Beacon Hill eyeing tradeoffs on offshore wind

A major policy debate is taking shape on Beacon Hill between those who see offshore wind as the key to meeting the state’s climate change goals, and those who see the industry as needing to do more than that – specifically, spurring significant economic development in the state.

The debate centers around the price of electricity. Other states have accepted higher prices for electricity in return for pledges from offshore wind developers to build some of their supply chain inside the state. New York and New Jersey, for example, have secured pledges for manufacturing operations inside their states. 

Massachusetts, by contrast, put a price cap in place with its first-in-the-nation offshore wind deal, which requires each successive procurement to come in at a lower price than the previous one. 

The price cap is now a key part of the debate about how offshore wind developers should be treated in Massachusetts. House leaders say they want the state to make a major investment in the industry and do away with the price cap. They also said they wanted a greater emphasis on economic development in the procurement process, which would give offshore wind developers more flexibility to propose onshore investments.

Gov. Charlie Baker flipped his keep-the-prices-low script and sided with the House last week, filing legislation calling for elimination of the price cap and using $750 million of the state’s billions in American Rescue Plan Act funds to support the industry.   

Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, the Senate chair of the Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee, remains skeptical. He says the state already has some of the highest electricity prices in the country, so it shouldn’t accede to higher prices on 20-year power supply contracts with offshore wind developers to lure a manufacturing facility to the state. Higher electricity prices, he says, might hinder attainment of the real prize – decarbonizing the state’s economy by convincing consumers to shift to carbon-free electricity to power their cars, buildings, and everything else. 

Rep. Jeffrey Roy of Franklin, Barrett’s counterpart in the House, said on The Codcast that he thinks the state can use offshore wind both to address climate change and spur economic development. The key, he said, is giving offshore wind developers more flexibility on the pricing of their electricity so they can afford to make more onshore investments.

“Certainly the end goal is fighting climate change and getting clean energy. We need to be by 2050 at net zero and that’s going to take a lot of energy,” said Roy. “For a little bit of a price increase, if we can get some economic development at the same time we’re saving the planet, that’s a win-win for everybody.”

Roy called slightly higher prices for electricity in return for economic development a “fair tradeoff.” He said New York and New Jersey have done that, and so should Massachusetts.

“Think of what a manufacturing facility could do to a community where it’s located,” Roy said, mentioning New Bedford, Brayton Point in Somerset, and Salem. “Bringing in a facility that’s going to create jobs, and good paying jobs, and long-term jobs is something that at the end of the day will probably bring in more revenue for the state of Massachusetts than a slightly higher price in electricity. Keep in mind we’re not talking about incredible increments on the price. It has to be a competitive price for Massachusetts to accept the bid.”

Roy said the state needs to invest in offshore wind the way it invested $1 billion over 10 years in the biotech and life sciences industry. “There’s no reason we can’t do the same thing for offshore wind,” he said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a new industry.” 

Like Baker, Roy supports using some of the state’s federal aid to bolster the development of offshore wind in Massachusetts, but he believes more may be needed. “I would assume that we will take a look at the ARPA funds for some of the pieces, but I wouldn’t say it’s entirely because this is a long-term effort and we’re going to have to put a stream in place that could go out potentially 10 years. The ARPA funds have a smaller time period within which to use those funds.”

Roy said the state has authorized up to 5,600 megawatts of offshore wind. He said that’s enough to power all of Massachusetts and have surplus energy left over to sell. “I’m confident. I’m excited,” Roy said. “It’s nice to know that at least two of the branches of our government are in place to move the offshore wind bill and bolster that industry.”

 BRUCE MOHL

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

What’s proper notice? An Oxford man is in danger of losing his $254,000 home because he failed to pay a $3,056 tax bill and subsequently fell behind in his payments to the town. John Smith is now suing the municipality in the Massachusetts Appeals Court, claiming he was never properly notified that his home was in jeopardy.

According to a brief filed by Smith’s attorney, the town of Oxford sent Smith a demand letter, then published a “notice of taking,” a list of dozens of properties the tax collector intended to take, in the town hall and post office and in the Webster Times. Smith never saw these postings, and the “notice of taking” was not sent to him. The Oxford tax collector in 2011 signed a form taking the title to Smith’s home, without notifying Smith. Read more.

