BOSTON – Somerset lawmaker Patricia Haddad looked around the room and realized she had to lighten the mood.
It was early in the spring of 2015 and the Democratic state representative, a former schoolteacher beginning her eighth term on Beacon Hill, was advocating for offshore wind power in the office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton.
Haddad had joined a handful of turbine developers and offshore wind industry backers in the meeting at 100 Cambridge St., about a block from the Statehouse. As speaker pro tempore, Haddad added political heft to the wind supporters.
She also brought street cred in statewide energy politics. At the end of the last legislative session, in the summer of 2014, Haddad had played a leading role in killing the energy bill proposed by former Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, because that bill had focused on hydroelectric power and gave no real support to offshore wind.
Haddad, state Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral, state Sen. Mark Montigny – both New Bedford Democrats – and other wind supporters had then spent the fall preparing for another shot at an energy bill.
The second time around was viewed as a do-or-die effort, with turbine developers needing firm action in Massachusetts in order to invest and build here, rather than in other states also vying to lead the way in offshore power.
Both Haddad and Cabral were sponsoring bills featuring offshore wind in the new session.
So on that early spring day in Boston, in her first meeting with Beaton on those new bills, Haddad had to convince the energy secretary that launching a renewable power industry off the southern coast of Massachusetts was, in her word, “real.”
But as she made her earnest pitches, Haddad began to think she might be overselling it. So, she cracked a joke.
“I feel like a used car salesman,” she suddenly told the room.
Haddad then took it a step further, riffing on a line associated with deals made on the fly.
“What’s it going to take (to get you in this car)?” Haddad said to Beaton. “Do I have to cook for you? Want me to babysit for your kids?”
People cracked up and tension dispersed, attendees at the meeting recalled, allowing conversation to flow more freely while also signaling the persistence of offshore wind supporters.
“I think I was being a little too intense, so I had to sort of make fun of myself,” Haddad recalled earlier this month. “For me, I was still feeling the after-effects of the previous session, when then-Gov. Patrick wanted to do a pilot program and he didn’t really want to get into it.”
For Haddad, Cabral, Montigny, other SouthCoast legislators, city leaders, turbine builders and industry backers, “really getting into it” has always meant just one thing: large-scale turbine development, with long-term contracts for offshore wind power required by law.
“It wasn’t pilot material. They were doing the pilot in Rhode Island, they were doing it all over the world,” Haddad said. “It was time for no more pilots – it was time for commitment, and I couldn’t get them to commit.”
What it took
What it took to get offshore wind requirements into a state energy bill was, simply, monumental.
The multi-faceted effort involved years of buildup in New Bedford, SouthCoast and beyond, with macro-level projects such as the Marine Commerce Terminal on the city’s southern waterfront and countless micro-level, human touches such as Haddad’s sense of humor that day in Boston.
“I haven’t seen the follow-through on the babysitting yet – it might be time to take her up on that,” Beaton joked Friday. The secretary has three children, including one still in diapers.
He said that particular meeting with Haddad, and others like it, created a “starting point to a pathway” that eventually led to support of offshore wind by the administration of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.
Beaton said deliberations about that support went “right down to the very end of the energy bill,” which legislators adopted shortly after midnight had passed on Sunday, July 31, the session’s final day.
“There’s no question that there was great leadership on the issue from the SouthCoast delegation, led by Pat Haddad,” Beaton said. “She deserves a lot of credit for delivering for her region.”
With the landmark bill now signed into law by the governor – in a celebratory ceremony Aug. 8, on a Statehouse lawn— what it took to get there is a rollercoaster case study of how an energy industry could be born not just in New Bedford, but, potentially, the entire country.
Here’s a partial list, in no certain order, of what it took to win the offshore wind battle:
– At least two trade missions to northern Europe between 2013 and 2015, giving SouthCoast and statewide power players a firsthand look at offshore wind as a mature, growing industry.
– Construction, permitting and preparation of the Marine Commerce Terminal, a $113 million, state-funded facility that’s designed to support offshore wind operations.
– Formation of the New Bedford Wind Energy Center in 2013, to ensure that fostering the industry was aligned with the city’s economic plans.
– Dozens of informational meetings across the state, to raise awareness and support from business leaders, municipalities and environmental groups, such as the National Wildlife Federation, the National Resources Defense Council and the Environmental League of Massachusetts.
– Presentations in New York City, international phone calls and more to spur interest in offshore wind leases from investors backing regional and international turbine developers.
– Countless meetings at the Statehouse – brief and long, formal and informal – to monitor and encourage support from Baker’s administration, which began 2015 leaning heavily toward hydro power; and from House leadership; Senate leadership; and legislators’ Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy.
