New Bedford mayor calls offshore wind ‘generational opportunity’

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.”

 BRUCE MOHL

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

What grade would you give your child’s school for its performance during the pandemic? For nearly one-third of parents with children in Massachusetts public schools, that grade would be a C, according to a new poll done by Emerson College Polling Institute for the Pioneer Institute. Read more.

Two foster parents in Adams were indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment of a child for failing to get medical attention for their 10-month-old foster child, who died of complications from an illness. The case is renewing concerns about the Department of Children and Families. Read more.

Opinion:

The communities of Everett, Medford, Somerville, Chelsea, Malden, and a bit of Boston’s Charlestown are growing so fast they resemble a city center. Except it is not like a city center, just an archipelago of private developments in need of the public connectivity so well known in historic downtowns. What these communities need is some form of regional government to make it happen. Read more.

The MBTA needs to get on the decarbonization bandwagon and stop investing in heavily polluting equipment like diesel buses and trains. Read more.

Bradley Miller of the Humane Farming Association says out-of-state egg producers are acting like Chicken Little, claiming eggs will become scarce and prices will skyrocket if a state law passed by voters takes effect. Read more.

State Auditor Suzanne Bump and Sen. Adam Hinds of Pittsfield say much greater accountability is needed for the state’s tax breaks. Read more.

Holyoke Soldiers’ Homes union-only construction provision is praised by Frank Callahan of the Massachusetts Building Trades Council. Read more.

A professor’s job increasingly includes a mental health component because of the deteriorating mental health of college students. Read more.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

The House Ways and Means Committee will release its proposed 2022 state budget on Wednesday. (Boston Herald

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Children are accounting for more cases of COVID-19, likely due to more contagious variants, which are more likely to affect them. (MassLive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Biden is facing diverging pressure on how to expand health care, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urging an expansion of the Affordable Care Act, while Sen. Bernie Sanders, who chairs the Senate budget committee, pressing for an expansion of Medicare. (Washington Post)

ELECTIONS

The New York Times reports on the spate of Massachusetts mayors opting not to seek reelection amid the strain of managing their cities during the pandemic. The piece cites CommonWealth’s story on the phenomenon from last month. 

Developers are spreading campaign cash around as they make donations to the six Boston mayoral candidates. (Boston Herald

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The tourism industry seeks more help from the state, citing massive losses during COVID-19. (Gloucester Daily Times)

A Haverhill marijuana shop sues the city over its community impact fees, in a legal battle that could have larger ramifications for how communities assess fees on marijuana shops. (Eagle-Tribune)

The price of building materials is up significantly, between COVID-related disruptions to the supply chain and a huge demand for home renovation projects. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

The UMass Amherst hockey team gets a big welcome as it returns to campus after winning the national championship. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

TRANSPORTATION

A judge rules that the former head of the bus drivers’ union at the Worcester Regional Transit Authority was appropriately fired for giving a news interview while driving his bus, rather than for speaking out against budget cuts. (Telegram & Gazette)

Car inspections may not resume until April 17 after a cyberattack. (MassLive)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Plans to build a new natural gas power plant in Peabody are creating controversy, with environmentalists saying the state shouldn’t build new gas infrastructure. (Salem News)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The Boston Police Department has known for more than 25 years about allegations of child sexual abuse committed by former patrolman Patrick Rose Sr., who remained on the force despite that fact and rose to become president of the city’s main police union. (Boston Globe) City Councilor and mayoral candidate Andrea Campbell calls for an external investigation of the department and the release of records from Rose’s internal investigation file. (Boston Globe

Her family and neighbors mourned the death of 73-year-old Delois Brown, who was struck by a stray bullet on Saturday while sitting on her Dorchester porch. (Boston Globe

Record numbers of police chiefs are retiring this year, which some attribute to the police reform movement and heightened scrutiny of policing. (MassLive)

PASSINGS

Ramsey Clark, a civil rights champion who served as attorney general in the Johnson administration and went on to defend “unpopular causes and infamous people,” died at age 93. (New York Times)