As the offshore wind business is ramping up in Massachusetts and along the East Coast, Gov. Charlie Baker is proposing spending $100 million in federal money on marine port infrastructure to support the emerging industry.
The proposal is part of Baker’s $2.9 billion package for how to spend more than half the money from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. Officials from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs released more details about the offshore wind proposal at a briefing Friday.
The marine port development money is the newest section of Baker’s plan, added in June after the Legislature rejected Baker’s initial proposal that would have given the governor the ability to spend $2.8 billion unilaterally. The Legislature instead decided to move almost all the American Rescue Plan money – which totals more than $5 billion – to a segregated account, where spending it requires legislative approval. Now Baker needs lawmakers’ support for his proposal to become law.
Politically, while the Baker administration has long been supportive of offshore wind, the addition may also provide a sweetener for House Speaker Ron Mariano, a Democrat representing Quincy and Weymouth, who has been vocal about his desire to turn the South Coast into a hub for wind energy. The fiscal 2022 budget that lawmakers are expected to send Baker Friday includes $13 million for a new wind-related job training program.
So far, much of the development surrounding offshore wind has centered on New Bedford, which has the Marine Commerce Terminal, built specifically for the construction and deployment of offshore wind turbines. Vineyard Wind, the first major offshore wind project in Massachusetts, has a contract with the New Bedford terminal.
Baker’s proposal would expand that focus to Salem and Somerset. While the South Coast is closer to where current offshore wind projects are located, Salem is closer to the Gulf of Maine and could become an asset if offshore wind moves forward there.
Officials say the goal is to use the money to develop the type of infrastructure that can support the large, heavy parts used in offshore wind construction. This could mean physically expanding ports, facilities, wharfs, and piers to support larger projects, or hardening storage and laydown areas to accommodate heavier parts. There could be dredging required to increase access to a site, and old buildings could be rehabilitated to store materials or equipment.
The projects would be geared toward helping Massachusetts become a major part of the supply chain for offshore wind infrastructure and allowing the ports to become staging areas as projects are constructed.
State officials stress that the projects will depend on the specific circumstances surrounding each location, the desires of local officials, and potentially the availability of private investment to compliment public money.
Baker has been pushing lawmakers to pass his plan quickly, and part of his argument with regards to the offshore wind piece is that any projects will be complex, so there will need to be some lead time to develop them and spend the money. Federal rules require the money to be allocated by 2024 and spent by 2026.
Outside of offshore wind, Baker’s proposal includes a wide range of environmental and energy-related projects, touching a wide range of communities. He wants to spend $400 million on grants to support water and sewer infrastructure, $300 million for climate resiliency, and $100 million on parks and recreation.
Many of these projects are important to specific regions or reflect local needs that state lawmakers have not yet found money for. For example, Baker is pitching sewer projects for the Merrimack Valley that would eliminate the overflow of sewage into the Merrimack River during storms. He wants to upgrade water treatment facilities to eliminate PFAS chemicals in towns like Littleton and Dudley. Climate resiliency projects could range from a wildlife overpass over the Massachusetts Turnpike in the Berkshires to removing abandoned dams in Kingston and Freetown to replacing vacant lots with greenery in urban Gateway Cities. There are proposals to mitigate flooding and erosion along the shores, improve facilities at beaches and campgrounds, and modernize fish hatcheries.
Including a wide range of projects in his proposal may be intended to make it more appealing to local officials and constituents statewide as Baker tries to convince lawmakers to pass his plan.
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