BOSTON – When he vetoed climate policy legislation last month, Gov. Charlie Baker gave lawmakers a laundry list of issues he had with the bill, including a somewhat vague paragraph that seemed to reject the Legislature’s prescribed offshore wind procurements.
The governor stopped short of saying he outright opposed the bill’s requirement that the executive branch direct utilities to buy an additional 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind power – his energy secretary has since said the administration is open to additional clean energy procurements in the bill – but essentially asked lawmakers to preserve his administration’s ability to contract for clean energy from various sources through a multi-state effort that’s still in the early stages of development.
“We urge the Legislature to allow this process to reform our regional energy system to mature over the coming months, at which point we will better understand whether future state procurements are necessary, or if opportunities for regional procurements and coordination emerge as a more effective approach to secure clean energy resources while protecting Massachusetts ratepayers,” Baker wrote in his veto letter.
In October, Baker and other New England governors issued a formal call for changes to the regional electricity market, the transmission planning process and the governance of the New England power system operator. The governors said the regional grid has to evolve if the states are to meet their greenhouse gas emissions targets, like the Baker administration’s aim to put Massachusetts on track for net-zero emissions by 2050.
A group of energy officials from the six states got to work on those issues last month, holding a two-day technical forum on wholesale market design and continued this week with a daylong session focusing on transmission planning. The states are seeking comments on the market design issues it discussed and have a forum on governance reform scheduled for Feb. 25. Another daylong session on environmental justice issues is also in the works, group members said.
As that group began its work, the Legislature used the early days of the new session to pass a climate policy bill essentially identical to the one Baker vetoed. The governor has until Sunday to act and he is expected to return the bill with many of the amendments he said he would have proposed if he had that opportunity as the last session expired.
Phil Bartlett, chairman of the Maine Public Utilities Commission, said that Maine and most other New England states have “aggressive carbon reduction goals” and see the need to make “significant changes” if they are to bring renewable resources into the equation.
“I think there’s been growing frustration in Maine and other parts of New England in recent years that the markets are really functioning as an impediment to those efforts,” Bartlett said during one of the wholesale market design forums last month. “I don’t think that that is intentional in any way, but the markets were designed in a very different time to accomplish very different things. And as we go forward, we are committed to moving towards a market that serves the states and the policies that we’re trying to advance.”
Over the next three decades, the New England power system is expected to accommodate much greater levels of clean energy resources than it currently does, which has the potential to change the way energy flows across the grid. Today, power typically flows one way from the generator to the customer but the rise of distributed energy generation could change that.
“In the future, we will need more and more renewable and other clean energy resources, and therefore that leads us to the future of planning,” Judy Chang, undersecretary of energy within the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said during this week’s forum.
The New England grid is made up of more than 9,000 miles of high-voltage lines and there are 13 points of interconnection with neighboring systems, Chang said. Since about 2002, the states have spent more than $11 billion on transmission investments and expect to put another $1.5 billion into the system through next year.
“The transition to a clean power system will require significant new investments in a wide array of renewable and clean energy resources, including some that are much smaller in scale than conventional generation, and some that are currently still in the research and development stage, and most of those new resources are unlikely to be located close to load centers, as is the case today,” Kate Bailey of the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission said.
“The transition will also involve changes in load level and load shape, resulting from an expansion of distributed energy resources, energy efficiency, the electrification of the transportation and vehicle sectors, and the retirement of a good portion of the fossil-fired fleet,” she said. “Those changes to the power system are likely to produce very different power flows across the grid of the future compared to today’s grid.”
Between New England states, Chang said, there is more than 24,000 megawatts of new power generation in the queue, including about 14,000 MW of wind power and about 3,200 MW of solar.
Baker’s comments about not wanting the Legislature to interfere with the multi-state effort around grid modernization caught the attention of a coalition of environmental groups that formed last year to push for more regional collaboration around offshore wind, including joint power procurements among the New England states.
“Like you, we eagerly await a future regional energy market that fairly values and incentivizes responsibly developed offshore wind,” the coalition New England for Offshore Wind wrote in a letter to Baker this week. “We strongly agree with your intention to deepen regional collaboration on energy market design that will advance our climate goals. However, this process must not preclude our efforts to advance offshore wind procurements with urgency.”
Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides told the News Service last week that the Baker administration is “open to clean energy procurement through this bill.”
“But we want to ensure it doesn’t endanger any of the work we’re doing with the other governors across the region to look at reforming our regional energy markets so that we can procure clean energy through those markets and that the market reflects the policy goals of the states,” she said, while also acknowledging that “we know we’re going to need a lot more” offshore wind power.
Already, Massachusetts utilities have contracted for about 1,600 MW through the Vineyard Wind and Mayflower Wind projects, and the Legislature previously authorized the Baker administration to seek 1,600 MW more. Theoharides has said the administration could issue another request for proposals for more offshore wind power “in the near future.”
For context, 800 MW of power can provide energy to about 400,000 homes and businesses, according to Vineyard Wind.
Vineyard Wind and Mayflower Wind, which remain years away, must be generating electricity for Massachusetts to meet its 2030 target, but the secretary said that the 2050 goal of net-zero emissions will require a lot more wind energy.
“Offshore wind is an absolutely critical part of a low-cost strategy to achieve net-zero emissions. By 2050, we’re looking at something on the order of 25 [gigawatts] of offshore permitted and operating off of our coasts,” she said.
To get to that point though, she said, Massachusetts will need to hit a pace in the 2030s where it has about 1 GW of new offshore wind power coming online each year.
“So the permitting environment matters a lot,” she said Wednesday after the Biden administration put the Vineyard Wind 1 project back at the front of the line for federal approval.