Plugging In

Plugging In

Energy and the Environment

Angry Somerset residents elect ally to select board

Angry Somerset residents elect ally to select board

With town’s future unclear, Smith claims 69-29 victory

SOMERSET VOTERS, angry about noisy and dirty businesses operating out of an industrial site that was supposed to be a staging ground for the state’s offshore wind industry, elected an ally to the Board of Selectmen on Monday.

Allen Smith racked up a huge victory, defeating David Berube by a margin of 69-29 percent. Smith’s election gives disgruntled neighbors of the Brayton Point Commerce Center – the former site of a massive coal-fired power plant – a second, solid supporter on the town’s three-member Board of Selectmen.

Now that the nasty election is over, the question is where the town goes from here. Somerset, a community of 18,000 people across the Taunton River from Fall River, is in tough shape. The coal-fired power plant, once the community’s largest taxpayer, is gone. Millions of dollars in stopgap aid from the state have stopped flowing. The offshore wind industry, thought to be the replacement for the power plant, is just emerging from a long regulatory hiatus. And residents, divided and angry, seem unable to reach consensus on what to do until wind farms actually start getting built.

Smith said he wants to help bridge the community divide. He said residents want to see a buildout of the Brayton Point Commerce Center, but not with businesses that spew noise and dust into the nearby community. He doesn’t have a plan yet for making that happen, but his first priorities are keeping open lines of communication and making the workings of town government more transparent.

Rep. Patricia Haddad, the local state rep, said a number of people have approached her about trying to bring the town’s factions together. She is giving that some thought, but she said state and federal officials could also play a key role in pumping funds into the community for infrastructure projects.

“One of the problems down there [at Brayton Point] is access, one road in and one road out,” she said. “What if we were able to build another way to access the property?”

Scrap metal is piled high at the Brayton Point Commerce Center, waiting for a ship to arrive to take it to Turkey. (Photo by Bruce Mohl)

Jon Mitchell, the mayor of New Bedford, said earlier this week that there are only a handful of waterfront sites along the East Coast where the manufacturing of offshore wind components could take root. One of those sites, Mitchell said, is Brayton Point, where waterfront acreage is plentiful and it’s accompanied by an existing connection to the regional power grid.

But getting to that clean energy future won’t be easy. When the Trump administration put Vineyard Wind on hold in 2019, it left St. Louis-based Commercial Development Inc. in limbo. The company, which bills itself as North America’s leading brownfield developer, had purchased Brayton Point for $8 million and invested $20 million tearing down the old power plant’s cooling towers and cleaning the site up.

With the offshore wind industry on hold, Commercial Development found itself sitting on an empty piece of property with no revenue coming in. So the company scrambled to rent space to other types of businesses. Scrap metal was trucked in from the surrounding area and then shipped out to Turkey. Another tenant imported road salt, which was hauled to local towns during the winter.

Residents were not happy with the big trucks coming and going to the Brayton Point site via a two-lane road, and they bristled at the noise and dust coming from the scrap metal business.

Commercial Development largely ignored their complaints, so the residents began mobilizing politically. They convinced the Zoning Board of Appeals to reject Commercial Development’s bid to expand operations to include other commodities, a decision that Commercial Development is challenging in Land Court.

Last year, Lorne Lawless ran for the Board of Selectmen against Berube, who was perceived as sympathetic to Commercial Development. Lawless eked out a victory, but only with the help of voters in precinct five, the one closest to Brayton Point.

In this year’s election, Smith trounced Berube in every precinct, but especially in precinct five, where he garnered 78 percent of the vote.

“It just shows that people the town of Somerset are looking for a change,” Smith said. “People get frustrated when they don’t feel they’re being heard.”

Commercial Development had little to say. Steve Collins, executive vice president of Community Development, issued a statement saying “we look forward to working with the newly elected leaders of Somerset and building a great future for the town.”

New Bedford mayor calls offshore wind ‘generational opportunity’

New Bedford mayor calls offshore wind ‘generational opportunity’

But Mitchell worries about losing out in race for onshore investments

NEW BEDFORD MAYOR Jon Mitchell is of two minds about Vineyard Wind, which after lengthy regulatory delays seems poised to finally get underway.

The mayor is excited about the potential for offshore wind farms to transform New Bedford the way they have many older European port cities, but he also worries that Massachusetts may be missing the boat when it comes to capturing the true value of the industry.

 “Offshore wind is really a generational opportunity for a city like ours to leverage its competitive advantages in a way that brings in investment, creates jobs, and improves a city’s quality of life,” Mitchell said on The Codcast

 “We’re looking at roughly a $3 billion capital expenditure with this project,” he said. “That means a considerable amount of local procurement here in New Bedford from things as simple as hotel rooms and restaurant food to welders to any number of things. But it also means the more that the industry settles in here, the higher the likelihood that there will be investment in operating facilities and permanent enterprises. That really is, for us, the ultimate goal, to have an industry cluster here like we have with fishing.”

 Mitchell said New Bedford, with its fishing port, is well-positioned to support the offshore wind industry, but it is unlikely to snare manufacturing operations because the city’s waterfront is so densely packed already. Even so, New Bedford has been expanding beyond the state-built New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal to provide more space for offshore wind development. The mayor also said he hopes to tap federal infrastructure funds proposed by President Biden to modernize the city’s port facilities.  

 Vineyard Wind is likely to import most of the components for its wind farm from Europe, but Mitchell said eventually companies will start building a supply chain in the United States once the pipeline of projects reaches a critical mass. Mitchell said there are not many locations along the East Coast that can accommodate manufacturing operations on the water.