Election changes in Worcester: Worcester averts continued litigation by agreeing to move away from an all at-large election of School Committee members, which critics say makes it more difficult for minority candidates to win office. The School Committee voted 8-3 to move to a system with more district seats. The legal settlement between the municipality and Lawyers for Civil Rights now must be approved by a judge. Read more.

Don’t touch those districts: The redistricting bill stirs concerns on Beacon Hill, with one senator calling for hitting the pause button. Read more.

OPINION

Retirement board fraud: Citing fraud and waste at the Hampden County Regional Retirement Board, 14 local officials say the generosity of the agency seems boundless. Read more.

Tsarnaev appeal: Thaddeus Hoffmeister, a law professor at the University of Dayton, says the Supreme Court appeal filed by Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev centers on juror bias in an age of social media. Read more.

COVID fatigue: Christine Schuster, the president and CEO of Emerson Hospital in Concord, says, as a society, we are simply exhausted. Read more.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

As many as 5,000 state workers face sanctions that could ultimately include termination after failing to comply with yesterday’s deadline to show proof of vaccination or apply for an exemption. (Boston Herald) A federal judge ruled against a correction officers union that tried to delay implementation of the vaccine mandate. (MassLive)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Swampscott resident William DiMento files an unusual complaint concerning Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald with the State Ethics Commission. (Daily Item)

The Hadley Select Board does a redo of an earlier vote on the town’s COVID policy to satisfy concerns raised about open meeting violations raised by the attorney general’s office. Critics said the board should do more than simply retake the vote with more notice, and should give all parties a chance to testify. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Give the state Health Policy Commission real teeth to hold the line on health care costs, says Jon Kingsdale of the Boston University School of Public Health. (Boston Globe

Massachusetts hospitals see higher than 90 percent vaccination rates among employees – but that means many workers could still lose their jobs. (MassLive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The trial of the three men charged with killing Ahmaud Arbery begins today in Georgia and is sure to become the latest focal point of the country’s racial reckoning. (Washington Post

A North Adams man pleads guilty to a misdemeanor in connection with the assault on the Capitol on January 6. (Berkshire Eagle)

ELECTIONS

A lot of Boston mayoral candidate Michelle Wu’s big ideas would need the state Legislature and governor’s approval. (Boston Globe)  Wu’s rival, Annissa Essaibi George, unveiled a plan to deal with the crisis at Mass. and Cass that includes creating a cabinet-level position to coordinate the city’s response. (Boston Globe

Gov. Charlie Baker, the state’s top Republican, called on state GOP chair Jim Lyons to resign over his support for a Boston City Council at-large candidate who posted anti-Asian comments on social media. Lyons fired back saying it may be “time for Gov. Baker to reconsider his party affiliation.” (Dorchester Reporter

Four candidates are still competing for the 4th Essex House seat vacated by Rep. Brad Hill, even though redistricting could do away with the district next year, splitting the current district into five different districts. (Salem News) A number of incumbent lawmakers are unhappy with the new redistricting maps. (Gloucester Daily Times)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Sean O’Brien, the longtime leader ofTeamsters Local 25 in Boston, is vying to be president of the union’s international, with 1.4 million members in the US and Canada — and has his sights set on organizing Amazon workers into the union. (Boston Globe

Hollywood studios reach a contract deal with crew members to avert a nationwide strike that would have shut down filming across the country, including Massachustts. (NPR)

Western Massachusetts manufacturers, which have long struggled with a lack of qualified workers, are now competing to hire Smith & Wesson employees as that company moves its headquarters to Tennessee. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

Supply chain shortages have made it hard to serve school meals at South Coast schools. (Standard-Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

After a Lawrence teen was classified as a runway – but was later found to have been a murder victim – the city commissioned a $25,000 independent review of the case. But the report mostly lists all the obstacles to conducting an independent investigation, including the police and the district attorney not being willing to cooperate. (MassLive)

MEDIA

The German media company that recently acquired Politico for $1 billion comes with charges of sexual harassment against its top editor and accusations of “sneaky” business practices. (New York Times

PASSINGS

 Colin Powell, the former secretary of state, died at age 84 from complications of COVID. (NPR)