Study: Offshore Wind a Golden Opportunity for Massachusetts

A Massachusetts energy plan containing a requirement that utilities contract for approximately 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind power by 2030 would position the state as a national leader in offshore wind, allowing it to capture first-mover economic advantages, according to a new study released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

If the state positions itself as a leader in offshore wind nationally, it could capture economic advantages such as expertise in manufacturing, project development, operations and maintenance, so that it will be a go-to resource for other states when they follow suit.

To maximize the benefits of offshore wind, Massachusetts should invest at a scale commensurate with the state’s power and carbon reduction needs and the major opportunity that this new technology represents. A 2,000 megawatt requirement, complemented by additional investments in offshore wind by other states in the region, could be enough to launch the US offshore wind industry while also reducing the cost of energy from this source by 55 percent over a decade, according to the study.

Strong state policies to create the market certainty needed to launch such a new industry could allow Massachusetts to achieve economies of scale and gain the experience for bringing down costs considerably, according to the report.

The analysis, Massachusetts’s Electricity Future: Reducing Reliance on Natural Gas through Renewable Energy, compares existing energy policies to a combination of recommended policies, which include accelerating the ramp-up of the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS), requiring utilities to enter cost-effective, long-term contracts for hydropower and RPS-eligible renewables, and creating a competitive bidding process for utilities to get a certain amount of electricity from offshore wind power.

“In Massachusetts, natural gas already makes up over 60 percent of the in-state energy mix, which is why we’re prescribing a more balanced role for its future use in the state,” said John Rogers, senior energy analyst at UCS and lead author of the report. “And when other states ultimately jump on the offshore wind bandwagon—which is inevitable—offshore wind leaders, like Massachusetts, could get additional chances to prosper economically. This is a golden opportunity we can’t pass up.”

The UCS analysis also found that this combination of policies would cost the typical household USD 3.20 a month on average from 2017 through 2030.

“The UCS analysis is notably conservative,” said Ann Berwick, former chair of the Massachusetts Public Utilities Commission. “In fact, the modest cost of their recommended policies is offset by a variety of significant benefits, such as the economic development opportunities associated with increased offshore wind use, health benefits of reduced fossil fuel emissions, and mitigation of the risks to electricity customers if the state is overinvested in natural gas pipelines.”

A 2015 UCS assessment found Massachusetts is one of only eight states in which natural gas makes up over half of its in-state electricity mix. Unless the state takes corrective action, this number is expected to grow as 70 percent of the state’s projected near-term power plant additions are natural gas-fueled.

“Massachusetts is a leader in confronting climate change,” said Senator Ben Downing. “Continuing that leadership by investing in renewables and energy efficiency, as well as tapping new sources like offshore wind, is good for the economy and the climate—plain and simple.”

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