– Several university-backed studies examining offshore wind’s potential impacts on energy markets, rates for consumers, viability and more.
– Overcoming the failure of Cape Wind, the Nantucket Sound turbine proposal that lost its utility contracts in the winter of 2014-15 and spun into a financial tailspin from which it has yet to emerge.
– The U.S. Offshore Wind Leadership Conference 2016, a posh, three-day event at the InterContinental Boston hotel that drew several hundred people in early March and demonstrated the international support – and money – behind offshore wind.
“There were 100 things that had to happen,” said Matthew Morrissey, lead organizer of that conference and a key player in local offshore wind development for the past several years.
Morrissey is a former economic development director for New Bedford; the first director of the city’s Wind Energy Center, formed in 2013; and former managing director of the trade association Offshore Wind: Massachusetts.
He cited collaborative efforts over the past two years by several prominent state legislators, including House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop; House Majority Leader Ronald Mariano, D-Quincy; Rep. Tom Golden, a Lowell Democrat who’s chairman of the energy committee; and others.
“I’m talking about hundreds of hours that those guys put in, to grapple in one (legislative) session with all of the challenges that exist,” Morrissey said.
Those challenges included pressures and lobbying on multiple fronts, as solar, hydro and onshore wind concerns also vied for places in the state’s energy future. Fossil fuel-backers including the New England Power Generators Association criticized the bill this spring, citing potential cost increases for ratepayers and other factors.
Beaton said the Baker administration was trying to weigh the state’s desire for a diversified energy portfolio with the potential to boost SouthCoast’s economy and possible impacts on energy consumers across the state.
“We were always a little bit guarded along the way – we were out to be an advocate for the ratepayer, while trying to look to a renewable future,” Beaton said Friday.
The competing interests required constant balancing acts in the Statehouse.
Golden, for example, is a 22-year state representative who became energy committee chairman in January 2015. He said Haddad quickly approached him about offshore wind – with a little bit of information to support her case.
“She gave me seven three-ring binders of research that she had already put together,” Golden said. “You heard me right – seven. You couldn’t believe how helpful that was. She was tenacious.”
Golden also was hearing constant offshore wind pitches from Rep. Cabral, chairman of the House Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets. Golden previously had served as Cabral’s vice chairman on that committee, giving the two a good working relationship.
“We had an ongoing conversation most of the session,” Cabral said.
Golden said this year’s energy bill ultimately ranked among the heaviest lifts he’s seen.
“This was extremely difficult to put together, and keep together,” he said. “There are a lot of folks that want more, there are folks that want less, but I think what we did was, we formed a great foundation for the growth of an industry, as well as a clean energy future for the commonwealth.”
Effects on ratepayers now will play out in coming years, as competitors make their pitches for utility contracts and develop offshore wind projects as the industry’s technology continues to improve.
“Developers (will) have to come forward with responsible proposals,” Beaton said.
Impacts from the bill already are occurring.
Morrissey is now Massachusetts vice president for Rhode Island-based turbine developer Deepwater Wind, one of the three competitors for utility contracts for offshore wind power to be built in coming years south of Martha’s Vineyard.
His hire was announced three days after Baker signed the energy bill. A day after that, Aug. 12, New Jersey-based turbine developer OffshoreMW announced the hire of longtime New Bedford fisherman and industry advocate Jim Kendall as its fisheries representative.
On Aug. 15, representatives of Denmark-based DONG Energy, known locally as Bay State Wind, welcomed the survey vessel RV Ocean Researcher to the Marine Commerce Terminal in the city’s South End.
That boat was the first offshore wind-related vessel to arrive at the terminal, nearly six years after former Gov. Patrick chose New Bedford for its location and more than three years after ground was broken on construction.
OffshoreMW plans to begin its own surveying in September. And they’ll do so under new financial backing. OffshoreMW announced Thursday that an investment fund managed by Denmark-based Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners (CIP), in addition to financing, also will provide “senior management and technical expertise” to the company.
Erich Stephens, OffshoreMW’s executive vice president, attributed the activity directly to the energy bill, which requires utilities to buy long-term offshore wind contracts totaling about 1,600 MW between 2017 and 2027, plus about 1,200 MW of hydropower or other renewable sources.
“The Commonwealth really created a new industry for itself with passage of that legislation,” Stephens said. “Gov. Baker signing that bill was the signal for us to all get to work. We have some busy years ahead of us.”
Excitement about those years was evident at the Aug. 8 bill-signing.
As offshore wind backers chatted on the Statehouse lawn that day, Morrissey hugged Haddad and kissed her three times on the cheek, thanking her for her efforts.