 “The most suitable sites for manufacturing in Massachusetts are along the Taunton River in Somerset and Fall River. The one that stands out the most is the old Brayton Point power plant site in Somerset,” he said. “That would be a good manufacturing site.”

 Yet Mitchell is worried that Massachusetts is lagging behind other states in pursuing offshore wind manufacturing operations.

 “My concern over time has been that Massachusetts has stood out among the eastern seaboard states that are procuring offshore wind contracts in its refusal to aggressively incentivize industry investment here,” he said. “The reality is that the likes of New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island – really every state down the eastern seaboard – has made it a point to say, look, if you’re going to do business with us you have to invest in our state. Massachusetts has not taken that tack and, frankly, I think it hurts New Bedford more than any other place in Massachusetts.”

 The mayor said offshore wind developers have pledged to modernize port facilities in many other states and New Jersey has secured a commitment to build foundations for wind turbines there. Vineyard Wind has pledged to use New Bedford as its main staging site, but he said most of the key players locally in offshore wind have their headquarters in Boston.

 “As much as offshore wind has always been about dealing with climate change, it has been for us an economic development initiative and so, in that light, it’s been a little bit frustrating that we’re only seeing private investment in Boston,” he said.

 Mitchell has pushed the need to incentivize offshore investment through the procurement process – basically taking a higher price for power in return for greater onshore investments. But that plea has largely fallen on deaf ears, as both the Baker administration and the state’s utilities, which handle the procurements, have prioritized lower power prices over onshore investments. “That process has not yielded to my mind public interest outcomes,” Mitchell said.

 The mayor is also the rare public official concerned about shrinking coverage of local news. He has raised the issue a lot over the last several years, as the New Bedford Standard-Times has shrunk, and urged local community leaders to focus on the problem. That effort has led to New Bedford Light, a nonprofit digital news operation that is expected to launch soon.

 Mitchell said the city explored ways to help fund local journalism, including a Community Preservation Act-type of assessment on property transactions, but ultimately decided the best approach was news supported through philanthropy, primarily from the business community.

 The mayor said many people wonder why an elected official would invite more public scrutiny, but he says it’s necessary if the city is to move forward. 

 “The reality is no city can function properly in the absence of a trusted and functioning media source,” he said. “Trusted news sources are responsible for telling the narrative of a place. In order for people to come together and tackle what’s in front of them collectively, they need to have a sense of identity that can only be facilitated in my mind by having some entity that is a trusted arbiter of the truth. Many cities around the country are losing that.”

Municipal Light Plant elections loom large

Municipal Light Plant elections loom large

‘Local utilities’ oversee 14% of state energy mix

WHEN GOV. CHARLIE BAKER signed the Next Generation Roadmap bill, Massachusetts became legally required to reduce its emissions 50 percent by 2030, and be net-zero by 2050. The backbone of achieving those mandates is electrifying our transportation and building systems and powering these systems with clean electricity. But 14 percent of our state’s energy mix is under the control not of the state or utilities, but local Municipal Light Plant boards (MLPs). Never heard of an MLP board? You’re not alone.

 In 41 communities across Massachusetts, these little-known governance bodies have significant mandates. They are responsible for choosing their town’s sources of energy, supplying customers with power, setting electric rates, and implementing energy efficiency programs (the state’s Mass Save program is not available in MLP towns). Comprised of just three to five members, even one effective climate leader can have profound impacts on our state’s ability to combat the climate crisis.

 Typically, the local elections for these boards are held on various dates throughout the spring, resulting in some of the lowest voter turnout of any elections in Massachusetts. In other words, a small group of voters chooses an even smaller group of board members who make big decisions about whether their town – and our state – is successful in its efforts to combat climate change. And these MLPs are lagging behind the rest of the Commonwealth in integrating clean energy. According to the MA Climate Action Network, not one MLP was meeting the Renewable Portfolio Standard as of 2017. With the signing of the Roadmap bill, all MLP towns must now comply with the state emission reduction mandates and implement climate mitigation measures.    

 It’s time for these municipalities to take action, and thankfully, committed local residents from across Massachusetts are stepping up to lead. Lisa Wolf, a teacher from Marblehead was elected to her town’s MLP last year, and was instrumental in getting the board to commit to net-zero emissions. A new member of the Hull Municipal Light Plant, small business owner Jacob Vaillancourt, recognized the vulnerability of his coastal town to climate change and worked with his board to increase the resiliency of their energy supply. This year, the Environmental League of MA Action Fund endorsed seven candidates who are running for their MLP Board to bring meaningful changes like these to their towns.

Poll after poll has shown that voters across Massachusetts want their elected officials to implement climate policies that match the urgency and scope of the climate crisis. The barriers to progress are a simple lack of awareness that these boards matter — and that they are on the ballot this spring. Too often, voters do not understand the role that MLP boards can play in reducing emissions and protecting our environment.   Many of these elections see 12-15 percent turnout. Increasing turnout this year could have major impacts on each MLP community and the state overall. Recent legislation has allowed for mail-in ballots through June 30 for all elections. The ELM Action Fund is supporting get-out-the-vote campaigns in MLP communities to inform voters why this election matters and how to participate. 

 A record number of voters showed up last November to send a message that we need elected officials at all levels that invest in clean energy, fight climate change, and support a green and just economy. While these elections have less fanfare, they could be just as consequential in our state’s fight against climate change. From Middleborough to Hingham to Princeton, get out and vote.

Clare Kelly is the executive director of the Environmental League of Massachusetts Action Fund.

