Baker amenable to offshore wind

Governor’s primary focus is Canadian hydroelectricity

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER said on Tuesday that he would support omnibus energy legislation that would spur the development of offshore wind, but he stopped short of backing a special carveout for the industry.

Baker said his primary focus in the upcoming energy debate is legislation he filed that would allow the state’s utilities to solicit up to 2,400 megawatts of hydroelectricity from Canada, possibly paired with land-based wind power. Baker said the hydroelectricity is badly needed to meet the state’s carbon emission targets and to avoid over-reliance on natural gas-fired power plants.

The governor held a press availability at the State House after meeting with three former secretaries of energy and environmental affairs – Ian Bowles, Rick Sullivan, and Maeve Vallely Bartlett – from the Patrick administration. All three said they supported the governor’s hydro legislation and the general direction of his energy policy.

Matthew Beaton, the current secretary of energy and environmental affairs, said the presence of his three predecessors indicated the energy issue “transcends politics.” But politics is likely to play a major role in the upcoming energy debate.

Beaton, for example, sought to build support for the governor’s hydro bill by saying its passage would signal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that the state is addressing its energy problems, reducing the need for new gas pipelines which face strong opposition from impacted communities.  Yet the administration is simultaneously pushing for new gas pipelines and is supporting an unusual effort to have electric ratepayers pay for them.

Beaton said the administration’s positions are not inconsistent. “There are multiple projects. We don’t need every project that’s been proposed,” Beaton said. Many believe the Baker administration would prefer one pipeline expansion, not two.

Baker said his hydro legislation merely seeks legislative permission to have the state’s utilities solicit bids for hydroelectricity contracts. He said if the prices that come back aren’t competitive, then the state won’t pursue them. He also acknowledged, however, that if the state doesn’t sign large, hydroelectricity contracts, it is unlikely to meet its carbon emission goals.

House leaders are pushing for legislation that would spur the development of an offshore wind industry, even if the price of the power is high initially. Industry officials want a special set-aside for offshore wind that would allow companies to bid on utility contracts with the expectation that capital-intensive investments in the industry could be spread out over as much as 10 years.

Baker, who was a leading opponent of offshore wind when former governor Deval Patrick was pushing for Cape Wind, indicated he is open to supporting offshore wind now. But he stopped short of supporting a carveout for offshore wind that would compel the state to purchase the power.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

“We never asked for a carveout on the hydro piece,” he said. “All we asked for was, give us permission to ask and see what the suppliers can come up with. I would certainly support doing something similar with wind.”