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Time for Massachusetts to get behind offshore wind power

By Paul Vigeant

Two recent news headlines should be central to the important debate over legislation that will determine whether Massachusetts has access to clean, reliable, and affordable sources of energy to power our homes, schools, and workplaces.

First, Entergy Corp. announced that it would close the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, Massachusetts, by 2019, shortly after Dominion Energy announced the shutdown of the Brayton Point Power Plant in Somerset. The closure of these and other obsolete coal and oil-powered power plants around the region will cost Massachusetts more than 10 percent of its power production, with New England losing 25 percent of its production within the next decade, according to ISO-New England, which manages the region's power supply.

How we replace those power generators will affect how much we pay for electricity to heat and cool our homes and whether Massachusetts will continue to be an affordable place to do business.

Second, a study by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Buzzards Bay Coalition found that water temperatures in Buzzards Bay off the coast of Massachusetts have increased by four degrees Fahrenheit over the past two decades as a result of climate change fueled by rising levels of greenhouse gases linked to the burning of fossil fuels, all but eliminating the bay's lobster fishery and harming water quality.

Even before the announced Pilgrim shutdown, New England's electric bill was going to be at least $2 billion higher in 2017, because ISO New England was forced to cover the expected energy shortfall with power purchased on the energy futures market. State legislators are considering legislation that is likely to include a mix of energy sources, including natural gas, hydroelectric, and wind.

One key provision would require that public utilities buy 2,000 megawatts of power from offshore wind farms.

Those wind farms are in no way related to the moribund Cape Wind project, and none will be built in Nantucket Sound. Instead, the offshore wind industry in Massachusetts will be built in tracts of ocean 15 to 25 miles southwest of Martha's Vineyard in waters leased by the Bureau of Ocean Management to three of the world's largest and most experienced offshore wind developers: Deepwater Wind, which has built a wind farm off Block Island; DONG Energy, the world's largest developer of offshore wind farms; and Offshore MW, which is owned by one of the world's largest venture capital firms.

Those waters produce among the strongest and most reliable winds in the world, and they are located sufficiently far offshore that they will provide little disturbance to views from shore.

Each year, offshore wind could eliminate more than three million tons of carbon dioxide, 3,000 tons of sulphur dioxide, and 1,100 tons of nitrous oxide from spewing into the atmosphere from fossil fuel-fired power plants, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

In addition, a new offshore wind industry would create thousands of jobs for Massachusetts. The U.S. Department of Energy forecasts the industry will employ 43,000 people along the East Coast by 2030-most of them in New England. Port cities like New Bedford, Fall River, and Quincy stand to gain jobs servicing that emerging industry.

The price of the power produced by offshore wind farms in Europe-which has developed more than 10,000 MW of wind power-is already competitive with other energy generators, and the price is falling as technology improves and the industry matures and benefits from economies of scale.

In Massachusetts, the three developers looking to build the first industrial-scale wind farm in the United States would be required to bid against one another to offer the lowest price. Further, offshore wind should help keep overall energy prices down because wind farms produce the most power during periods of peak demand: during summer heat waves and frigid winters.

Finally, as Massachusetts residents understand as well as anyone, we must act decisively against climate change if we are to preserve our way of life and our coastal communities, which are so closely linked to the health of our oceans.

For all those reasons, offshore wind should be part of a comprehensive state energy plan.

Paul Vigeant is the Director of the New Bedford Wind Energy Center.