NEW BEDFORD — Action on a long-awaited energy bill with broad implications for SouthCoast, where offshore wind power is widely viewed as a key future industry, could occur amid a flurry of 11th-hour lawmaking with about two weeks left for legislators on Beacon Hill.
“Time is kind of the big, bad specter that’s hanging over us all,” state Rep. Patricia Haddad, D-Somerset, said Wednesday. “Everybody’s working feverishly on the big things that need to get finished.”
For many on SouthCoast, chief among those is the state’s omnibus energy bill, which could determine the future of offshore wind development in Massachusetts. The House and Senate versions of the energy bill included different requirements for both offshore wind and hydroelectric power.
Those differences and others will be addressed by a conference committee of six legislators, including state Sen. Marc R. Pacheco, D-Taunton. Pacheco said the committee could hold its first meeting this week. The bi-partisan committee, including three representatives and three senators, could present a compromise energy bill back to the House and the Senate, and then to the desk of Gov. Charlie Baker.
All of that, ideally, before the session ends July 31.
“Everyone has agreed that this is a piece of legislation that has to get out this session,” Haddad said. “We can’t wait two more years. … If we wait, New York is nipping at our heels, and they’ll grab up the momentum, and they’ll get the (offshore wind) supply chain."
New York is one of several states exploring offshore wind development. A federal public comment period for potential wind power sites off New York coasts ended Wednesday.
Here in Massachusetts, environmental groups and other offshore wind advocates are continuing to express support for the industry, making final pushes after years of debate about the state’s energy future. Environment Massachusetts urged Baker on Wednesday to support development of 2,000 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind power by 2025. The Boston-based advocacy group released a letter with about 100 backers, including New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell and the New Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce.
"The offshore wind industry is an essential part of energy policy and capacity for our region and our state. In our area, it is also a significant economic development opportunity for which we have been preparing for many years,” Chamber president Rick Kidder said in an Environment Massachusetts press release.
Haddad and state Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral, D-New Bedford, both filed bills this year in support of the offshore wind industry. Backers hope turbines will be installed over the next decade or more in leased federal waters south of Martha’s Vineyard. A potential staging site is the $113-million, state-funded Marine Commerce Terminal on New Bedford’s waterfront, just inside the hurricane barrier.
Three deep-pocketed developers have leased ocean waters for future turbine projects off Massachusetts or Rhode Island. But construction would depend on an energy bill that requires utilities to purchase offshore wind power, guaranteeing returns on investment for developers.
The committee could determine the size of that requirement. The House energy bill, for example, requires contracts totaling 1,200 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind power by 2027. The Senate bill calls for 2,000 MW by 2030.
Pacheco said the Senate’s 2,000-MW figure is based on recent studies, and represents “what the (offshore wind) industry, as a whole, sees as enough to create an industry here in southeastern Massachusetts.”
Haddad initially proposed 2,000 MW in her legislation, but after the release of the House energy bill in May, she called the 1,200-MW figure “very workable.” She said Wednesday that the conference committee might split the difference, and she didn’t expect the issue to be a significant sticking point.
“I think the important message is that both the House and the Senate believe that offshore wind is the next big thing for us,” she said. “Now the question is how much do we get out, and how fast.”
Meanwhile, the Baker administration cited the conference committee deliberations and said it would review whatever energy legislation reaches the governor's desk. Baker has supported hydropower from Canada, and a Wednesday statement did not specifically mention offshore wind.
“The Baker-Polito administration is pleased with the continued movement of legislation which seeks to secure clean, reliable hydropower and other renewable energy resources to meet the growing demand for affordable energy in Massachusetts and New England, and looks forward to working with the Legislature to address the region’s energy challenges in the most cost-effective way for Massachusetts residents and businesses,” said Peter Lorenz, spokesperson for the state’s office of energy and environmental affairs.