Baker pulls plug on Springfield biomass power plant

Baker pulls plug on Springfield biomass power plant

DEP cites construction delay, health and environmental impacts

THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION pulled the plug on a controversial biomass power plant in Springfield on Friday amid growing pushback from opponents who viewed the burning of wood to produce electricity as a threat to public health and the environment.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection sent a letter to Palmer Renewable Energy telling the company it was revoking its 2012 air plan approval for the 35-megawatt power plant because construction had not commenced within two years of the granting of the permit. The letter also cited “more recent health-related information and the heightened focus on environmental and health impacts on environment justice populations from sources of pollution during the intervening years.”

There was no explanation in the letter, signed by Michael Gorski, regional director of DEP’s western regional office, for why the agency waited roughly seven years after the two-year deadline was up before revoking the permit.

There also was no mention in the letter that Palmer Renewable Energy had been waiting for final approval of new regulations developed by the Baker administration that would have made the biomass plant eligible for renewable energy subsidies from utility ratepayers. It’s unclear whether those regulations, which were considered key to the financial viability of the project, are now being scrapped.

A source in the Baker administration said the plant was no longer compatible with the governor’s current focus on climate change, symbolized by his signing of climate change legislation recently.

Palmer Renewable Energy can challenge the DEP’s decision, but Kathleen Theoharides, the governor’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, issued a statement suggesting the company would face a very high bar.

“As part of the Baker-Polito administration’s commitment to environmental justice and air quality, in any new permit process MassDEP would require Palmer Renewable Energy to demonstrate the proper air controls are in place, and consider air quality impacts on the surrounding environmental justice community,” Theoharides said.

Sen. Eric Lesser of Longmeadow issued a statement saying the administration’s decision was long overdue. “The plant should never have been considered for that location in the first place,” he said. “The idea of citing a biomass facility in the asthma capital of the United States lacked common sense or regard for equity, and I am relieved that MassDEP issued its decision to revoke the permit. This is a major victory for our region and everyone who has stood against this project.”

Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren issued a joint statement hailing the decision, calling it “a victory for Springfield residents, the health of our communities, and our fight for a livable planet.”

Laura Haight, US policy director at the Partnership for Policy Integrity, said it’s unlikely the plant will ever resurface. “While Palmer can appeal the MassDEP’s decision, and can also reapply for both the operating permit and the building permit, they are not likely to prevail, in part because of zoning changes at the local level, and the new environmental justice provisions included in the climate bill that Governor Baker signed last week,” she said in an email. “MassDEP’s decision to revoke the permit makes the likelihood of the Palmer biomass plant being built in Springfield vanishingly small.”

Vic Gatto, the chief operating officer of Palmer Renewable Energy, could not be reached for comment. In an op-ed in CommonWealth on February 27, he argued that his plant was very different from other biomass plants because it relied on wood that had been cut down for other reasons and would have rotted on the ground if it wasn’t burned. He said science was on his side.

“We are hopeful those who have been so vocally opposed to our project will take the time to read and understand the facts and science and come to the same conclusion as every regulatory and judicial body that has reviewed our project: namely that this waste wood biomass facility will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, lower carbon emissions using local resources, and do so in a way that does not pose a threat to public health.”

In a rebuttal op-ed, Mary Booth of the Partnership for Policy Integrity questioned the accuracy of all of Gatto’s arguments. She said the proposed biomass power plant would burn a ton of green wood chips every minute, requiring a smokestack more than 20 stories high to disperse fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic chemicals, and heavy metals such as mercury and lead.

“To demonstrate real climate leadership, the Commonwealth should stop subsidizing wood-burning entirely and focus on truly clean energy solutions.” Booth wrote.

Climate change already causing power grid issues

Climate change already causing power grid issues

100-year storms are happening more frequently now

IN THE WAKE of the Texas tragedy, when the extreme cold weather literally froze the power grid, took out electricity and fuel supplies, and wreaked havoc on millions of lives, questions have been raised about whether it could happen here in New England. At ISO New England, our number one priority is to maintain a reliable power grid regardless of unanticipated weather events. As weather conditions continue to grow more severe, however, it is clear that the ability to plan and operate a reliable power system during these “atypical” weather events is growing more difficult.

The good news is that, unlike Texas and the power systems in the southern states, New England’s power system is winterized to operate during severe cold conditions. But the region is dependent on imported energy and fuel supply chains that are sometimes compromised during severe cold. Dating back to 2004, we have had our own near misses because of “energy adequacy,” which refers to the ability of power plants to have the energy sources they need to generate electricity during severe weather conditions.

As many may recall, there was an extended cold snap in late December 2017/early January 2018 when harbors and rivers froze, roads were treacherous, oil plants ran low on oil, and gas pipelines were operating at their limits and unable to supply sufficient gas to all generators. If that cold front had stretched longer, there were real concerns about maintaining grid reliability.

ISO New England recognizes that energy adequacy is a critical concern. If a power plant doesn’t have access to the particular source of energy needed to produce electricity – whether it’s solar, wind, hydropower, natural gas, oil, coal, or nuclear —it can’t operate. If this happens to too many resources at the same time, then the grid operator, in this instance ISO New England, may have to step in to protect the system from collapsing. Grid operators have several tools available to maintain the delicate balance between supply and demand, and in certain circumstances utilizing controlled outages may be necessary to protect against greater damage to the system.

The concern we face today is that these “once in a century” weather events are happening more frequently than every hundred years. Climate change is affecting weather patterns, which has put external pressure on the power grid. So we may need to rethink our historical assumptions about energy adequacy to ensure system reliability under a new definition of extreme weather conditions.

