The energy legislation approved by the Legislature late Sunday night radically reorganizes the state’s energy market in favor of clean energy, calls for hydroelectric and offshore wind power contracts worth billions of dollars, and gives Massachusetts a shot at building a new offshore wind industry. What’s unclear is whether the energy bill will drive up utility bills. Here are some winners and losers in the bill that made it through the Legislature.
Rep. Patricia Haddad of Somerset, the third-ranking leader in the House, is perhaps the biggest winner. She blocked a major energy bill at the end of the Patrick administration because it didn’t contain any provisions for offshore wind. Now, a little over a year later, she lands a bill that could jumpstart an offshore wind industry in Massachusetts. Haddad is a pragmatist, not an environmentalist. She wants offshore wind for the South Coast to help ease the impact of the closing of the Brayton Point power plant in Somerset. She built a political coalition in support of offshore wind, something many thought impossible after Cape Wind failed to line up financing for its project. A key part of that coalition is Offshore WindMA, a trade group headed by a former New Bedford official named Matthew Morrissey. Morrissey, lobbyist Jim Smith, and representatives from the three companies holding federal offshore wind leases did an excellent job convincing skeptics that Massachusetts could land an emerging industry at a reasonable price for ratepayers.
Eversource and National Grid – The state’s two utilities made out very well on three fronts. Both companies hope to land contracts to deliver hydroelectricity from Canada to Massachusetts. They dodged a bullet when a Senate provision that would have barred the firms from charging their electric customers for natural gas pipeline expansion was excised from the final bill. (Both utilities, in partnership with Spectra Energy of Houston, want to build the Access Northeast pipeline project.) And the final bill retained a lucrative House provision paying the utilities a fee of as much as 2.75 percent of the value of whatever contracts they sign for offshore wind and Canadian hydroelectricity.
New Bedford – The Gateway City has been waiting for offshore wind to take off for years. Now the city, and particularly the largely unused state wind terminal there, have a chance to finally capitalize on the promise of offshore wind.
Natural gas pipeline opponents – Every senator and a majority of House members favored a Senate provision barring utilities from tapping their electric customers to finance a new natural gas pipeline. But the Senate nevertheless acceded to the demands of House leaders and dropped the provision. Still, the issue isn’t over yet. The Conservation Law Foundation is challenging in court the Baker administration’s position that the law allows utilities to charge their electric customers for a natural gas pipeline; a decision from the Supreme Judicial Court is expected sometime this summer.
Cape Wind – Jim Gordon, the energy developer behind Cape Wind, took another body blow in the energy bill. All he wanted was to bid on the energy bill’s offshore wind contracts. But Haddad and other House leaders wanted no part of Cape Wind, so they wrote the bill in a way to exclude the wind farm from the bidding process. The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which in the past filed suit after suit to block Cape Wind, hired former House speaker Thomas Finneran as its lobbyist to keep the Nantucket Sound wind farm out of the bidding. The Senate, favoring greater competition, did not exclude Cape Wind in its bill. But the Senate once again acceded to the House position in the final legislation. Gordon, in an email, said he was disappointed in the final energy bill and was evaluating his options. He declined to say whether he would file suit challenging his exclusion or whether he has another move up his sleeve. “The influence of fossil fuel billionaire Bill Koch and other wealthy NIMBYs and the decision by the Legislature and Baker administration to exclude a bonafide competitor with the most advanced, developed offshore wind project unfairly and arbitrarily subverts a long and comprehensive regulatory and judicial process,” he said in the email.
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