May 24, 2016

Offshore wind gets boost in energy proposal as advocates tout impacts on state, SouthCoast

By Mike Lawrence | May. 23, 2016 |

BOSTON – Long-awaited energy legislation introduced Monday on Beacon Hill includes a substantial requirement for offshore wind power, signaling a potential kickstart for an industry viewed by many as vital to New Bedford’s future.

State Rep. Patricia Haddad, a Somerset Democrat who sponsored an early version of the bill and has pushed for offshore wind legislation for the past two years, called the proposal’s 1,200-megawatt (MW) purchase requirement “very workable.”

“It signals that there will be an offshore wind industry in Massachusetts,” Haddad said.

Haddad and state Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral, D-New Bedford, both filed bills this year in support of the offshore wind industry. Backers hope turbines will be installed over the next decade or more in leased federal waters south of Martha’s Vineyard. A potential staging site is the $113-million, state-funded Marine Commerce Terminal on New Bedford’s waterfront, just inside the hurricane barrier.

“After years of fighting to bring the offshore wind energy to our region, it’s great to see the legislature take this large step toward our goal,” Cabral said.

Three deep-pocketed developers have leased ocean waters for future turbine projects off Massachusetts or Rhode Island. But construction would depend on adoption of a state law that requires utilities to purchase offshore wind power, guaranteeing returns on investment.

The bill introduced Monday would require electricity distributors to enter long-term contracts by July 2017 for offshore wind energy totaling at least 1,200 MW, with build-out by 2027 and 400 MW as a minimum initial project.

Executives with all three turbine developers – Rhode Island-based Deepwater Wind; Denmark-based DONG Energy, known in Massachusetts as Bay State Wind; and New Jersey-based OffshoreMW – praised the proposed bill Monday, as did Mayor Jon Mitchell.

Matthew Morrissey, managing director of Offshore Wind: Massachusetts, said the trade association, “looks forward to continuing to work with the House and Senate to fashion a final bill that will enable Massachusetts to make use of one of its greatest resources – abundant and reliable wind that will power a new industry and benefit our citizens for the rest of this century and beyond.”

Adoption of the bill likely would spur fierce competition among the three developers, for the utility contracts. It also could spur interest from potential operators of the Marine Commerce Terminal, according to representatives of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC). The center manages the 28-acre facility and has been searching for a permanent operator for more than a year.

Stephen Pike, the center’s interim CEO, said Monday that while MassCEC will operate the facility “for the near term,” offshore wind purchase requirements could make the site more attractive to potential permanent operators.

The terminal also has a new tenant. Pike said Excel Recycling, which has an office in Westport, has signed a three-year lease to store and ship scrap metal on a 2-acre portion of the terminal.

Pike said the potential for an offshore wind industry at the terminal was considered in determining the length of Excel’s lease.

“That’s a reasonable time frame, before which the (offshore wind) developers would probably not need the facility,” Pike said.

Several legislative steps remain for the energy bill. It was introduced in the legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, where members have until 11 a.m. Tuesday to cast a vote.

If approved, the bill then would go to the House Committee on Ways and Means, then to the House and Senate floors, and finally, to the desk of Gov. Charlie Baker.

The bill also includes a carve-out of 1,200 MW for hydroelectric power, a power source that Baker has promoted for months.

Dan Dolan, president of the New England Power Generators Association, criticized the proposed energy bill.

“It would carve up one-third of the Massachusetts energy marketplace into decades-long contracts that I believe have the potential to dramatically increase electricity costs for consumers, and undermine the billions of dollars in new investments that we’re seeing being made in local communities to build new power plants,” Dolan said, citing projects in Sandwich, Salem and Medway, and uncertainty about the future of the Brayton Point site in Somerset.

Haddad said any cost increases would occur only in the offshore wind industry’s infancy.

“If there is to be an increase, it will be minimal, but the decrease in price as the industry matures will be drastic,” Haddad said.

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