2 new commissions helping Mass. transition to clean energy, offshore wind

The turbines of the Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The turbines of the Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

As the state creeps closer to deadlines on its climate targets, the Healey administration will launch two commissions aimed at easing the transition to clean energy infrastructure in Massachusetts.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rebecca Tepper on Thursday will announce the establishment of two new entities: a commission to review clean energy siting and permitting, and an interagency council focused on offshore wind development, according to materials acquired by the State House News Service.

The state has legally committed to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and Gov. Maura Healey has pledged to achieve a 100% clean electricity supply by 2030, but so far, there have been growing pains in the energy transition.

Offshore wind is being eyed to play a significant role as Massachusetts tries to make good on its commitments, and major questions remain over the wind development projects picked in the state's last procurement as the next round is being mapped out.

Avangrid is seeking to terminate contracts for the 1,200-megawatt Commonwealth Wind project chosen in 2021 by utility companies working with state officials, arguing that the installation "cannot be financed and built" under those terms. The Department of Public Utilities determined that the contracts "are in the public interest" and approved them, but Avangrid wants to re-bid the project at a higher price when Massachusetts seeks more proposals for offshore winds this spring, citing increases in commodity prices, rising interest rates and supply shortages.

The other offshore wind project selected in the state's 2021 procurement round, known as SouthCoast Wind, has similarly said that economic conditions have made it much harder to finance its project than when it was selected, but project officials have stopped short of saying that their effort is no longer viable.

"Advancing the responsible development of offshore wind is a top priority of the Healey-Driscoll Administration," the administration said Thursday. "Years of substantial effort and ongoing coordination and cooperation have resulted in significant progress in Massachusetts, which is recognized as a leader for offshore wind in the United States. Continuing to advance and grow our state's offshore wind industry will require greater interagency collaboration. Formalizing and elevating these efforts through a new Interagency Offshore Wind Council will advance communication, alignment, collaboration, and joint execution."

The council will meet regularly to develop and maintain an Offshore Wind Strategic Plan, which will include a target for offshore wind development in line with the state's target for electric sector emission reduction, and will focus on strengthening the supply chain.

On the supply chain front, the governor has already set her eyes on an expansion of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center's Wind Technology Testing Center in Charlestown, the first facility in North America that was capable of testing the blades that power offshore wind turbines.

The new council will also work on developing a port infrastructure and an economic development strategy as well as supporting workforce development for the industry, giving specific attention to diversity, equity and inclusion, and bringing energy justice communities and the fishing industry into the conversation.

Tension between the commercial fishing industry and offshore wind developers has been a constant thread as the new industry looks to establish its roots in the United States.


"We've been taking steps over the past couple of years to make sure that the commonwealth is a leader in the wind industry. However, I'm not insensitive to the fact that some of what we're doing on wind and with renewables comes to the expense of one of our oldest professions, which is the fishing industry," Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante of Gloucester said last year.

On the Healey administration's new council, representatives from the Division of Marine Fisheries will join representatives from the Department of Energy Resources, Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, Office of Coastal Zone Management, Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Public Utilities, Executive Office of Economic Development, Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development and Executive Office of Education.

"Collaboration with local stakeholders is central to our effort to grow our clean energy infrastructure in Massachusetts," said Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll. "During my time as Mayor, the city of Salem developed strong coalitions to establish its offshore wind port. We know how to do this — now is the time to scale up and move forward together."

In addition to the Interagency Offshore Wind Council, Tepper will announce Thursday that the administration will also launch a Commission on Clean Energy Infrastructure Siting and Permitting.

That commission will take on "some of the toughest aspects of the clean energy transition," Tepper said, such as reducing permitting timelines and "ensuring that the benefits of the clean energy transition are shared equitably."

Its creation comes shortly after construction began on a controversial electrical substation in East Boston despite opposition from some local and environmental groups.

The electrical substation — energy infrastructure that, in this case, will lower the voltage of electricity from a transmission line under Chelsea Creek so power can be used in homes — is being built on the banks of an area that experiences frequent flooding, across the street from a playground and near tanks of jet fuel and a gas station. Locals are concerned about possible fire and explosion risks and feel that East Boston is already overburdened with environmental hazards from Logan International Airport and several big highways.

"What happened with the East Boston substation is really problematic," Healey told reporters on Wednesday. "I've spoken out about this in the past, I'm very disappointed with how things have gone down there. We continue to stay in communication about it and continue to evaluate the situation."

The commission that the governor's office created on Thursday will consider communities' input on the siting and permitting of clean energy infrastructure, according to a press release from the administration.

Tepper has also ordered every relevant agency within the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to evaluate the existing permitting processes impacting energy infrastructure and identify areas of potential improvement. The commission will also be instructed to make recommendations on administrative, regulatory, and legislative changes to existing permitting and siting procedures before the end of the year.

The commission will have representatives from: sate agencies, environmental and land use advocates, municipalities, utility companies, agricultural interests, environmental justice communities, clean energy developers, and housing and real estate developers.

Environmental League of Massachusetts President Elizabeth Turnbell Henry praised the new commission as an important step.

"Our current framework does not keep pace with the amount of renewable energy we need to bring online by 2030, and we cannot rely on the status quo to protect vulnerable communities from disparate impacts," Henry said in a statement. "To meet our ambitious and necessary climate goals while prioritizing equity and justice, the Commonwealth needs a siting and permitting system that is responsive and transparent while recognizing the urgency and scale of the challenges we face."


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