Pick up the pace on clean energy

State’s track record on contracting less than stellar

LOOK AND LISTEN, and you’ll see progress. Solar and wind power farms are cropping up across the landscape. Private sector investments are following good public policy, speeding the transition of our energy system from old, polluting fossil fuel power plants, to clean, renewable, job-creating sources like wind and solar. Momentum is building. Given the urgency with which we need to address climate change, we cannot afford to delay this transition.

Last week, the state received responses to a request for proposals for new greenhouse gas-free renewable energy sources.  This was the next step after the ambitious and widely-supported energy diversity law passed last year.  Renewable energy companies, some of the fastest growing employers in the nation, will compete to build solar and on-shore wind projects and import existing hydro power to help meet our greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals.

And more is on the horizon. By the end of the year, the state will receive a second batch of competitive proposals, this time to build the nation’s first utility-scale offshore wind projects in waters south of Martha’s Vineyard. In fact, offshore wind investments are already underway: both domestic and international offshore wind developers have secured leases from the federal government and are now busy planning and permitting these projects. Shipbuilders are building a new generation of vessels that are specifically designed to fit through the New Bedford hurricane barrier so they can help construct these massive turbines.

Now the state must work without delay on this first round of proposals and select the best projects to move forward. They must get the most bang for our buck: projects that produce green energy at the best price – doing right for both our environment and economy.

The key is timing. There is real risk that this review process could bog down and result in unacceptable delays. The state’s track record is less than stellar. Massachusetts, working with Rhode Island and Connecticut, selected potential renewable energy projects from a joint request for proposals issued in 2015. Regulators have been stuck in the contract negotiation phase with these developers since October 2016. Still nothing has been built.

If state regulators at the Department of Energy Resources and the Department of Public Utilities unreasonably delay their decisions on these new requests for proposals, the developers, along with their jobs, will go elsewhere. This is a particularly troubling prospect for offshore wind. Other eastern states are racing to host the land-based support and supply facilities that create jobs. These jobs could be in Massachusetts if swift and decisive action is taken by regulators to approve offshore wind proposals. If we don’t approve offshore wind projects here, and have them built well before the law’s needlessly long 2027 deadline, we lose.

Yes, the review process must be thorough, weighing the economic and environmental impacts of each proposal. However, we are in a race against time. We need the state to expedite project selection and encourage developers to complete projects in 5 years, not 10.

Meet the Author

Eric Wilkinson

Director of energy and climate policy, Environmental League of Massachusetts
With Washington’s head in the sand, Massachusetts must maintain our position as a national leader on global warming solutions. Voters and renewable energy companies agree.

Eric Wilkinson is the director of energy and climate policy at the Environmental League of Massachusetts, the state’s oldest environmental advocacy organization.