By Michael P. Norton
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
(article originally appears at statehousenews.com)
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, DEC. 3, 2015…..Ahead of what could be the Great Energy Debate of 2016, industry stakeholders are aiming to position themselves in the eyes of lawmakers.
Two organizations recently commissioned polls and the results are not that surprising – Massachusetts voters generally like renewable energy.
State lawmakers like renewable energy too, based on the passage in recent years of laws aimed at substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions, encouraging cities and towns to live by “green communities” standards, and creating a state center dedicated to clean energy.
As they encounter lobbying from competing interests in and around the energy industry, legislators are weighing short-term and long-term price and reliability considerations in addition to the preferred blend of power sources – natural gas, hydro, wind, solar and others.
But common ground on renewable policies isn’t always attainable.
In 2010, the Legislature famously left unfinished a comprehensive bill with support from both chambers to accelerate the development of land-based wind energy projects.
And just last month, lawmakers couldn’t agree on modest changes to solar energy incentives after debates that exposed deep philosophical divides among legislators, utilities and renewable energy advocates.
Solar advocates claimed the state is backtracking on its support for the industry and sending a cold message to solar investors, while utilities and business groups have raised flags about the cost of renewable energy subsidies. One of the business groups, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, warned that expanding solar subsidies “would pump billions of dollars into the pockets of solar energy developers.”
A solar accord could emerge soon, as all parties seem to want to keep some of the jobs and benefits of clean energy flowing, but the House-Senate solar stalemate of late 2015 may not bode well for a potential 2016 accord on a larger and more complex energy bill.
Mindful that Pilgrim Nuclear Station, a major energy supplier in recent decades, now plans to power down in the next few years, energy interests are turning to public opinion surveys.
According to one poll, 64 percent of voters attached a higher level of importance to making sure carbon-free energy replaces the power Massachusetts will lose when Pilgrim shuts down.
“We wanted to provide some information for legislators on where the public stood on the energy issue,” said Anbaric Transmission founder and director Edward Krapels of Andover, a Netherlands native and former financial advisor and risk management consultant. “The time has come finally for the states to look at this and select what they want to get from the next energy procurements.”
The poll question, asked of 500 registered voters Nov. 9-12, instructed survey takers to rank, on a scale of 1 to 10, how important they thought it was to ensure that the energy that replaces Pilgrim’s power is carbon-free. Sixty-four percent answered an 8 or above, with 42 percent saying it was the most important factor.
“We’ve been arguing the benefits are a two-fer,” said Krapels. “Wind and hydro together, you really get unique sorts of benefits. We like the combo platter idea that has surfaced in recent discussions at the State House.”
Anbaric is working on the Maine Green Line project intended to move 1,000 megawatts of “renewable” power from Maine to eastern Massachusetts, as well as the Vermont Green Line project, which is designed to deliver renewable power to New England from northern New York.
MassINC Polling Group also asked survey takers: “There are a number of proposals for new pipeline and transmission lines to bring additional energy sources into Massachusetts. These new projects would bring natural gas, hydro power, and a combination of wind and hydro power to consumers and businesses. What energy source do you think would be most beneficial for the future of Massachusetts?”
Thirty-seven percent said a combination of wind and hydro power, 17 percent said natural gas, 7 percent said hydro power, 26 percent said all of the above, 5 percent said none of the above, and 7 percent said they did not know or refused to answer the question.
Another poll of 500 likely voters, conducted Nov. 9-14 by Opinion Dynamics for clean power and electricity transmission companies, asked voters their opinion about legislation that would encourage utilities to enter into long-term contracts for wind and hydro power to provide electricity for the state’s homes and business. Fifty-two percent said they strongly favor passage of such legislation, with 29 percent saying they somewhat favor, 6 percent somewhat opposed, 9 percent strongly opposed and 4 percent of respondents said they didn’t know.
A coalition that commissioned the poll includes Brookfield Renewable, Emera Clean Power, Hydro-Québec, Nalcor Energy, SunEdison and TDI New England. Coalition organizers say they plan to make a formal announcement about their goals in early 2016.
Even Cape Wind, the long-planned Nantucket Sound wind turbine project, wants in on next year’s energy legislation. In addition to battling lawsuits from project opponents, Cape Wind has had difficulty assembling financing and power-purchase agreements with utilities.
During a recent interview with Jim Braude on Greater Boston, Cape Wind President Jim Gordon said the project had overcome lawsuits for 14 years but still faced two more. The project still has a lease and is permitted, said Gordon, who still hopes to move it forward some day.
“There’s an energy bill going through now, which is being worked on, where there is . . . trying to get a diversified portfolio of renewable energy and a carve-out for offshore wind and that’s why you see a number of these companies here coming in and trying to develop offshore wind farms,” Gordon said.
Bay State Wind is DONG Energy’s first US project and entails an up-to 1,000 megawatt offshore wind farm off the southern coast of Martha’s Vineyard, in an area that the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has made available for lease. Water depth in the area ranges from 135 to 165 feet and the nearest land is 15 miles away. The potential energy from the project could power over 500,000 homes.
While describing Bay State Wind as at the start of a multi-year permitting process, Gordon added, “I hope they make it and I’m glad that they’re here because we were a lonely voice in the wilderness for many years extolling the benefits of what offshore wind could do for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”
Gordon said there was more renewable energy generation installed this year in the U.S. and the world than conventional fossil-fuel generation. He said his company had developed more than $1 billion in renewable energy generation, including what he called the largest biomass plant in the U.S. in Gainsville, Florida.
“In this environment where people are concerned about climate change and their health, they want renewable energy,” Gordon said. “That’s the shift.”