Massachusetts bill would encourage hydropower, offshore wind
BOSTON >> Canadian hydropower and offshore wind projects would become more prominent pieces of the state's overall energy landscape under a long-awaited bill House lawmakers unveiled Monday.
Members of a legislative committee that oversees energy issues were expected to endorse the bill, in a vote taken by email, setting the stage for debate in the full House next month. Renewable energy advocates have said the bill does not go far enough.
The measure requires utilities to solicit long-term contracts of 15-20 years with providers of hydroelectricity and offshore wind. Those solicitations could be conducted jointly with other New England states or with "state-designated entities."
Gov. Charlie Baker filed his own version of the bill last summer and has repeatedly called it one of his most important priorities of the legislative session that ends on July 31. He's said the measure is a critical step in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and replacing energy that has left or will be leaving the New England energy grid in the coming years, including the scheduled 2019 shutdown of the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth.
The House bill calls for importing an additional 1,200 megawatts each of Canadian hydro and offshore wind. The wind projects would be limited to federal waters only.
Baker's earlier proposal did not specifically address offshore wind and called for procuring twice as much hydro capacity as the House bill. But the governor on Monday said he was pleased to see the discussion move forward.
"I would describe it at this point as a very strong bill that's built around the idea of expanding our portfolio, diversifying our energy sources and incorporating big slices of hydro and wind into our portfolio in Massachusetts and across New England," the governor said.
Environmental groups were less enthusiastic, though they did praise the House for addressing the state's long-term energy future.
George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, said he had hoped lawmakers would opt to make offshore wind a bigger slice of the state's energy pie, and include land-based wind projects in the legislation as well.
"I think it's a case of putting a big toe in the water instead of taking bold action for the future," said Bachrach, a former state senator. "They need to do more."
Environmental groups had called on lawmakers to include at least 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind. A single megawatt can power up to 1,000 homes.
Caitlin Peale Sloan, staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, also argued the bill should be more heavily weighted toward wind, which she said is a cleaner energy source than imported hydropower.
But developers of potential offshore wind projects said they welcome the opportunity to bid for long-term contracts.
"The wind-hydro combination is a home run for the Commonwealth," said Jeffrey Grybowski, chief executive of Deepwater Wind, a Providence, Rhode Island-based company that has proposed an offshore wind farm running between Block Island and Martha's Vineyard.
The state Senate is likely to draft its own version of the bill, but legislative leaders said they hope to have final legislation on Baker's desk before the session ends.
Several regional plans to increase the capacity for delivering Canadian hydro to New England are awaiting regulatory approval, including Eversource's $1.4 billion Northern Pass project, designed to bring 1,090 megawatts of Hydro-Quebec power through New Hampshire into southern New England.
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