Pick up the pace on clean energy

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.

  • NortheasternEE

    The chances of reversing climate change are less than 5%. Offshore wind energy is more than 4 times the going rate. The energy diversity law passed last year is backfiring. Mandates for ever increasing power from wind and solar, bypassing the deregulated wholesale market for electricity, is forcing the early retirement of dirty coal power plants together with clean energy nuclear power for a net zero change in GHG emissions. Instead of the promised energy diversity the mandates are giving us just the opposite by increasing the overdependence on natural gas which is in short supply in winter.

    State regulators have a primary responsibility to ensure we pay the lowest rates for electricity, and that the electric supply is 100% reliable. The state’s push to 100% renewable is forcing Massachusetts rates to skyrocket. Physically, we are connected to ISO-NE, and the actual renewable energy is dictated by how much they can absorb before instability results in blackouts. Buying up all the offshore wind energy with multiyear contracts with 3.5% per year escalation clauses, is a paper transaction that burdens Massachusetts ratepayers for clean energy that will benefit all of New England.

    I see it as a bad deal for us with little to no chance for stopping global warming!

    • casmatt99

      You seem to predicate your entire argument around the notion that climate change is irreversible, thus any attempts to mitigate the effects through the rapid implementation of renewable energy are futile. Classic straw man fallacy.

      Very few people are claiming that climate change can be reversed; an unfortunate reality of the collective global failure to recognize the urgency and seriousness that climate change requires. Instead, we must focus on swiftly reducing global carbon emissions in every industry, and energy production is perhaps most important.

      As Elon Musk likes to say, the problem with energy is tautological; eventually we will be forced to transition to a 100% sustainable energy economy because the alternative is using a finite supply of unsustainable sources which will inevitably run out. We have no choice but to adapt. And we know that because of climate change the longer we wait, the worse off our planet will be.

      State regulators have an obligation to ensure electricity rates stay competitive, but not necessarily the lowest possible rate. Electricity rates have been rising for years, independent of the recent mandate to expand solar and wind energy production. Whatever the short-term costs are, we face an existential threat in rising seas and disruptive weather. Boston in particular is especially vulnerable to sea level rise, so our imperative is much more than symbolic. As Washington is currently failing the people of this state, the onus falls on this state to show leadership in modernizing our energy needs to meet 21st century realities.

  • fred02138

    Where did the 2027 deadline come from? The 2016 energy bill set the date after much lobbying by the utilities. But Deepwater Wind last week put up a bid to have something like 144 MW of offshore wind online by 2023. So clearly it’s possible to move a lot faster. Let’s hope that when the bids come in on the offshore wind RFP (1600 MW), the bidders who have aggressive schedules are favored.