March 4, 2022

House approves plan to expand offshore wind

By Christian M. Wade, Statehouse Reporter |

BOSTON – The House of Representatives on Thursday approved a plan to expand offshore wind power to meet the state’s renewable energy needs, but the move faces pushback from Gov. Charlie Baker who says it will drive up consumer costs.

The legislation, which was approved by a vote of 144 to 12, calls for accelerating the development of offshore wind by changing how the state procures the energy, creating tax credits for offshore wind companies and setting environmental and fishing industry requirements for offshore wind projects, among other changes.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Jeffrey Roy, D-Franklin, said the changes if approved would help position Massachusetts as “the Saudi Arabia of wind.”

“Massachusetts is uniquely prepared to capitalize on the nation’s emerging offshore wind industry,” Roy said in remarks ahead the vote. “But the development necessary to establish an industry capable of taking advantage of this natural capacity doesn’t happen by accident, and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight.”

But the plan, which also requires Senate approval, is facing strong headwinds from the Baker administration, which argues it will drive up energy costs for consumers and complicate the bidding process for offshore wind projects.

In a statement, the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs said the proposal “hits millions of Massachusetts households with a utility bill increase at a time when energy costs are already rising rapidly, and could create a conflict of interest by involving legislators in offshore wind contract negotiations.”

Baker, a vocal proponent of offshore wind, filed his own bill last year that proposed to scrap a price cap on wind projects and invest $750 million from the American Rescue Plan Act into a clean energy investment fund. But lawmakers haven’t taken action on his bill, beyond holding a public hearing.

The statement urged lawmakers to take up Baker’s bill, which it said would “advance wind energy without raising costs for consumers and has proposed investing far more to support offshore wind, other renewables and clean energy innovation.”

Other critics of the plan say a provision of the bill that lifts a cap on bids for offshore wind energy projects will drive up costs for the state, and ultimately consumers.

Roy defended the decision to lift the price cap, arguing that it is no longer necessary to contain costs for offshore wind projects, with prices more competitive.

He said the state Department of Public Utilities would also have the authority to reject offshore wind bids, if they are too costly.

“Removal of the price cap does not mean we will be stuck with costly contracts,” Roy said.

Critics of the proposal also pointed to a new surcharge, that would be tacked on to natural gas bills, to help cover the cost of expanding renewable energies.

Supporters of the bill said the surcharge would be nominal – adding an average of $10 a year to gas bills – and noted that the recent spike in energy costs highlight the impact of the state’s reliance on natural gas the heat homes and keep the lights turned on.

“With more wind, and energy independence, there is far less risk of price spikes,” Roy said.

Meanwhile, commercial fisherman are increasingly raising alarms about the rapid expansion of offshore wind power, warning it could make fertile grounds off-limits.

“This rush to lease and develop our ocean is coming at the expense of the health of our oceans and the existing users, fishermen,” Jackie Odell, executive director of the Northeast Seafood Coalition, which represents commercial fishermen and seafood businesses that participate in federal fisheries, said in a statement.

“Adequate consideration is not being given to small family owned fishing businesses and seafood production that will be impacted,” she said.

The coalition is urging Beacon Hill policymakers to “put the seafood industry and impact to the ocean environment first – not as an afterthought – and work towards legislation that has real teeth to mitigate and protect the jobs and safety of existing users as well as the conservation of our ocean.”

An amendment added to the bill by Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, D-Gloucester, would create a fisheries working group to study the potential impact of expanded wind power on the marine environment and commercial fishing operations.

URL to article: