BOSTON — Poised to be the first state in the country to draw from utility-scale offshore wind power, Massachusetts has a responsibility to get it right and to position the offshore wind industry for long-term success dealing with climate change and delivering affordable power across the United States, Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday morning.
The state's approach to secure clean power for itself and to blaze a trail for other states might make it "a little bit annoying to some people along the way," but is designed to balance predictability for developers and the build-out of a sturdy local supply chain with increasingly urgent calls to deal with the impacts of a changing climate.
In a keynote address to the U.S. Offshore Wind Conference, meeting this week in at the Boston Marriott Copley Place, the governor said the two things he hears most often when talking to people interested in the offshore wind industry is that Massachusetts is moving too quickly and that Massachusetts is not moving quickly enough.
"That makes me think we're probably in just about the right spot because people who think we're not going fast enough have a completely unrealistic view about actually what's possible and when, and the people who think we are going too fast I think don't appreciate the fact that time is not necessarily our friend when it comes to these issues," Baker said.
Massachusetts has either secured or is seeking a total of 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power and Baker's administration announced May 31 that it will move ahead with additional procurements that would double the amount of possible offshore wind power in Massachusetts, enough to provide roughly a third of the state's electricity demand.
The state and utility companies are expected to seek the additional 1,600 megawatts of energy generation in chunks of up to 800 megawatts, starting in 2022.
"We are going to be very focused on making sure that we get this right. We feel a certain responsibility, as the first player on the East Coast to really chase this in a big and serious way, that we need to get it right. For this industry to be the player that we would like to see it become as part of the constellation of energy producers and service providers, that we need it to become, we need to get it right," Baker said. "And that's probably going to make some of the people who think we're not going fast enough completely crazy because we're going to be very aggressive about ensuring that we do get it right."
The governor added, "I want to make sure that what we do here in Massachusetts becomes a benchmark for how this industry can become a major player over the long term here in the United States. The best way to ensure that that happens is to ensure that we do the things the way they need to be done."
'Our imperative moving forward'
Katie Theoharides, formerly the undersecretary for climate change who was sworn in as secretary of energy and environmental affairs last month, said Massachusetts can have its greatest impact on the energy future of the country by modeling a successful approach to offshore wind and encouraging others to adopt it.
"Massachusetts is only a really small percentage of U.S. or global emissions and so if we went to zero emissions overnight while other states and countries weren't doing that, that wouldn't be success," she said. "What is success for us here in Massachusetts on climate change is really driving that transition and helping to model and helping to deploy these clean energy solutions; not just in Massachusetts but across the country and indeed across the globe. That's really something we see as our imperative moving forward."
Theoharides said that setting the terms for the industry as offshore wind gains a foothold in America is "maybe the most significant opportunity of our generation to reshape the very contours of this energy future so that we can protect our residents and communities from the challenge of climate change while continuing to grow our economies, while continuing to drive job growth."
A 2016 law authorized 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power, and the state and utility companies approved 800 megawatts from the Vineyard Wind project and are currently seeking proposals for the second 800 megawatts of the first authorization.
Last July, the Legislature and Baker agreed to a law that authorized, but did not mandate, a second 1,600 megawatt procurement and directed the DOER to first study the idea. The DOER study, released May 31, projected that an additional procurement for 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind could save Massachusetts ratepayers between $670 million and $1.27 billion over the 20-year life of a contract, versus purchasing the same amount of clean energy in the markets.
"We have been very encouraged by virtually all of the activity and the decision-making that's taken place to date on this and are very bullish about the ability we'll have here in Massachusetts and around New England ... to do the work that we need to do in collaboration with the others to consolidate this as a major part of how we solve climate change issues, on the renewable resource side of things and also to come up with a series of approaches that are going to be cost-effective for ratepayers, homeowners and businesses," Baker said.
Though the governor mostly celebrated the offshore wind industry and his administration's work in that arena during his conference speech, he also noted that Massachusetts tried once before to kick start offshore wind and failed.
"We had a bit of a false start on this, starting over seven years ago," Baker said, referring to the long-discussed Cape Wind Energy Project which was once positioned to become the nation's first offshore wind farm.
The project faced opposition from lawmakers, fishermen, local officials, residents and environmental groups, and ceased development in late 2017.
"The first project which was proposed for the commonwealth ultimately represented a very expensive, no-bid, non-competitive approach to establishing a foothold in offshore wind and really didn't generate anywhere near the kind of enthusiasm this second approach has led to," Baker said, attributing the success of the second go-round to bipartisan collaboration and technological advancements that make offshore wind projects more financially feasible.