As a region, we need to do more to address the vulnerabilities that such low probability/high impact weather events have exposed. Should extended periods of extreme cold hit, our power grid and fuel delivery systems will likely be stretched thin and vulnerable to the potential for unexpected outages affecting some of the large energy providers. Because the ISO does not have operational or commercial authority over fuel delivery systems, the best tool we have available for addressing these risks is to create strong market rules for generators, including penalties and incentives to contract for adequate energy storage and fuel arrangements, and for consumers to reduce demand for electricity.

ISO New England, state officials, utilities, power plants and others in the energy industry all have a responsibility to take action to mitigate the region’s risks to wide-scale power outages – both in the near term and in the long term as we move toward decarbonizing the grid and its economy. The New England states lead the nation in committing to a renewable power grid, while also setting goals to electrify the heating and transportation sectors. Current estimates indicate that power grid use could nearly double from this changeover. That means it is even more critical that the future grid withstand severe weather events.

ISO New England is partnering with the New England states and industry stakeholders to study what will be needed to make sure the future grid is both clean — and reliable. Planning is now underway to examine potential power system needs in 2030, 2040 and 2050, based on timelines outlined by state goals, while ensuring our current system continues to be prepared for the unpredictable weather happening now.

The lessons from Texas are still unfolding, but it is clear that we must continue to work together as a region to strengthen our energy foundation, including robust wholesale markets, regulatory standards, and energy supply infrastructure – to withstand the extremes of climate change. Our region is on the right path toward its clean energy future, but as we move forward, the ISO wants to be certain that when the next storm of the century moves in, we’ll be ready.

Kathleen Q. Abernathy is the chair of the ISO New England board of directors and Gordon van Welie is ISO New England’s president and chief executive officer. ISO New England runs the region’s power system and wholesale electricity marketplace for the six New England states.

Biden sets big goal for offshore wind

Biden sets big goal for offshore wind

Seeks 30,000 megawatts, 80,000 jobs by 2030


THE PIPELINE of offshore wind developments that will follow the first-in-the-nation Vineyard Wind I project came into clearer view Monday when the Biden administration announced a goal of creating almost 80,000 jobs by tapping into 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind power by 2030.

Between Vineyard Wind, the 800-megawatt project in line to be the first utility-scale offshore wind farm in the United States, the 804-megawatt Mayflower Wind project that is under contract with utilities here, and an upcoming solicitation that seeks a project of up to 1,600 megawatts that can come online by the end of the decade, Massachusetts is poised to fulfill about 10 percent of the nationwide goal for 2030.

The Biden administration’s announcements Monday, which it said were part of a “government-wide effort to advance offshore wind” as an economic engine and a powerful tool against climate change, fill in some of the rest of the industry picture and come as Massachusetts is discussing investments to encourage the growing offshore wind industry to establish a base of operations here, a priority of House Speaker Ronald Mariano.

Last week, the speaker said he would work this session “to authorize a large-scale bonding effort to establish the South Coast of Massachusetts as a regional hub of the offshore wind energy industry” and likened his idea to the way the state has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into growing the life sciences sector here over the last decade-plus.

“It’s to support training, growth, and ancillary businesses that may develop around the creation of turbines and the installation of the pads for the turbines, creation of the propellers,” Mariano said Friday when asked about his vision at the signing ceremony for the new climate law. “We could create all sorts of incentives, but mainly we have to begin to develop a workforce. If we want to be a serious contender in this, we need a workforce that can get out and put these things up.”

The speaker added, “And we’re going to need money. If we want to be serious about being a hub and create an industry that looks like our biotech industry, we’re gonna have to be serious about putting some money into it.”

When the House’s budget for fiscal year 2022 is released next month, it is expected to commit $10 million to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to train workers for jobs in the offshore wind industry and Mariano has said he asked Rep. Jeff Roy, the new House chairman of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, to look into ways “to improve our wind energy workforce pipeline going forward.”

Gov. Charlie Baker, whose administration is working to get Massachusetts to the point where it can bring about 1,000 MW (or 1 gigawatt) of offshore wind power online each year in the 2030s, suggested last week that he would rather use federal money, perhaps as part of the forthcoming infrastructure bill, to prop up the offshore wind industry here at least to begin with.

“It’s quite likely that we also could do something here in Massachusetts but, generally speaking, the federal resources are so much more significant they may be a better place for us to go,” the governor said. “But I look forward to discussing that one with the speaker. I think we all have the same basic objective here, which is to make sure we take advantage of our first-in-the-nation proposal and procurement and make sure that we have in place the ability to benefit significantly from that economically.”

The US Department of Transportation on Monday announced it is opening up applications for $230 million in port and intermodal projects to support offshore wind and the Department of Energy released a fact sheet on access for the industry to $3 billion in funding through an Innovative Energy Loan Guarantee Program.

Of course, the only way for Massachusetts or any other state to establish itself as a hub for the offshore wind industry is for the federal government to start permitting offshore wind projects. Right now, there are just seven offshore wind turbines in operation in the United States — five turbines make up the 30-megawatt project off Rhode Island’s Block Island and a two-turbine pilot project is generating power off the coast of Virginia.

“I think the first thing we need is a federal government that will actually approve some projects,” Baker said Friday. He added, “I happen to think that at this point, we should be able to move pretty quickly. And we now have the first one before the current administration but we also have a second one that will be pending before them not too long from now, and I fully expect the third one that we’ll have will be in the next, probably in the next 18 months.”

