Haddad files energy bill

Calls for more gas, hydro, and offshore wind

A TOP MEMBER of House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s leadership team filed legislation on Friday that calls for expanding the region’s natural gas pipeline capacity, importing more hydroelectricity from Canada, and mandating the purchase of offshore wind power.

Rep. Patricia Haddad of Somerset blocked the Patrick administration’s energy bill last year because it didn’t include any special provisions for offshore wind, which many in southeastern Massachusetts see as vital to the region’s economic future. Since then, she has met with a variety of interest groups in a bid to come up with a framework for addressing where the state’s megawatts will come from over the next 30 years.

In a letter accompanying the bill, Haddad said Massachusetts will continue to rely on electricity from natural gas but needs new energy sources because its coal and oil plants are disappearing, no new nuclear power plants are being built, and “onshore wind in Massachusetts and hydro in Massachusetts” are not of sufficient magnitude to meet the state’s energy needs. “There appear to be only two significant sources remaining: Hydro power produced in a foreign country or offshore wind produced off the coast of Massachusetts,” her letter said.

In a telephone interview, Haddad said the state, already reliant on gas for more than half of its power generation, needs more. “We need capacity in gas to solve our immediate needs,” she said.

Haddad’s legislation directs the state Department of Public Utilities to select a company to build a new natural gas pipeline into the area through a competitive bidding process and to pay the operator through an unspecified tariff. The legislation does not specify how much new gas should be brought into Massachusetts.

The bill calls on the DPU to develop guidelines for a competitively bid process to build an electric transmission line into the region, presumably carrying hydro and/or onshore wind from Canada and/or Maine. The bill also provides support for small-scale hydro facilities in Massachusetts.

The legislation requires the state’s utilities, starting next year, to jointly solicit proposals from offshore wind developers for an initial 1.5 million megawatts of electricity and then additional supplies over the next 15 years totaling 8.5 million megawatts. The process of selecting offshore wind power suppliers would be competitive, but the offshore developers would only have to compete among themselves.

Offshore wind is regarded as the most expensive source of electricity currently, with the US Energy Information Agency estimating the average cost at 20.4 cents a kilowatt hour, compared to solar at 13 cents, hydro at 8.5 cents, onshore wind at 8 cents, and natural gas at 6.6 cents.

Cape Wind, which has sought to build a wind farm in Nantucket Sound for more than a decade, is struggling to stay afloat in the wake of a decision by two Massachusetts utilities to terminate their power-purchase contracts with the company.

Haddad said she wants her legislation to send a signal to offshore wind developers that Massachusetts wants their business. “It has the potential to become a new industry,” she said of offshore wind. She also said the offshore wind she wants to promote is unlikely to spawn the type of opposition that Cape Wind has faced. “This is way offshore wind,” she said. “No one is upset about this. The offshore wind industry I’m talking about is not visible from onshore. It’s over the horizon.”

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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.

Haddad’s bill says that, if offshore wind increases costs for ratepayers, those customers using more than 10,000 kilowatt hours a month (a typical homeowner uses 150 kilowatts) should be given unspecified rate relief. “Universities are getting murdered by these bills,” she said.

Other elements in the bill would provide financial incentives to companies that repurpose closed electric generating plants. Haddad said, for example, that she would like to see the Brayton Point coal-fired power plant in Somerset converted to a gas-fired plant to take advantage of the existing zoning and grid connections. “That’s what people in Somerset are asking for,” she said.

Haddad, whose title in the House is speaker pro tempore, said her bill will serve as a starting point for discussions. She acknowledged it will alienate environmentalists and many state residents opposed to new pipelines and raise concerns among businesses and others concerned about the rising cost of electricity.