House approves offshore wind power expansion plan | News

BOSTON — The House of Representatives last week approved a plan to expand offshore wind power to meet the state’s renewable energy needs, but the move is being pushed back by Gov. Charlie Baker, who says it will grow consumer costs.

The legislation, which was approved by a 144-12 vote, calls for accelerating the development of offshore wind by changing the way the state sources energy, creating tax credits for wind companies offshore and setting environmental and fishing industry requirements for offshore wind projects, among other changes.

The bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Jeffrey Roy, D-Franklin, said the changes, if approved, would help position Massachusetts as “the Saudi Arabia of the wind.”

“Massachusetts is uniquely poised to capitalize on the country’s emerging offshore wind industry,” Roy said in his remarks ahead of the vote. “But the development needed to establish an industry capable of harnessing this natural ability does not happen by accident, and it certainly does not happen overnight.”

But the plan, which also requires Senate approval, faces strong headwinds from the Baker administration, which says it will drive up energy costs for consumers and complicate the appeals process. tenders for offshore wind projects.

In a statement, the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs said the proposal “hits millions of Massachusetts households with increased utility bills at a time when utility costs energy are already increasing rapidly, and could create a conflict of interest by involving regulators in offshore”. wind power contract negotiations.

Baker, a staunch supporter of offshore wind, introduced his own bill last year that proposed removing price caps from wind projects and investing $750 million from the American Rescue Plan Act in a clean energy investment fund. But lawmakers took no action on his bill, beyond holding a public hearing.

The statement urged lawmakers to pass Baker’s bill, which it said would “advance wind energy without increasing costs to consumers and proposed significantly more investment to support offshore wind, d ‘other renewables and clean energy innovation’.

Other critics of the plan say a provision in the bill that lifts the bidding cap for offshore wind power projects will lead to increased costs for the state and, ultimately, consumers.

Roy defended the decision to lift the price cap, arguing that it is no longer necessary to contain the costs of offshore wind projects, with more competitive prices.

He said the state’s Department of Utilities would also have the power to reject bids for offshore wind power, if they are too expensive.

“Removing the price cap doesn’t mean we’ll be stuck with expensive contracts,” Roy said.

Critics of the proposal also pointed to a new surcharge, which would be added to natural gas bills, to help defray the cost of renewable energy expansion.

Proponents of the bill said the surcharge would be nominal — adding an average of $10 a year to gas bills — and noted that the recent spike in energy costs highlights the impact of dependence on electricity. natural gas to heat homes and keep lights on. .

“With more wind and energy independence, there is much less risk of price spikes,” Roy said.

Meanwhile, commercial fishermen are increasingly alarmed by the rapid expansion of offshore wind power, warning it could make fertile land off limits.

“This rush to lease and develop our ocean comes at the expense of the health of our oceans and the existing users, the fishers,” Jackie Odell, executive director of the Northeast Seafood Coalition, which represents commercial fishers and corporations seafood that participate in the federal government. fishing, said in a statement.

“Adequate attention is not being given to small family fishing businesses and seafood production which will be affected,” she said.

The coalition urges Beacon Hill policymakers to ‘put the seafood industry and the impact on the ocean environment first – not after the fact – and work towards legislation that has real powers to mitigate and protect the jobs and safety of existing users as well as the conservation of our ocean.

An amendment added to the bill by Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, D-Gloucester, would create a fisheries task force to study the potential impact of wind power expansion on the marine environment and operations commercial fishing.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group newspapers and websites. Email him at [email protected]

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