This month, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management completed its environmental review of the Vineyard Wind I project, which is expected to generate cleaner electricity for more than 400,000 homes and businesses in Massachusetts starting in late 2023, produce at least 3,600 jobs, reduce costs for Massachusetts ratepayers by an estimated $1.4 billion, and eliminate 1.68 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

That project, which currently calls for 62 turbines, is expected to be the first utility-scale offshore wind farm in the country. Right behind Vineyard Wind in the federal pipeline is South Fork Wind, a 132-m megawatt project that plans to generate power for New York from 15 turbines.

On Monday, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management added a third project to its pipeline with the announcement that it will begin to prepare a formal environmental analysis for the 1,110-megawatt  Ocean Wind project that plans to generate power off the New Jersey coast. The Department of the Interior said BOEM “anticipates initiating the environmental reviews for up to 10 additional projects later this year.”

Mayflower Wind, the second project under contract with Massachusetts utilities, could be among those projects to begin the environmental impact statement process later this year. The state and its utilities are expected to select a third offshore wind project to contract with by the end of this year.

When the Biden administration announced its 2030 goal following a forum that featured US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the secretaries of energy, commerce, and transportation, as well as representatives from states, the offshore wind industry, and organized labor, it also said it had identified nearly 800,000 acres in the New York Bight, an expanse of ocean between Long Island and the New Jersey coast, as wind energy areas that could eventually be divided up and leased for offshore wind farms.

So far, the federal government has activated 16 commercial wind energy leases off the Atlantic coast but the appetite for the cleaner power is increasing as more states set renewable energy and carbon emissions reduction targets.

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said the Biden administration’s announcement Monday “leaves no doubt that America’s offshore wind industry is now in full gear.” He said his city, which is expected to play a major role as the onshore hub for the Vineyard Wind I project, stands ready to facilitate future projects in the New York Bight as well.

“At the same time, most of the seafood caught in the Bight, by dollar value, is landed in New Bedford, America’s top commercial fishing port. We are grateful that in determining the boundaries of the new wind energy areas, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has taken pains to balance the interests of the wind and fishing industries based on the best available scientific data,” Mitchell said. “While some tailoring of the boundaries may be necessary to avoid the most heavily fished areas, the announcement represents substantial progress after years of inaction.”

The commercial fishing industry has been among the most vocal opponents of aspects of the Vineyard Wind project and the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA) has repeatedly urged the new administration to ensure the voices of the industry are heard throughout the licensing and permitting process.

In comments submitted earlier this month in response to BOEM review of the South Fork project, RODA said the present is “a time of significant confusion and change in the US approach to offshore wind energy  planning” and detailed mitigation measures it wants to see incorporated into all projects.

“To be clear, none of these requests are new — nor hardly radical. They have simply been ignored again, and again, and again in a political push/pull between multinational energy companies and the US government, leaving world-famous seafood, and the communities founded around its harvest, off the table,” the group said in a press release last week. Some of RODA’s suggestions were analyzed as part of BOEM’s Vineyard Wind review.

“The full environmental and economic benefits of offshore wind can only be realized if we, as a nation, come together to ensure all potential development is considered and advanced responsibly, with transparency, robust stakeholder and tribal engagement and scientific integrity guiding our every move forward,” Amanda Lefton, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said. “A central component to our success will be creating greater certainty for industry, state and local governments, tribal nations and stakeholders.”

How to build an industry to support offshore wind

How to build an industry to support offshore wind

Baker prioritizes federal investment, Mariano says state must pony up

AFTER SIGNING the climate change bill into law on Friday, Gov. Charlie Baker and House Speaker Ron Mariano began an interesting discussion about how the state should go about building an onshore industry to support the development of offshore wind.

The climate change law authorizes the purchase of 5,600 megawatts of offshore wind, but it doesn’t say much about building an industry around this new source of electricity. Baker to date has focused his attention on securing the power at the lowest possible price, while other governors have put a stronger emphasis on building a supply chain to support the industry.

Now that Vineyard Wind is nearing its final approvals from the Biden administration, Baker was asked his plan for making southeastern Massachusetts a mecca for offshore wind businesses.

The governor indicated the federal government will probably play a leading role, either through an expected infrastructure bill or possibly the latest federal stimulus law. “It’s quite likely we could also do something here in Massachusetts, but generally speaking the federal resources are so much more significant they may be a better place for us to go. But I look forward to discussing that with the speaker,” Baker said.

Mariano on Thursday in a speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce said he didn’t want the state to miss out on the coming offshore wind boom. He said he supports training for workers and borrowing money to make investments in the industry. He likened the effort to what the state did with life sciences in 2008, authorizing the expenditure of $1 billion over 10 years, which was followed by a law authorizing the expenditure of another $623 million in 2018.

Mariano on Friday said the state needs to invest in the industry, both for the training of workers and to help ancillary businesses get off the ground. “We’re going to need money if we want to be serious about being a hub and create an industry that looks like our biotech industry. We’re  going to have to be serious about putting some money into it,” he said.

Somerset struggles amid slow rollout of offshore wind

Somerset struggles amid slow rollout of offshore wind

Residents not happy with ‘interim’ scrap metal business at former coal plant site

WHEN A ST. LOUIS company bought the massive coal-fired Brayton Point power plant in Somerset in 2018, the firm was viewed far and wide as a white knight riding to the town’s rescue.

Commercial Development Co., which bills itself as North America’s leading brownfield developer, promised to raze the shuttered power plant and convert the 306 acres along the Taunton River into an outpost for America’s emerging offshore wind industry. Instead of cooling towers and coal dust, the company promised the 18,000 residents of Somerset in southeastern Massachusetts a fresh start with an industry on the rise. The plan called for manufacturing offshore wind components on the site and repurposing the existing connection to the regional power grid for the wind farms going up off the coast.

