These two words should guide Beacon Hill on offshore wind:
A House energy committee Monday unveiled a bill that would require utilities to purchase 1,200 megawatts of offshore wind, along with 1,200 megawatts of hydroelectric power. On the surface, that is a miracle for offshore wind, a year and a half after Cape Wind was crushed by opponents.
But the case for renewables in Massachusetts is more urgent than ever. The final bill should up the ante and provide for 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind—the level proposed by Representative Patricia Haddad of Somerset last year.
There are many reasons that Massachusetts should go big. The first is that the concerns about costs, voiced by offshore skeptics as well as Governor Charlie Baker, are much diminished. Europe now has more than 3,200 turbines spinning on the other side of the Atlantic. Danish, German, and British developers say costs for offshore wind should be equal to costs of fossil fuels in seven to 10 years, in part because of a steady flow of projects and an efficient supply chain.
Factoring in economic and social benefits of a surging industry, top turbine supplier Siemens calculates that, by 2025, offshore wind will be cheaper in Germany than any major fuel source, except for onshore wind. Benefits could include more jobs, less carbon, and energy that is ultimately cheaper for society than nuclear or conventional sources.
That will be true here, too, if the Legislature and Baker go for 2,000 megawatts. A recent study by the University of Delaware’s Special Initiative on Offshore Wind found that that amount, the equivalent of four Cape Winds, would create a European-style pipeline of competitively priced projects that would bring the cost of electricity down to or below today’s electricity prices by 2030. That is without federal or state tax credits and renewable energy credits.
Marc Pacheco, the Senate’s chairman on climate change, said those prospects make a 2,000 megawatt provision “a minimum of what we should be talking about.” Despite the death of Cape Wind, some of the most committed US and European players in the offshore wind industry remain bullish on the power available farther off the coast in deeper water.
Rhode Island’s Deepwater Wind, Danish energy giant DONG, and New Jersey-based OffshoreMW, a sister venture of Germany’s WindMW, already hold leases for more than 500,000 acres of ocean off the coast. Deepwater Wind should have a pilot five-turbine project up and running off Block Island later this year.
That brings up the next reason to go big. The procurement of 1,200 megawatts, while the equivalent of two-and-a-half Cape Winds, may not offer the scale to ignite an actual Massachusetts-based industry and supply chain in struggling South Coast cities like New Bedford, as well as lower electricity costs, according to the University of Delaware’s Willett Kempton. That seems pound foolish given that DONG is preparing to build the world’s biggest wind farm in the United Kingdom, one that will be 1,200 megawatts all by itself. It will power a million British homes.
Finally, the most important reason of all: Going big on offshore wind should be mandatory, given last week’s ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that the state is not meeting mandated greenhouse gas emissions limits and now must cut emissions “on an annual basis.”
Until the ruling, the Baker administration had called for an energy “combo platter” that includes new gas pipelines. Suddenly, the thirst for gas is obsolete, and dangerous for the environment. Besides, Attorney General Maura Healey and many analysts say pipelines are not needed at all if the state focuses on energy efficiency, expands solar and wind programs, and repairs leaks in existing gas lines.
The new combo platter may mean 1,200 megawatts of hydroelectric power from Canada. But the most winning combination of renewable energy, emissions cuts, and quality jobs for Massachusetts lies right off our shores. The Commonwealth should go all-in.
This post was first published in the May 24, 2016 Boston Globe.