1,200 MW a start to new offshore wind industry for Massachusetts, New Bedford

Decades from now, residents of Massachusetts may well remember 2016 as the year Massachusetts took the first decisive step into a greener, healthier future.

The Massachusetts Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee on Monday approved a comprehensive energy bill that would require the state’s public utilities to enter long-term contracts with offshore wind power producers to buy 1,200 MW of power. The producers — DONG Energy, Deepwater Wind and Offshore MW — will bid for the right to develop wind farms 15 to 25 miles from Martha’s Vineyard on a huge tract of ocean that is among the most reliably windy places on Earth. The price of that power will be key — both to the bidders and the state’s ratepayers.

The bill is expected to be debated in the House next month while a parallel bill moves through the Senate, after which a final legislation will go to Gov. Charlie Baker for his signature, at which point Massachusetts will become the center of a U.S. offshore wind industry. And New Bedford — with the East Coast’s only marine commerce terminal designed and built to handle the enormous weight and size of wind turbine components and a ready work force and seaport — stands to become the epicenter of a new industry expected to produce thousands of good-paying jobs over the coming decade.

Reaction to the inclusion of 1,200 MW of offshore wind, along with an equal amount of hydro power, was decidedly positive.

“The bill that has emerged represents a good first step to power Massachusetts’ fledgling offshore wind energy industry, while also ensuring the availability and stability of hydroelectric power,” the editorial boards of the Herald News of Fall River and Taunton Gazette wrote in an editorial.

Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson urged the Legislature to increase the amount of offshore wind power required under the final bill.

“The case for renewables in Massachusetts is more urgent than ever. The final bill should up the ante and provide for 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind — the level proposed by Representative Patricia Haddad of Somerset last year.”

News stories appeared in newspapers and on web sites around the nation, coinciding with the unanimous vote by the University of Massachusetts Foundation to become the first major public university to divest its holdings in all fossil fuels.

All in all, it has been a heck of a week.