But the white knight quickly got knocked off its horse. The Trump administration held up approval of Vineyard Wind, the nation’s first major offshore wind farm, and, by extension, the rest of the offshore wind industry, which left Commercial Development with a vast, empty site and no revenue coming in. So the company began renting space to other types of businesses. Scrap metal was trucked in from the surrounding area and then shipped out to Turkey. Another tenant imported road salt, which was hauled to local towns during the winter.

Residents were not happy with the big trucks coming and going to the Brayton Point site via a two-lane road and they bristled at the noise and dust coming from the scrap metal business. Their complaints to Commercial Development yielded no significant changes in the operation, so they began to mobilize.

They formed a Facebook group dubbed Save Our Bay Brayton Point, which today has 3,800 members. They played a key role in ousting a member of the Board of Selectmen who was viewed as sympathetic to the company’s plight and replacing him with someone on their side. And they scored their biggest victory yet in January, when the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, after eight months of deliberation, unanimously rejected the company’s petition to expand its operations at Brayton Point to include other commodity businesses such as lumber, cement, and fly ash.

Commercial Development saw its petition as the best way to help itself and Somerset. The expanded operations would provide the company income from the property while it awaits a promised revival of support for wind energy from the Biden administration, while helping the town by increasing the tax payments it collects from the site. With the Zoning Board of Appeals rejecting the petition, the company is now suing the town in Land Court to overturn the decision.

“Are we frustrated? Yes, we’re frustrated,” said Stephen Collins, executive vice president of the company. “We’re paying more in attorney’s fees than we’re getting in rent.”

What’s happening at Brayton Point illustrates how decisions made in Washington can have far reaching consequences. The Biden administration is now aggressively pushing ahead with offshore wind, but it will be at least five years before enough turbines start spinning off the coast to benefit Somerset. In the meantime, the town is facing an uncertain future. The coal-fired power plant, once the community’s largest taxpayer, is gone. Millions of dollars in stopgap aid from the state have stopped flowing. And residents, divided and angry, seem unable to reach consensus on what to do with Brayton Point.

“It’s been a nightmare,” said Allen Smith, who is running for a seat on the Board of Selectmen and is very sympathetic to the concerns raised by neighbors of Brayton Point. He says Commercial Development should come into compliance with town zoning laws and stick with its original plan, even if the payday for offshore wind is years away.

“I personally don’t have a lot of sympathy for them,” said Smith. “This is a multi-billion-dollar company that has more than 300 projects in North America. This is the risk you take.”

A truck dumps scrap metal at the Brayton Point Commerce Center. The scrap will later be loaded on a ship and sent to Turkey. Neighbors complain about noise and dust from the operation. (Photo by Bruce Mohl)

The town and company relationship, which is now so badly frayed, began with so much promise. Commercial Development bought the Brayton Point property for $8 million and poured more than $20 million into remediation. A video taken in 2019 showing the implosion of the two giant cooling towers at the old coal-fired power plant caught everyone’s attention, and signaled that dramatic change was coming.

The company followed up with a fancy presentation showing Brayton Point’s potential as a logistics port and support center for offshore wind, with a 34-foot-deep port, a huge laydown area for offshore wind components, an enormous building for manufacturing, and a large solar power array.

In May 2019, the company took another key step, announcing an agreement with Anbaric, a Wakefield-based electric transmission developer. The company said it wanted to build a massive battery storage unit at Brayton Point along with a facility to convert electricity brought in from the wind farms for use on the region’s power grid. The total Anbaric investment was valued at $650 million.

Just three months later, however, momentum came grinding to a halt because of a decision in Washington. Vineyard Wind was on track to start construction in 2019 when the Trump administration put the project on hold indefinitely to study the cumulative impact of building dozens of offshore wind farms up and down the East Coast.

The Biden administration earlier this year resuscitated the project and it is expected to receive a key environmental approval soon. But the two-year delay was a devastating blow for Brayton Point and Somerset, whose hopes for an offshore wind bonanza depend on multiple wind farms operating off the coast in need of support operations and interconnection points with the region’s power grid.

For Brayton Point, the long delay meant Commercial Development needed a Plan B. In the summer of 2019, the company, with a verbal approval from sympathetic town officials, began to rent space to scrap metal and road salt operations. Neighbors along the road leading into the facility and across a stretch of the Taunton River from the ship-loading area were caught off guard by all the activity, and began complaining to town officials about noise, truck traffic, and metal dust.

In January 2020, despite growing opposition from neighbors, the company won formal approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals for its scrap metal and road salt operations. Traffic was limited to 50 trucks a day of scrap metal and 20 trucks of road salt. According to press reports, state Rep. Christopher Markey of Dartmouth represented Commercial Development as its attorney.

The two businesses experienced some growing pains. The scrap metal operation was cited in December 2020 by the state Department of Environmental Protection for dropping scrap metal into the water while loading cargo ships. The road salt operation encountered difficulties this winter when communities needed road salt and couldn’t get it because the company was limited to 20 trucks a day.

Neighbors opposed to Commercial Development’s activities put pressure on town officials and looked to replace those who weren’t cooperative. In a race for the Board of Selectmen in 2020, Lorne Lawless took on two-term incumbent David Berube. Berube was viewed as sympathetic to Commercial Development’s situation, while Lawless sided with residents complaining about noise and dust. When the votes were tallied, Berube edged Lawless by 39 votes in four of the town’s five precincts, but Lawless won the race by beating Berube in the fifth precinct by 152 votes. The fifth precinct is the one closest to Brayton Point and the one where opposition to the scrap metal and road salt businesses is the strongest.

