By Herald News Editorial Board
July 15, 2015
As New England grapples with a changing energy production landscape, we’re left wondering how we will power our region and its economy. But rather than struggling against powerful economic headwinds beyond our control, we actually have the power to harness the winds of change to our advantage.
Just off the SouthCoast, south of Martha’s Vineyard, lies some of the world’s most productive offshore wind energy potential. Now state and local officials, led by New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell and House Speaker Pro-Tempore Patricia Haddad, D-Somerset, want to expedite the potential for turning this renewable energy resource into a reality.
For years, New Bedford has been at the forefront of unlocking the economic benefits of offshore wind energy with its Marine Commerce Terminal and Wind Energy Center, which will become the nation’s first offshore wind terminal.
Now Haddad — long a supporter of coal-fired power due to Somerset’s reliance on the power plant industry — has become a wind power convert. Due to a combination of market and regulatory forces, it’s become clear that the days of coal-fired power plants are numbered. Seeing the benefit that offshore wind power can offer to Somerset, the SouthCoast and the commonwealth, Haddad has become a powerful supporter of offshore wind energy development to help fill the energy and economic gap.
Haddad is sponsoring an amendment to a renewable energy bill that would require Massachusetts utility companies to purchase 800 megawatts of offshore wind to add to its energy portfolio by 2020. The existing bill requires the utility companies to purchase 2.4 gigawatts of hydroelectric power — mainly produced in Canada — between now and 2020.
Haddad’s amendment would diversify that renewable energy requirement to include wind power as well.
“If we don’t do this, it sends a chilling effect to anyone looking to invest (in wind power),” Haddad told the Editorial Board on Monday. Why should Massachusetts exclusively incentivize hydroelectric power and export all the jobs and economic development associated with the renewable energy requirement to Canada? And, as Haddad pointed out, hydropower alone “puts way too many eggs in one basket.”
While New Bedford is at the forefront of the offshore wind power effort, Somerset and Bristol County also stand to benefit greatly. Brayton Point’s expected closure would have a devastating effect on our region, both in terms of the lost jobs and associated economic activity and loss to Somerset’s tax base — not to mention the loss of electricity going to the grid. Offshore wind energy could offset that loss and create even more economic activity and jobs across the SouthCoast.
Haddad sees the existing energy transmission infrastructure at Brayton Point, as well as the shuttered Montaup Power Plant, as the potential linchpin in delivering offshore wind energy into the electric grid. So Haddad is using her legislative influence to push the wind power requirement forward.
In fact, she said, “If it isn’t put into the bill, it doesn’t make sense to go forward” with the hydropower requirement. Mitchell agreed, saying the bill is “better off dead” without the offshore wind energy component.
Haddad and Mitchell present a convincing argument for tapping our region’s offshore wind power to fuel our economy. While the cost of producing and delivering offshore wind power is more expensive in the research and development stage, it would be offset by increased jobs and economic development in our own backyard.
Furthermore, as Haddad said, New England is at “the end of the pipeline” for every other type of energy. It only makes sense that if we are at “the beginning of the pipeline” of offshore wind energy production, it will pay big dividends in the long term to insulate our region from energy price spikes beyond our control.
With such vast offshore wind energy potential just off our coastline and the existing infrastructure to deliver this power to the electric grid, Massachusetts would be foolish to leave this “homegrown” energy resource blowing in the wind any longer.
Haddad’s amendment represents the right incentive for offshore wind development at the right time. This legislation deserves the support of the Legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick.