NEW BEDFORD — In September, while on the campaign trail for governor, Maura Healey spoke from the New Bedford waterfront, outlining her vision for the region’s burgeoning offshore wind industry:
“New Bedford is poised to be not only a national leader when it comes to offshore wind, but a global leader,” she said. “We want to do everything we can to support that economy and support a thriving, prosperous New Bedford.”
Now, on the eve of Governor-elect Healey assuming office, civic and business leaders in New Bedford are calling on her to honor that commitment. The group signed a letter to Healey and her climate chief last week, urging the new administration to adopt policies and approaches to offshore wind development that they believe would help the state benefit from the investment, gain a competitive advantage against other states and centralize the offshore wind industry on the Port of New Bedford.
“Although we believe that the wind industry should play a major role in America’s effort to mitigate climate change, for us the development of the offshore wind industry has been primarily about economic development,” the letter states. As a region that is not part of a major metro-area, “offshore wind’s arrival presents an unusual opportunity to attract significant private capital from an industry that, by virtue of the competitive advantages of our port, could thrive here for decades.”
Those who signed the letter include: the mayor, leaders of local universities, economic development groups, community and union representatives, and executives of local technology, shipping and engineering companies — all of whom, according to the letter, “have championed the development of the offshore wind industry in our region.”
Healey, who will be inaugurated as governor on Jan. 5, will step into office as the offshore wind industry is ready to blossom along the East Coast.
There are currently 17 projects under permitting review, the letter outlines, with an average project budget of nearly $3 billion. After many false starts, an array of developers in the next decade are slated to construct 3,411 offshore wind turbines across 2.4 million acres of federal ocean, according to government projections.
Massachusetts, and New Bedford, have led the way in championing offshore wind development, according to the letter. But in recent years, the state’s advantage has diminished as competition has ramped up in other states along the East Coast.
“Every East Coast state is now actively competing for investment, and nearly all of their governors have proclaimed that their state will become the industry’s epicenter,” the letter continues, adding that other “states have competed more aggressively than Massachusetts for industry investment.”
Massachusetts has to strike a “better balance,” the letter continues. “One that recognizes that the industry likely will make its major investment decisions for its U.S. operations relatively soon, and they will invest in other states if Massachusetts is not in the game.”
The letter calls not only for Healey to declare Massachusetts as America’s leading offshore wind state, but also to recognize the offshore wind industry should be centered largely in New Bedford, which it describes as “the closest port to the largest cluster of wind energy areas on the East Coast.”
“If the state’s efforts are to be successful, it must begin with strengthening and developing around this link,” the group wrote, with “support for New Bedford’s role as an industry convenor, an intermediary with the fishing industry, and a place where clean tech innovation is cultivated.”
The offshore wind industry is currently experiencing some turbulence. Some developers say that supply chain issues, and proposed environmental regulations, could threaten the commercial viability of their projects. The industry has also gained a deluge of federal tax incentives, mostly from the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act.
Last week, in Gov. Baker’s dwindling days in office, he announced $180 million in infrastructure funding for projects designed to support the offshore wind industry. The funds included: $45 million to improve the MassCEC New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal; $15 million toward financing the New Bedford Port Authority’s north terminal expansion project; $15 million to the New Bedford Foss Marine Terminal’s offshore wind staging area; and $4.6 million for Shoreline Marine Terminal, a project led by the owners of Quinn Fisheries.
The funds came from a recently passed state economic development bill and federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act.
In the letter, the group highlighted the urgency for Healey and her administration to act quickly in order for the state to reap the long-term benefits from offshore wind investment.
“This is an enormous opportunity for the Commonwealth, if we choose to seize it,” the letter states. “For its part, New Bedford seeks to establish itself as the leading offshore wind port on the East Coast, but we know that we cannot do it without an equally committed state partner.”
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