Policy Shift Aims to Bring More Offshore Wind Sooner
DOER Retreats from Main, Plug-In Transmission System
7/29/20 6:17 PM
JULY 29, 2020.....The next time Massachusetts procures offshore wind power, it should seek twice as much energy as it has in the past and the state should abandon the idea of getting bids for independent offshore wind energy transmission, the Baker administration recommended this week.
The recommendations open the door to the possibility that the third offshore wind development Massachusetts and its utilities choose to deliver cleaner power could generate as much energy as the two projects already selected combined. It could also mean that the state secures a combined 3,200 megawatts of offshore wind power two years sooner than previously envisioned.
In a letter to key lawmakers Tuesday, the Department of Energy Resources said it thinks the best way for Massachusetts to move forward with the procurement of 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power -- authorized, but not mandated, by a 2018 energy law -- is to try to procure up to 1,600 megawatts at once rather than conducting two procurement rounds of 800 megawatts each, which had been the plan.
"Based on stakeholder feedback and discussion during DOER's transmission investigation, DOER believes that potential benefits of 1,600 MW of independent transmission, including reducing cabling and using onshore interconnection points efficiently, can be captured by soliciting for a similar capacity of bundled generation and transmission," DOER Commissioner Patrick Woodcock wrote to Sen. Michael Barrett and Rep. Tom Golden, co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Telecommunication, Utilities and Energy.
Woodcock added, "DOER ... will recommend that the next offshore wind solicitation allow for bids up to 1,600 MW â€” the full target amount under the Act to Advance Clean Energy â€” while allowing bids of smaller capacity to evaluate the optimal project capacity that maximizes cabling and interconnection efficiency." That solicitation could lead to the selection of a project in 2022, the letter says.
Last year, DOER raised the possibility that Massachusetts could stop soliciting clean energy generation and the transmission of that energy as a single package and instead move forward in 2020 with a solicitation for the main transmission system that future generation projects would be required to tie into. Having one primary transmission system would have "the potential benefit of minimizing impacts on fisheries, optimizing the transmission grid, and reducing costs," the report concluded.
Some offshore wind developers were cool to the idea of independent transmission and Woodcock said in his letter Tuesday that DOER investigated the idea and "finds that the costs and risks of a solicitation for independent offshore wind energy transmission outweigh the potential benefits that could be captured by 1,600 MW of transmission capacity allowed under the Act, and therefore has decided not to require the Massachusetts [electric distribution companies] to pursue such a solicitation at this time."
The new recommendations from DOER this week could also speed up the pace of the state's offshore wind power procurement. DOER had previously suggested a schedule that would involve a procurement for transmission in 2020, the solicitation of 800 megawatts in 2022, solicitation for the second chunk of 800 MW in 2024 and another solicitation in 2026 if the first two failed to procure the full 1,600 MW that's been authorized.
In his letter Tuesday, Woodcock recommended that DOER, the utilities, the attorney general's office and the independent evaluator who oversees the process "begin drafting the next RFP in 2020 and plan for selection of a project or projects in 2022." That would get Massachusetts to 3,200 MW of procured offshore wind power two years earlier than the timeline DOER previously suggested.
"While these decisions move us in the right direction, we can and must do more. To lead, we must continually examine how our goals and actions match the urgency of the crises we face. The Commonwealth set an original goal of 1,600 MW in 2016 and increased it to 3,200 MW in 2018. It’s time to raise the bar once more," the Environmental League of Massachusetts said in a statement. "The COVID-19 crisis and the associated economic downturn underscore the need for Massachusetts to harness the full potential of this industry. It could drive a local, green recovery by creating thousands of jobs, decreasing our state emissions, establishing our region as a clean-tech hub, expanding the market for local renewables, and saving our residents billions of dollars."
On the heels of DOER's updated recommendations, the Senate on Wednesday unanimously adopted an amendment to its economic development bill to direct DOER to procure another 2,800 MW of offshore wind power by 2035, which would bring the state's total authorization to 6 gigawatts.
Sen. Marc Pacheco, who filed the amendment, said the further expansion of offshore wind would be a win-win-win.
"You're looking at billions of dollars in ratepayer savings that people otherwise would be paying under the traditional fossil fuel system, thousands and thousands of new jobs created -- just between Vineyard Wind and Mayflower Wind you're talking well over 10,000 jobs created in the offshore wind industry -- while at the same time bringing down substantially greenhouse gas emissions," he said.
Pacheco added, "I'm very pleased that the Senate adopted it. We've been looking at offshore wind for a long, long time and it's so important to get this done."
For the authorization of an additional 2,800 MW to become law, Pacheco's amendment would have to survive House-Senate negotiations over a final economic development bill.
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