Crafting an energy bill

Haddad's one priority: offshore wind

Rep. Patricia Haddad of Somerset blocked the Patrick administration’s energy bill during the last legislative session because it failed to give a nod to the offshore wind industry her region of the state is counting on. Now she’s crafting her own legislation, trying to take a less parochial view of the state’s energy needs, a view that’s open to natural gas and hydroelectricity from Canada. But she’s still adamant that the bill give a boost to offshore wind.

Haddad is a pragmatist, not an environmentalist. She said she’d be supporting the coal-fired Brayton Point power plant in her district if the facility planned to remain open beyond 2017. But with a resurgence of coal in Massachusetts unlikely, Haddad is pushing offshore wind power because of its potential for job creation along the South Coast.

Haddad said she wants her legislation to send a signal to the offshore wind industry that Massachusetts is supportive. She fears Maryland is starting to steal the Bay State’s thunder on offshore wind, so she favors some sort of wind purchase requirement. “Something that’s going to require that an amount of wind power be purchased,” she said.

The energy debate has taken on greater urgency as electricity prices are expected to soar this winter to historically high levels. Power industry officials say the state needs to expand its pipeline capacity to bring in more natural gas, but environmentalists say greater reliance on fossil fuels is not the answer. They favor a more intense focus on energy efficiency and the development of renewable power.

Haddad, a top member of House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s leadership team, wasn’t an energy expert earlier this year when she put a hold on a Patrick administration bill to promote hydropower imports from Canada. But she’s been doing her homework. She’s had 10 meetings with various stakeholders, including power generators, state regulators, environmentalists, offshore wind companies, and hydropower firms. She says the meetings were held at the Somerset public library and each one lasted about two hours. She asked each participant to produce a three-page brief for her and then she followed up with a questionnaire that was due on Friday.

“I was trying to get them to talk to me like I’m going to talk to my colleagues, as simple as can be,” she said.

Haddad said she isn’t averse to expanding the region’s natural gas pipeline capacity or importing hydroelectricity from Canada, but she wants offshore wind to be part of the mix. With offshore wind, she said, Massachusetts won’t be at the end of the energy pipeline the way it is with natural gas and hydropower from Canada.

She also said offshore wind, despite the struggles of Cape Wind, is a “near term” energy solution for the region. She said the federal government will be leasing 700,000 acres off the Massachusetts coast for wind farms next spring. She predicts the farms will be popping up off the coast by the end of the decade. “It’s more near term than people have led me to believe in the past,” she said.

The cost of offshore wind power is a concern, she said, and that’s why she’s pressing wind producers to say how much their electricity will cost. She said she expects pushback on her plan to require utilities to buy offshore wind power because the utilities, at least initially, could be price takers due to the scarcity of wind farms. Gov.-elect Charlie Baker, when he ran for governor in 2010, criticized the utility agreements with Cape Wind as no-bid contracts; he dropped his opposition to Cape Wind during the most recent campaign, calling the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm a done deal.

Meet the Author

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.

“Cost is not the biggest factor for environmentalists,” Haddad said, but quickly added that it is a big concern for people and businesses in her district.

Haddad said she plans to file her legislation in January and deliver booklets with her backup material to the chairs of the Legislature’s Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee and to DeLeo. “I’m lobbying him to make this an agenda item for us,” she said.