By Standard Times Editorial Board
July 13, 2014
As a report issued by the National Wildlife Federation declared last week, Rhode Island and Massachusetts “by every measure” are leading the way for the nation in developing a commercial offshore wind industry that will help meet New England’s needs as nuclear and fossil fuel power plants are shut down.
Soon, the Brayton Point Power Plant — once New England’s largest coal-fired plant — in Somerset will close, joining Vermont Yankee and Salem Harbor. With no new nuclear plants in development and with the entire region looking to meet an ambitious reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, Massachusetts wisely has sought to diversify its energy sources; and greater New Bedford is at the forefront of both the new wind and solar generation industries. Indeed, if Massachusetts leads the nation, it is entirely accurate to say that New Bedford leads Massachusetts.
This is a critical time for the state and the city.
The Patrick administration is spending $100 million on New Bedford’s South Terminal to build not only the city’s but the state’s capacity to take advantage of the brand new offshore wind industry and to meet the objectives of building 2,000 megawatts of new wind power, along with 1,600 megawatts of solar power by 2020.
On top of that, legislation filed in the House of Representatives, HB4187, which has not yet been approved, requires that Massachusetts utilities enter long-term contracts (20 or 25 years) to purchase 2,400 megawatts of hydropower produced by dams in Canada and distributed across the border in New England.
It’s not an altogether terrible bill because it would help the state meet the greenhouse gas reduction targets established in the state’s 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act.
However, it won’t produce new jobs in Massachusetts as the offshore wind energy industries will, and passage of the bill in its current form would conceivably hurt this home-grown, job-producing industry which will come online in the near future.
The Wind Energy Center in New Bedford and its legislative supporters are pushing modified legislation that would require utilities like NStar and National Grid to sign long-term agreements to also purchase 800 megawatts over four years from the companies that will produce wind off the Massachusetts and Rhode Island coasts.
Why is that important?
For one, that is enough electricity to power about 500,000 homes, according to the Wind Energy Center’s Matthew Morrissey.
It is also enough to get this new industry off the ground.
Because the single most vital element for companies considering investing hundreds of millions of dollars in building a new wind industry is signed agreements for the purchase of that power. They need to be able to count on sufficient revenues to make their investments worthwhile.
The Department of Energy estimates that the offshore wind industry will create 43,000 new jobs over the next 15 years off the East Coast. Those jobs and the economic fuel that this new industry will provide promises an economic rebirth for New Bedford and a new growth industry for the state as a whole.
Further, the long-term power purchase agreements will allow the region to take best advantage of the declining costs of wind-based power production and result in significant long-term savings on customers’ electric bills.
We are not against an agreement between the region’s utilities and Canadian hydroelectric producers so long as that agreement does not in any way limit the potential of our homegrown solar and offshore wind industries,
Those new industries have the power to transform our entire region and jump-start a manufacturing sector that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and usher in a new era of growth and prosperity for New Bedford and for Massachusetts.