“The (SouthCoast) delegation spoke with one voice, and was very consistent in its message about the importance of the commonwealth incorporating an offshore wind strategy,” Baker said after the signing. “Getting this passed was a big deal. People tried to get this done in ‘14 and they couldn’t. We got it done now, thankfully.”
July 31 … and Aug. 1
That signing ceremony, and all that’s followed so far, came within a hair of not happening.
The energy bill’s after-midnight adoption followed a weekend of work on several bills – including massive economic development legislation – and a flurry of last-minute agreements and compromises, with text messages flying back and forth between legislators, industry representatives and others.
Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, acknowledged that there was speculation that night about whether he would filibuster to block passage of the bill, because he felt it didn’t do enough to address larger climate change and energy efficiency goals.
“There were some people thinking I was going to (filibuster), and if I did do it, it would have killed the bill altogether,” Pacheco said last week.
Pacheco was part of a bi-partisan committee that, earlier in July, ironed out differences between House and Senate versions of the energy bill. The Senate version included a much broader scope of renewable energy policies. Haddad described the House version as stripped down to “just a procurement bill,” for offshore wind and hydro power.
“The Senate and the House always see things very differently, and approach things differently,” Haddad said. “(The Senate) had a lot of people over there who wanted to see it as more of an omnibus bill.”
Pacheco was chief among them. The veteran Taunton senator was the lead sponsor of the state’s 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act, which set climate change goals including a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, from 1990 levels. Pacheco saw this year’s energy bill as a chance to implement a “bold” vision for statewide policies, such as a grid modernization study, increases in renewable portfolio standards and an energy master plan.
“There were tremendous opportunities here that were missed,” Pacheco said. “The process just did not allow for the type of serious discussion I thought we should be having on something that is as consequential as this bill will be, or could have been, to the future of our society.”
Pacheco ultimately didn’t sign the conference committee’s report on the energy bill, for reasons including a “remuneration” payment to utilities. The payment was in the House version of the bill, but not the Senate’s, and ultimately stayed in. The bill says the state will provide energy distributors with up to 2.75 percent of annual payments under clean energy contracts, “to compensate the company for accepting the financial obligation” of those contracts.
In the end, though, Pacheco decided against a filibuster, not wanting to hold up other bills on the session’s final night or block what he viewed as “incremental progress” in the energy bill – especially, he said, after the failure of Patrick’s bill in 2014.
“I did not want to see the same thing happen again,” Pacheco said. “I didn’t want to see the perfect being the so-called enemy of the good.”
Sen. Montigny also criticized the remuneration fee, which he called “a sweetener” in the deal and “a tax” for energy consumers.
“All in all, for the city (of New Bedford), a very good bill,” said Montigny, who was ready to kill former Gov. Patrick’s hydro bill had it reached the Senate in 2014, and then worked steadily to shepherd the 2016 bill and add measures including an amendment that ensures steady offshore wind procurements, at least every 24 months.
Like Pacheco, though, he said the bill could have done more, calling it, “for the legislator, an average bill that could have been much better.”
‘Now it’s real’
New Bedford is a city where economic hopes have risen and fallen for decades, if not centuries. And in recent years, there has been more falling than rising. That can be seen in the waterfront casino proposal that abruptly failed last summer, or South Coast Rail bids that have repeatedly stalled on the tracks.
Mayor Jon Mitchell commented on that unfortunate dynamic – and offshore wind’s potential to finally, really change it – in May 2013, at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Marine Commerce Terminal.
“For a corner of the state that has had its hopes dashed so many times in the past, wanting transformative economic development and not quite getting there, now it’s real,” he said.
Reminded of that statement last week, he added a dose of caution.
“The benefits of the industry will not be seen overnight,” he said. “It took 20 years for this to develop in northern Europe.
“It took more than 40 years for the textile industry to get off the ground in New Bedford,” Mitchell added, noting that it took about the same time for the commercial fishing industry to become dominant on the national stage.
And Cabral noted that it’s now up to the city and region to make the most of an industry for which it’s worked so hard to lay the foundation.
“We have to capitalize on this opportunity. If we do, it’s going to mean great economic development for us, and so many jobs for the people of New Bedford,” Cabral said. “I’m happy I was part of that.”
There will be battles anew for legislators when the next session begins, next winter. Cabral, Pacheco and Haddad all said issues left out of this year’s energy bill could be revisited over the next two years.
Haddad, for example, said she plans to look at energy efficiency incentives for small and mid-sized businesses, and options for improving the state’s renewable portfolio standards.
“That’s how I’m going to spend the rest of this summer vacation,” Haddad said. “Learning everything I can about that.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User contributions