BOSTON — The bill is meant to spur greater interest in and investment from the Bay State’s burgeoning offshore wind industry, but House Speaker Ron Mariano said Tuesday that the legislation the House plans to debate Thursday is really more of a broad economic development plan.
“This isn’t just a climate bill,” Mariano said. “This is a comprehensive economic and workforce development package. We feel that it addresses an awful lot of issues in the industry itself, not just the building of offshore windmills, but it begins to attack the delivery system and it begins to attack the issues that we have with transmission.”
The House Ways and Means Committee released its redrafted version (H 4515) of House Speaker Ron Mariano’s priority legislation Tuesday morning, teeing up the bill that would change how the state procures an increasingly important resource, create new tax credits and incentives for offshore wind companies, impose new environmental and fishing industry-related requirements on offshore wind projects, encourage the modernization of the electrical grid, and jumpstart training programs for offshore wind jobs.
Mariano has made promotion of the offshore wind industry here a central part of his agenda and has repeatedly pointed to the legislation that he and Rep. Jeff Roy conceptually announced during a boat tour of the Block Island Wind Farm off Rhode Island in September as one of his chief priorities.
“What we are now trying to do is follow up the ambitious climate goals in our roadmap bill last year, which we passed twice. We had an early lead, I felt, in offshore wind. We were identified early as being one of the primary locations for windmills,” the speaker said, mentioning the favorable wind conditions and continental shelf locations offshore of Massachusetts. “And now we have a president who has a goal of 30 gigawatts that he’d like to generate from offshore wind by 2030. All of these things contribute to the development of a huge industry right here in our state … so we think there is an awful lot of things of value that we can do in this bill.”
Much of the bill revolves around the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and a proposed Offshore Wind Industry Investment Fund, which Roy said is designed to promote the growth of offshore wind manufacturing facilities in Massachusetts, provide incentives for companies to locate here, help developers cover the costs of connecting their cleaner power to the electric grid, and provide funding for port infrastructure and workforce training.
“We did this with the life sciences industry and had tremendous success and there’s no reason we can’t repeat that with this particular industry,” said Roy, who chairs the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. “We know how to do it in Massachusetts and I’d like to see nothing better than for us to become national leaders on offshore wind.”
In the Ways and Means Committee redraft — which cleared the committee with 25 reps in favor, none opposed and with six reserving their rights — House leadership backed away from a proposal to triple an existing per kilowatt-hour charge on electric customers to fund a new offshore wind industry trust fund. That increase, which would have cost the average electric customer $7.20 a year, was included in the version that Roy and the TUE Committee released about six weeks ago but was dropped in Ways and Means.
“It was the feeling … that this bill does a lot of good things. But one of the criticisms that we had heard was the potential effect it would have on the consumer’s electrical bill every month, and we were very concerned about that as being a roadblock to some of the significant changes and the broad sweeping changes that we begin in this bill,” Mariano said.
The House Ways and Means Committee draft still includes a new charge for all natural gas customers, one that is estimated to add $9.73 annually to the average gas customer’s bills and generate $23 million in annual revenue for the existing Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust Fund. That fund is currently funded with the existing 0.5 mill per kilowatt-hour charge that all electric customers pay.
But under the latest draft of the House’s offshore wind bill, the revenue from the existing charge on electric ratepayers would instead flow into the new proposed Offshore Wind Industry Investment Trust Fund until July 31, 2032.
The Ways and Means redraft also increased the maximum allowable amount of annual incentives that the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, which would become the focal point for the state’s wind energy efforts under the House bill, could distribute from the $30 million that the TUE Committee approved to $50 million.
“So, we will be looking at other bills and there will be other sources of revenue that we can contribute to this bill,” Mariano said Tuesday. “But we think that for where we are now and what we’re trying to do, that this bill addresses a lot of the stakeholder concerns about developing a new industry.”
The House bill also seeks to require that utilities proactively upgrade the transmission and distribution grid to improve reliability and resilience, and to accommodate greater renewable resources like wind and solar.
“We have already authorized 5,600 megawatts of offshore wind and if that offshore wind were ready tomorrow to produce all this energy, quite frankly, our grid would not be able to handle it,” Roy said. “We know that it’s going to take several years for that wind to begin producing robust amounts of energy, so the planning must begin right now for how we’re going to get that energy from the turbines that are 14 miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard into the plugs in people’s homes.”
The House’s offshore wind bill would also soften the state’s project price cap without scrapping it in every circumstance. Mariano said in September that he was disappointed that only two developers bid when Massachusetts’ last sought offshore wind proposals and pointed to the price cap as something that kept others from bidding.
The House may have an ally in Gov. Charlie Baker when it comes to the price cap. Baker, in his own offshore wind bill, last year proposed to scrap the cap and invest $750 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to establish a clean energy investment fund that his office said would represent “the single largest investment in the clean energy economy in Massachusetts to date.”
Sen. Michael Barrett, who chairs the TUE Committee for the Senate, has voiced concerns about eliminating the price cap. He said he is worried that removing the consumer protection at a time when the state and country are aiming to electrify more aspects of society could turn ratepayers against clean energy projects, especially in a state like Massachusetts with some of the highest electricity prices in the nation.
Some opposition to the House bill has also already emerged from the commercial fishing industry.
Tensions between fishermen and offshore wind proponents have been a constant thread in the industry’s growth. In New Bedford the friction is apparent. The nation’s highest-earning seafood port for more than 20 years is also emerging as a likely hub for the offshore wind industry. One a turbine staging area, the Marine Commerce Terminal, has already built and another wind staging site planned for the 29-acre Cannon Street Power Station site — within view of the docked fishing vessels along the city’s working waterfront.
Concerns among fishing interests were among the reasons the Trump administration slammed the brakes on the Vineyard Wind I project in 2019, and the worry that wind turbines could complicate marine navigation led the developers that own nearby lease areas to agree to use a uniform layout across their projects.
“We did get a lot of feedback on that and we did try to address their concerns,” Roy said about the fishing industry concerns generally. He added, “This bill is designed to prevent further global warming and putting these windmills in place is to lower emissions and to truly create an environment where fishing can thrive. We do a lot of fisheries mitigation by setting up a working group, by setting up some funding, by requiring it to be part of a bid to have an initial fisheries mitigation plan, but look at the bigger picture: To the extent that we’re able to prevent the waters from further warming, that’s really going to do a lot to protect the fishermen of Massachusetts.”
Some information compiled by the New Bedford Light was added to this State House News Service story.
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