Mariano pledges to turn South Coast into ‘hub of wind energy’
Says Legislature will have active role in managing COVID relief funds
MASSACHUSETTS HOUSE SPEAKER Ron Mariano on Thursday pledged to make major investments to turn the South Coast into “a hub of wind energy for the region.”
Mariano, in a virtual speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, envisioned using the nascent offshore wind energy industry as a way to create jobs in Massachusetts while positioning the state to be a leader in a growing field.
After years of delay, Massachusetts’s first major offshore wind energy project, Vineyard Wind, is expected to be approved in the coming weeks by the Biden administration. In recently passed climate change legislation, the state committed to expanding the amount of offshore wind it procures to power the state, from 3,200 to 5,600 megawatts.
In his speech, Mariano said the House plans to give $10 million to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to prioritize job training programs that prepare workers for offshore wind construction.
Mariano mentioned former Gov. Deval Patrick’s ambitious and successful initiative to make the state a national leader in the life sciences industry. “We must pursue the same strategy to make Massachusetts the leader of our clean energy future,” Mariano said.
One leader in the effort will be Rep. Jeffrey Roy, a Franklin Democrat who co-chairs the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, and previously led the Committee on Higher Education, who Mariano has tasked with exploring ways to enhance the pipeline of future wind energy workers.
Massachusetts was an early leader on offshore wind, but other states are catching up and in some cases have moved ahead of it in terms of structuring deals with developers to promote onshore investments. New Jersey, for example, expects to host to a facility making the monopiles on which the turbines will stand. The Baker administration has aggressively pursued offshore wind deals, but has prioritized lower prices for electricity over onshore investments.
Gov. Charlie Baker said at a State House press conference that he was supportive of Mariano’s bid to prioritize offshore wind development. “We continue to make investments and continue to make investments in the South Coast as we move forward on this. If this is something that the Legislature wants to work on I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “There is going to be a ton of work that’s associated with that, not just in terms of the turbines and the platforms, but all the issues around transmission and infrastructure that are associated with that. I think that’s a big opportunity and that’s definitely something we’d look forward to working with the Legislature on.”
Jon Mitchell, the mayor of New Bedford who is positioning his community for onshore investment, issued a statement praising Mariano for understanding that “Massachusetts is in the midst of an intense competition among East Coast states for jobs in the offshore wind industry, and that we must be ready to enable the industry to set down roots here. With today’s announcement, he has made it known that Massachusetts is in it to win it. ”
Mariano also laid out the House’s thinking on the coming year’s budget process and the influx in federal COVID relief dollars.
He said the House is planning for a normal calendar for the fiscal 2022 state budget, which means House debate will start in late April. Last year, COVID-19 hit as the House was working on its version of the state budget, and lawmakers passed a series of temporary budgets before passing a full-year budget in December 2020, halfway into the fiscal year.
Mariano indicated that the Legislature plans to take a strong role in directing where federal funds are sent, rather than leaving it to Baker. A new legislative committee on federal stimulus will meet for the first time next week, and the Biden administration has agreed to send the deputy director of the National Economic Council, Bharat Ramamurti, to brief the House. Mariano said the first priority is to determine how the money can be spent, and he wants to use it to invest in areas that could contribute to the state’s recovery.
For example, he advocated for the creation of a skill credentialing system, where someone could get a credential in a particular skill that signals to an employer that the person has achieved competency, and said some federal money could be used for that initiative.
“These funds represent a multi-year opportunity to manage our virus response, to promote a just economic recovery, and to begin to envision what our new normal will look like,” Mariano said. He added, “If we bake the money into the budget, after two years, the money’s gone, and we’re not going see this amount of money again in my time as speaker.”
He said the federal money may provide an opportunity to rethink what MBTA service should look like, to make sure any changes will serve the state well going forward.
He also revealed that Gov. Baker had provided him and Senate President Karen Spilka with a proposal for changing childcare policies. While he did not offer details of what the governor is proposing, Mariano suggested that federal money could help restructure the childcare system, for example, to offer more flexible hours if parents permanently changed their work schedules due to the pandemic. Mariano added that the major problem is childcare workers are still paid too little.
In other areas:
Mariano gave Baker mixed grades on his handling of the pandemic. He said Baker used his executive power “extremely well at the beginning,” then had a “few hiccups on the vaccine rollout, and a few problems since then.” “All in all, he’s been a willing partner as we trial and error our way through the pandemic situation,” Mariano said.
Mariano suggested the State House could reopen to the public “maybe by fall.”
He said as a lawmaker, he is frustrated by the use of ballot questions to enact laws because they do not allow for compromise. “It’s a process used by people who are frustrated because their positions may be too extreme to get enough support to get a bill through the House, so they resort to an end run around the Legislature,” Mariano said.
Mariano said school reopening should be a local decision, and he praised the state education department’s flexibility in allowing districts waivers from reopening by state-imposed deadlines. He acknowledged that for many students “this was a lost year,” and said the Legislature is open to ideas ranging from summer school to giving students who need it an extra year to complete high school.Mariano said he was “extremely disturbed” by the use of anti-Semitic play calls by the Duxbury High School football team. “As a former teacher, educator, and coach, I can’t understand how any adult could allow that to happen under their watch,” he said.