Massachusetts senators consider wind farms for climate bill, expect pushback from Trump administration

Massachusetts State House. (Photo by Aaron Ye/BU News Service)

By Andy Picon
BU News Service

BOSTON – Massachusetts marine life faces bigger threats from rising temperatures, pollution and political inaction than from offshore wind energy, an environmental lobbyist told the Senate Global Warming and Climate Change Committee Tuesday, as the panel worked to fine-tune a climate change bill slated to be unveiled later this week.

Jack Clarke, Mass Audubon’s director of public policy and government relations, urged committee co-chairs Sens. Marc R. Pacheco, D-Taunton and Michael J. Barrett, D-Lexington, to ensure the bill includes language that would pave the way for the state to become involved in industrial-scale offshore wind energy production. Clarke was the only witness at the hearing.

Clarke and Mass Audubon are involved with the Alliance for Clean Energy Solutions, a coalition of business groups and local organizations dedicated to addressing clean energy issues with respect to environment, health, labor and transportation. ACES had not technically endorsed Clarke’s meeting with the senators, but Clarke said they have the same objectives in mind.

“The biggest threat to marine life is not offshore wind energy; it’s hot water, oil spills and political inaction,” Clarke told the senators. “Offshore wind energy can be one of America’s greatest mitigations to the nightmare of the existential threat of climate change, and Massachusetts needs to lead the nation.”

Unless Massachusetts begins developing large-scale offshore wind farms in the near future, Clarke said, the state will not be able to meet its greenhouse gas emission targets. The current goal is to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, but the comprehensive climate change bill, that is scheduled to be rolled out on Thursday, will likely require net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, Pacheco said.

In his State of the Commonwealth address Tuesday night, Gov. Charlie Baker echoed the net-zero emissions reduction by 2050.

As it stands, Massachusetts has no industrial-scale offshore wind farms, and neither does any other state, according to Clarke.

“That has to change,” he said, “and Massachusetts can be a leader.

Clarke also asked that the committee consider including language that would eliminate the state’s current wind energy production cap, currently set at 3,200 megawatts. There is currently legislation to get it up to 6,000 megawatts, but clean energy advocates like Clarke have argued that lawmakers should “open it up to whatever’s necessary.”

The importance of developing other sources of clean energy cannot be ignored either, Clarke said, adding that there must be an open-ended procurement process for clean energy so that Massachusetts can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions most efficiently.

A well-planned transition to clean energy in Massachusetts would result in approximately 10,000 new jobs in the state, Clarke said, rebutting more conservative claims that alterations to the state’s energy procurement system would result in significant unemployment among workers in the fossil fuel industry.

Pacheco and Barrett agreed with Clarke on the urgency of the need to develop more clean energy sources in Massachusetts, but made sure to express their concerns about the potential political consequences of a bill including previous recommendations by Clarke and other clean energy advocates.

“I am concerned about how to play this card game to avoid triggering what I view as enormous hostility to New England and the Northeast of the United States by the Trump administration,” Barrett said. “I’m a little concerned about how to handle the immediate future artfully. I’m with you though, that we’ve got to have a lot more offshore wind and clean energy from that source in order to meet our 2050 goals.”

ACES is willing to work with lawmakers to mitigate any potential pushback or negative repercussions, Clarke said. In the meantime, Baker and Secretary of the Commonwealth, William F. Galvin, have been supportive of the climate change bill, according to Pacheco.

ACES will continue to work with state lawmakers through the legislative session to pass the most effective and comprehensive climate change bill possible, Clarke said. The legislative session ends in July.

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