Our View: Offshore wind steps confidently into energy discussion

December 09. 2015 2:01AM

Gov. Charlie Baker has been talking since before his election about the commonwealth’s obligation to provide affordable power to its citizens while reducing its reliance on fossil fuels.

Nuclear and coal generating plants are coming off line over the next couple of years, amplifying the seasonal challenges we face when cold weather consumer demand pulls natural gas away from electricity generation and directs it toward home heating. We’ve no way yet to escape winter price spikes, because any non-fossil source intended to replace the sunsetting of generating plants requires a significant time investment to get beyond land takings, space limitations or industry immaturity in order to create both stability and capacity. Increasing the availability of natural gas — a fossil fuel that burns cleaner than coal or oil — presents financial barriers of a similar scale.

The circumstances that turned 130 turbines from a brilliant vision to a relic in Cape Wind have changed and evolved into those that exist in the Massachusetts energy market today. Three major developers of offshore wind energy are investing and exploring parcels far enough off the coast of Massachusetts to eliminate the objections Cape Cod residents raised against Cape Wind and its near-shore proposal.

Since Cape Wind withdrew so completely from the spotlight when the calendar changed this year, the three established offshore developers have done their best to distinguish their plans from the failed plan. The effort has gained traction. Massachusetts’ members of Congress are clear in their support of offshore wind on a scale to contribute to our energy portfolio. Similarly, members of the Massachusetts Legislature are gradually being enlightened to the promise of renewable offshore wind. Through visits to operating wind farms in Europe, informative rallies and industry outreach, leaders are seeing the light, so to speak.

Newspapers from Fall River to Provincetown, from Quincy to New Bedford, are unanimous in support of the need for intelligent, strategic energy policy that includes offshore wind.

Support continues to grow, from industrial organizations, academic institutions, Chambers of Commerce, local industry and environmental groups. Every day that goes by, the support grows wider and deeper over the map of the Bay State as the value of establishing a beachhead for a homegrown industry sinks in — jobs, prosperity and clean energy will spread far and wide from the center.

Gov. Baker, in recent comments on the development of an energy policy, encouraged legislators who are supporters of offshore wind to include it in their version of the bill. He is a bottom-line decision-maker, offering them a chance to demonstrate the merits.

The governor spoke on energy last week, addressing the annual luncheon of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association. He noted that the role he sees for hydroelectric power from Canada is to stabilize both cost and supply, with other renewables, like solar and wind (onshore or off) responding to demand, despite their intermittent nature.

The strategy is sound, but the momentum in public image the offshore wind industry is enjoying gets a boost as the scope of the potential is communicated more clearly.

The governor is wise to approach energy policy pragmatically and patiently. Today, however, pragmatism requires deep support of a proven industry bursting at the seams to bring competitive electric generation and jobs to Massachusetts.

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