Another seat on the Board of Selectmen is up for grabs next month, and Berube is running again, this time against Smith. A victory by Smith would give residents concerned about Commercial Development two potential allies on the board. Town Administrator Richard Brown declined comment on Commercial Development, citing ongoing litigation.

A house along Brayton Point Road features two signs — one promoting a grassroots group called Save Our Bay Brayton Point and another for Allen Smith, a candidate for selectman. (Photo by Bruce Mohl)

The changing politics in Somerset provided the backdrop as Commercial Development petitioned the Zoning Board of Appeals for approval to expand its operations at Brayton Point. In addition to offshore wind work, it wanted approval to process more commodities and run more trucks in and out of the facility – 155 trucks a day, on average, and a maximum of 275 a day.

The Zoning Board of Appeals, pressured by community residents, asked Commercial Development to stop its scrap metal operation because that was the chief cause of dust and noise, but the company refused. The board then rejected Commercial Development’s petition because the company could not comply with a town bylaw requiring all dust to be effectively confined to the premises and because its expanded operations would result in a truck rolling down the road to the site every 60 seconds between 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

“The petition proposed a use that was so intrusive on the needs of the public with respect to traffic and the environmental hazards necessarily produced by port operation, including dust and noise, that rejection was required and no form of reasonable conditions could be devised to satisfy the problems,” the board said in its decision.

Commercial Development officials were stunned. Collins, the company executive vice president, said he had heard about town meetings in New England, but he wasn’t prepared for the level of local engagement in Somerset. In many ways, company officials still saw themselves as white knights. There may have been some traffic and noise with their interim operations, but the impact, they felt, was nothing compared to the coal plant that had operated on the same property for 57 years.

A massive facility at the Brayton Point Commerce Center was left standing and could be used for offshore wind manufacturing. (Photo by Bruce Mohl_

The company responded to the zoning decision by filing an appeal with the Land Court and by reminding town residents that they are reliant on what the company calls the Brayton Point Commerce Center. The firm sent out a press release saying Brayton Point is generating only $50,000 a month in tax revenues for the town, but the property has the redevelopment potential of $1 billion and could generate $6 million a year in tax revenue.

“Tragically, that development potential including jobs and tax revenue remain out of reach because the Brayton Point Commerce Center cannot entertain high-value tenants without local approval,” the press release said. “The January Zoning Board of Appeals denial not only limits Brayton Point’s ability to market to new tenants, but local opposition may discourage future tenants.”

Somerset’s tax predicament is real. Tammy Pacheco, the treasurer/collector for the town, said Brayton Point accounted for 35 percent of the town’s tax levy in fiscal 2010, but since the plant was shuttered the property accounts for less than 2 percent of the levy. Tax revenue was $13.5 million in 2010 and $3.9 million in 2018. After Commercial Development took over, the tax revenue slid from $971,638 in 2019 to $668,277 in 2021. Commercial Development has challenged its assessment each of those years, claiming its tax payments are too high. No settlement has been reached yet.

Somerset has dealt with the loss of revenue over the last three years with nearly $10 million in aid from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which assesses a fee on the carbon content of electricity consumed in Massachusetts and uses the money to further reduce emissions. The aid payments don’t technically fit those guidelines, but are meant to help communities like Somerset transition away from fossil fuels.

The payments are now coming to an end, and Somerset is faced with some tough choices. In broad terms, the town can let Commercial Development expand its operations and generate some additional tax revenue, or it can cut services and/or raise taxes to cope with the lower revenue streams coming from Brayton Point and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Or the town can do a bit of both.

“In the world of unintended consequences, that’s what the Trump administration has wrought,” said Bruce Tobey, an attorney and former mayor of Gloucester who has been retained by Commercial Development.

Tobey thinks the state and federal government need to get involved in Somerset for the good of the town and for the future of the offshore wind industry. He said the state and federal governments can act as conveners in the short run, bringing together town residents, town officials, and Commercial Development.

In the medium to long-term, Tobey said, the state and federal government could play a bigger role in encouraging the growth of a supply chain for the offshore wind industry. Other states are investing in onshore facilities and using contracts for wind power to secure private investments as well. The Baker administration has so far prioritized price over onshore investments in its contract procurements.

In a town like Somerset, that approach is having consequences. Tobey said the town doesn’t have a lot of options if it doesn’t bring in new businesses to replace the old ones.

“You either cut services or raise taxes. That’s ugly,” he said.

3 Massachusetts myths about offshore wind

3 Massachusetts myths about offshore wind

We’re no longer the leader, and we’re falling behind where it counts

MASSACHUSETTS MADE headlines a few years ago when it secured the nations first large-scale procurement of offshore wind, the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project. The Commonwealth was leading the way, planning on developing 3,200 megawatts in total, recognizing the potential of offshore wind to address its carbon reduction goals while catalyzing a new industry and growing well-paying clean energy jobs and extending economic opportunity from Cape Ann to Cape Cod.

Indeed, with a new president who has already proposed an aggressive climate framework focusing on job growth where it is most needed, the US offshore wind industry is quickly moving ahead as the sheer enormity of its economic impact sinks in – the American Wind Energy Association recently estimated that by 2030, offshore wind developments along the east coast of the US could support 83,000 jobs and $25 billion in economic activity.

While its not fair to say that Massachusetts has been resting on its laurels, it risks watching the world of offshore wind pass it by. To keep up, the Commonwealth’s leaders need to recognize their role in preparing for the necessary renewable infrastructure that will transform energy systems and markets in the US.  They also need to recalibrate where we sit in the offshore wind ecosystem and let go of some of the current narratives – let’s call them myths – that may be holding us back.

