BOSTON – The state’s energy secretary gave guarded comments Tuesday about Gov. Charlie Baker’s position on offshore wind power, telling industry leaders gathered in Boston that talks should continue and costs should be reduced before the energy source can be embraced.
“Ongoing constructive conversations with the offshore wind industry about its place in the state’s diverse energy portfolio must and will continue,” said Matthew Beaton, Massachusetts’ secretary of energy and environmental affairs.
It initially took Beaton a few moments to directly address offshore wind’s potential role in the commonwealth, while speaking at the U.S. Offshore Wind Leadership Conference 2016. Beaton is a past critic of New Bedford’s Marine Commerce Terminal, which was designed to be a staging area for offshore wind power, and state legislators are gearing up for potentially pivotal debates about energy legislation this spring on Beacon Hill.
Beaton’s boss, the governor, supports importing hydroelectric power as a primary, long-term source of renewable energy for the state.
“Massachusetts is at the forefront of energy and technology development,” Beaton told the conference crowd Tuesday. “One theme that is continually stressed is the importance of a balanced and diversified energy portfolio.
“The tools to get us there are often referred to by our Gov. Baker as a ‘combo platter,’” the secretary added, before listing several energy sources, including carbon-based fuels, solar power and hydroelectric.
When Beaton finally added, “and large-scale wind, both on- and offshore,” to that list, he received a smattering of applause in the conference ballroom.
It might not have been the ringing endorsement – or boisterous moment for the industry – that offshore wind advocates likely are seeking ahead of energy legislation that could, or could not, give offshore wind a clear foundation for financing.
But advocates for the offshore wind energy industry – which is mature and growing in Europe, but nascent here in the U.S. – found reasons to be optimistic Tuesday about the Baker-Polito administration’s stance.
“The conversations are very real, and they’re deepening,” said Matthew Morrissey, executive director of the advocacy organization Offshore Wind: Massachusetts, which hosted the conference.
“I thought (Beaton) was very open and very positive,” said Jeff Grybowski, CEO of Rhode Island-based Deepwater Wind.
The three-day conference drew more than 300 people to the InterContinental Boston hotel. Registrants included offshore wind industry leaders – from overseas and across the eastern U.S. – along with vendors, manufacturers, public officials and more.
Paul Rich, director of project development for US Wind, said the event was another step in the incremental process of building a scalable industry with competitive energy prices. US Wind is exploring projects in waters off Maryland, New Jersey and South Carolina.
“The efforts here in Massachusetts are showing there’s a coalescing of industry efforts, and that’s huge,” Rich said.
But questions remain about the commonwealth’s future path for power.
While New Bedford’s $113 million, state-funded Marine Commerce Terminal could be a staging area for the emerging offshore wind industry, Beaton said in March 2015 that whether the terminal was worth its hefty price tag was “subject for debate.”
He made no mention of the terminal in his comments Tuesday. Beaton is chairman of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, which manages the 28-acre facility on New Bedford’s waterfront.
Beaton did cite several MassCEC initiatives related to offshore wind, including the Wind Technology Testing Center in Charlestown.
But his comments were cautious overall.
“Any sort of commitment, both near- and long-term, must first begin with continued conversation,” he said. “If advances in offshore wind technology bring competitive prices to the market, then we should embrace this resource.”
Morrissey said Beaton’s appearance, itself, was notable.
“He’s here – he came and offered an accurate reflection of where the administration is,” Morrissey said. “If there was a real problem in our dialogue, I’m not sure he would have come at all.“
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