouth activities last week – two days after Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk made international headlines by urging students at the Sorbonne to support a carbon tax, Schmid raised the same idea here.
“I also hope, maybe not this term, but in the next term, (that) Massachusetts could pass legislation setting a carbon tax,” Schmid said, referring to a tax on carbons emitted into the atmosphere. “We’ve got to have the price of fossil fuels reflecting the cost.”
Schmid added that, “We’re going to call it a carbon fee,” drawing laughter from the crowd. The legislator grinned and acknowledged the effort to avoid the word “tax,” then said the plan would be revenue-neutral for the state, because “the revenues from it will go back to the consumer.”
“So stay tuned for that,” he said.
Blowing in the wind
A more immediate legislative battle could occur early in 2016, with discussions of a highly anticipated, omnibus energy bill that could set parameters for the state’s energy future.
Haddad said Thursday at GAEA that Speaker of the House Robert A. DeLeo had told her an energy bill would be proposed by “March at the latest,” if not in January or February.
Haddad is sponsoring legislation that includes purchase requirements for offshore wind power that could be developed in leased federal waters south of Martha’s Vineyard.
“I’m looking for political help,” Haddad told the GAEA crowd. “I would love it if as things go forward, you keep an eye on this bill.”
Gov. Charlie Baker has shown support for options including hydrological power transmitted from Canada, though, while natural gas and solar could be shouldering for space in energy legislation, as well.
Costs will be central to energy discussions at the Statehouse next year.
Haddad said Thursday that she thought it was important for her to attend the GAEA summit, and to support offshore wind, because of changing financial impacts to her constituents in Somerset and elsewhere.
“For many years, I was queen of coal, because it meant the financial health of my community,” she said.
But with the 2017 closure of Somerset’s nearly 1,500-megawatt Brayton Point Station – the last coal-fired power plant running in Massachusetts – Haddad has turned her energies to offshore wind.
“If we can show that there are cost benefits to having wind instead of my good ol’ coal, then we can start to make the argument that it’s not going to cost more overall – that there will be a slight blip as these companies start to come online, but then the costs will come down,” she said.
New Jersey-based OffshoreMW and Denmark-based DONG Energy, known in Massachusetts as Bay State Wind, are hoping to develop large-scale turbine farms on adjacent leases about 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.
A third company, Rhode Island-based Deepwater Wind, holds a lease for federal waters just west of those areas and already is building a small, five-turbine farm off Block Island.
Matthew Morrissey, executive director of trade association Offshore Wind: Massachusetts, talked Friday about the potential scope of the three large-scale developments.
Each turbine development area could produce about 1,500 megawatts, Morrissey said. The offshore wind legislation could call for competitive bids for 400 megawatts a year, up to 2,000 megawatts, in initial stages.
Two additional wind lease areas were not sold, and received no bids, in a January auction by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Morrissey was bullish, though, on the potential for development in all five lease areas south of the vineyard.
“Once we get to critical mass 10 years from now – five projects, launched out of this region – we will see the opportunity for the industry to really flourish,” Morrissey said.
He said development plans could “continue through full permitting if the Massachusetts legislature and the administration put offshore wind into what would be historic energy legislation in this session.”
Regional legislators – including state Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral and state Sen. Mark Montigny, both New Bedford Democrats – have been pushing hard in recent weeks to make that happen.
“The SouthCoast delegation is lined up 100 percent behind that,” Schmid said Friday.
Of all the highly educated scientists, lawmakers and planners to speak at the GAEA Summit, the event’s youngest speaker didn’t even have a degree – at least not yet. Sixth-grader Hippocrates Polemis, 11, traveled with family from Closter, N.J., to speak briefly Thursday.
Hippocrates appears in “Saving my Tomorrow,” a six-part, children-oriented HBO documentary on climate change impacts and solutions. The first part of the documentary played at lunch Thursday, and Hippocrates took the GAEA stage with “Saving my Tomorrow” director and producer Amy Schatz.
The articulate youth gave a frank answer when asked what he would say to world leaders gathered in Paris.
“I would say, ‘Hellooo, we have the technology! Just start developing it a little more and fix this planet,’” he said, drawing laughter and applause from the crowd.
Lohrenz and other speakers Thursday and Friday referred back to Hippocrates’ love for the planet and energetic idealism when talking about hope for sustainable climate policies in the future.
Schatz said a consistent message emerged from youth around the globe during the documentary’s creation.
“What we heard was a sense that the kids are all over this issue – and they really know it well,” she said. “This is so much their generation’s issue, that all we can do is learn from them about making small changes.”
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