Myth: Massachusetts is the US leader. Not so anymore. New York just inked a 2,500 megawastt contract with Equinor, leapfrogging Massachusetts in offshore wind procurements. More importantly, New York is making serious investments in port development in Brooklyn and Albany, and in future assembly areas for the turbines to be erected south of Marthas Vineyard and south of Long Island.  New York is preparing for and investing in the infrastructure and the associated well-paying onshore jobs that are expected to accompany the emergence and expected growth of the offshore wind industry in the United States.

Myth: Price is what matters most in procurement. The bids from the first Massachusetts contracts have been surprisingly low, yet by prioritizing pricing, rather than long-term economic development, Massachusetts risks being pennywise and pound foolish. Our singular focus on low-cost electricity cuts against the most tried and true investment advice—hold the long view. Capitalism is premised on the fact that wise investments now can yield outsized returns in the future. Focusing exclusively on low-cost electricity is not an investment strategy, but a way to favor market incumbents and ensure that a considerable amount of the investment in equipment and infrastructure will flow to Europe and Asia, which currently dominate the global offshore wind supply chain.  Policies designed to encourage the growth of that supply chain here in the Bay State are needed if we are to encourage more of that investment to stay closer to home.

 Myth: The economic activity is primarily with the turbines offshore. In fact, the onshore supply chain is where most of the economic action will be. New Yorks recent port investment recognizes a stunning fact: Contemporary turbines are among the largest machines in the world—taller than Bostons Hancock Tower. Meeting our climate goals along the US Atlantic Coast alone will require an estimated $35 billion in average annual private investment between now and 2050.  If wisely structured, such investments can help ensure that communities in southeastern Massachusetts, on Cape Cod and the Islands, and throughout the entire Commonwealth, have the opportunity to share in the economic opportunities and the financial benefits associated with these large-scale offshore wind developments just off their shores.

With wise economic development policies that prioritize equity, the Commonwealth can be a model for investing in job growth that will benefit communities that have historically been left behind during previous technology-driven economic booms across the Commonwealth.

A relatively modest public investment – on the order of 1-2 percent of the development costs — would support efforts to develop the infrastructure and prepare the Massachusetts workforce for these opportunities. Massachusetts could set the standard for job creation, racial equity, and climate change with the right policies in place.

Wind energy at the scale we’re anticipating must come to shore efficiently and with an economic development strategy in place to maximize the local and regional benefits.

A smart, targeted economic development approach would incentivize investment in Massachusetts ports and onshore points of interconnection leveraging federal and state funding. It would invest in the education and training that will be required to prepare our workers for expected opportunities.  And it would explicitly include economic development considerations in future offshore wind procurements

With such an enormous tailwind about to be blowing from Washington, the time to act is now.

David W. Cash is dean of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston and a former commissioner in the Department of Public Utilities and Department of Environmental Protection in Massachusetts. Michael D. Goodman is acting provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and co-editor of MassBenchmarks, the journal of the Massachusetts economy published by the UMass Donahue Institute in collaboration with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Jennifer J. Menard is the interim vice president of economic and business development at the National Offshore Wind Institute at Bristol Community College.

Biden administration moves forward on Vineyard Wind

Biden administration moves forward on Vineyard Wind

Issues final environment impact statement for project

THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION on Monday released its final environmental impact statement on the Vineyard Wind offshore wind project and indicated the analysis could gain final approval soon, paving the way for the project to begin construction.

The four-volume statement said the final environment impact report “is not a decision document.” It said the statement will be published in the Federal Register shortly, allowing 30 days for review before the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management decides whether to approve Vineyard Wind’s construction and operations plan, modify it, or reject it. The statement also said the National Marine Fisheries Service and US Army Corps of Engineers will make decisions about the project using the analysis of impacts outlined in the final environmental impact statement.

A press release issued by the US Department of the Interior suggested the project will likely be moving forward, with Deputy Assistant Secretary Laura Daniel Davis quoted as saying “the United States is poised to become a global clean energy leader.”

Offshore wind advocates across the board hailed the announcement. Heather Zichal, CEO of the American Clean Power Association, issued a statement applauding the Biden administration for moving ahead with the final steps to approve the Vineyard Wind project.

“By any measure, this is a breakthrough for offshore wind energy in the United States. Not even two months into a new Administration, years of delay have finally culminated in a thorough analysis that should soon put this infrastructure investment on its way to generating clean power for the region and creating good jobs at home,” she said.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management identified a preferred alternative, calling for an 800 megawatt offshore wind farm with 84 turbines and a cable carrying power ashore at Covell’s Beach in Centerville on Cape Cod. An onshore electric substation will be located there. The turbines would be arranged in a north-south and east-west orientation with a minimum spacing of 1 nautical mile between them.

Vineyard Wind acquired a lease area 14 miles southeast of Martha’s Vineyard in 2005 and won a contract from Massachusetts utilities for its power in 2017. The company subsequently filed a construction and operations plan, or COP, with the federal government in December 2017. A year later the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management issued a draft environmental impact statement on the project, which was pulled back after the agency decided it couldn’t review the project in isolation from a host of other wind farm projects being proposed up and down the coast.

A supplemental environmental impact statement was issued in June 2020, but it was never finalized and Vineyard Wind ultimately withdrew its application on December 1 to explore use of a bigger wind turbine generator. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management terminated work on the environmental impact statement on December 16, a decision that was reversed by the Biden administration on February 3 after receiving word from Vineyard Wind that its proposal didn’t need tweaking. Just over a month later the Biden administration issued the final environmental impact statement.