Law advancing offshore wind finalized in Mass.

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Gov. Charlie Baker (R) placed Massachusetts at the vanguard of U.S. offshore wind energy yesterday by signing bipartisan legislation requiring utilities to purchase 1,600 megawatts of power from planned Atlantic Ocean wind farms by 2027.

The 2016 Energy Diversity Act, emerging from a legislative conference after 18 months of negotiation, effectively opens the door to a new multimillion-dollar energy industry off the New England coast, where developers are poised to build hundreds of wind turbines on the outer continental shelf.

Additionally, the law will require utilities to purchase up to 1,200 MW of hydroelectricity, much of it from Canada along new transmission lines, and stimulates the development of other clean energy resources like onshore wind and solar power (ClimateWire, Aug. 2).

“With our partners in the Legislature, the Commonwealth has taken another major step towards providing residents and businesses with a cost-effective and reliable clean energy future,” Baker said at a signing ceremony in Boston.

Under Massachusetts’ 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act, the commonwealth must reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, a target officials say they are on track to meet. But the law steps up its greenhouse gas reduction goals to 80 percent by 2050, and will require much deeper cuts in energy, transportation and building-sector emissions.

Offshore wind, which remains untapped in the United States, has seen a rising profile in New England and the Mid-Atlantic as densely populated cities from Boston to Washington seek new ways to meet rising energy demand using clean, homegrown resources.

Danish firm DONG Energy is among the first major offshore wind developers to enter the U.S. market, where it plans to build up to 1,000 MW of capacity at its planned Bay State Wind project roughly 15 miles off Martha’s Vineyard. DONG has also secured a 160,000-acre federal lease off the New Jersey coast where it could develop an additional 1,000 MW.

Andrew Gohn, Eastern regional policy director for the American Wind Energy Association, said in a blog post that the deployment of Massachusetts offshore wind turbines will let utilities “lock in low prices on wind energy, allowing them to deliver cheap wind energy to the state’s families and businesses.”

Losing New England nuclear

Just last week, the first turbines to be installed for a U.S. offshore wind farm were fastened to platforms at Block Island, R.I., where Providence-based developer Deepwater Wind is a constructing a 30 MW facility that will provide power to Block Island homes and businesses while also connecting to the mainland grid via an underground cable.

“We’re ready to bring this historic project across the finish line,” Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski said in a statement. “This is sure to be a momentous summer — not just for this project, but also for the start of a new American industry.”

The Massachusetts law provides what may be the largest energy development opportunity in New England since the completion of the Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant in New Hampshire in the late 1980s. The Seabrook Unit 1 reactor, with 1,244 MW of generation capacity, is the largest existing power unit and second-largest nuclear plant in New England.

But nuclear power is shrinking in New England. The 620 MW Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, which once provided 72 percent of Vermont’s electricity, was shut down in December 2014, driven by economic and environmental concerns. In Massachusetts, the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station will produce its last power in 2019, removing another 690 MW of carbon-free electricity from the region’s grid. Both plants are owned by Entergy Nuclear.

Those closures, while championed by some environmental groups, have also led to rising concern in New England about meeting future energy demand without growing greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, the region’s power plants emitted 5 percent more carbon dioxide into the air than in 2014, reversing a five-year declining trend, according to data from ISO New England, the regional transmission operator.

The new law in Massachusetts seeks to solve that problem through a variety of new initiatives, including the new offshore wind mandate and a provision requiring utilities to purchase up to 1,200 MW of hydropower from Canada. Much of that power will be imported along new high-voltage transmission lines being constructed through New Hampshire and Vermont.

The bill also advances the use of energy storage technologies — including batteries, flywheels, thermal and compressed air technologies — to help utilities better integrate renewable energy into their resource bases. The storage provision builds on a $10 million investment program launched by the Baker administration in 2015 to explore opportunities for expanding energy storage markets in the commonwealth.

State Rep. Tom Golden (D), chairman of the legislative Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, called the bill a “monumental piece of energy legislation” that will be “a win for the environment, the economy and the people of the commonwealth.” But, he added, “there is still work to be done.”