3 Massachusetts myths about offshore wind

Massachusetts made headlines a few years ago when it secured the nation’s first large-scale procurement of offshore wind, the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project. The Commonwealth was leading the way, planning on developing 3,200 megawatts in total, recognizing the potential of offshore wind to address its carbon reduction goals while catalyzing a new industry and growing well-paying clean energy jobs and extending economic opportunity from Cape Ann to Cape Cod.

Indeed, with a new president who has already proposed an aggressive climate framework focusing on job growth where it is most needed, the US offshore wind industry is quickly moving ahead as the sheer enormity of its economic impact sinks in – the American Wind Energy Association recently estimated that by 2030, offshore wind developments along the east coast of the US could support 83,000 jobs and $25 billion in economic activity.

While it’s not fair to say that Massachusetts has been resting on its laurels, it risks watching the world of offshore wind pass it by. To keep up, the Commonwealth’s leaders need to recognize their role in preparing for the necessary renewable infrastructure that will transform energy systems and markets in the US. They also need to recalibrate where we sit in the offshore wind ecosystem and let go of some of the current narratives – let’s call them myths – that may be holding us back.

Myth: Massachusetts is the US leader. Not so anymore. New York just inked a 2,500 megawastt contract with Equinor, leapfrogging Massachusetts in offshore wind procurements. More importantly, New York is making serious investments in port development in Brooklyn and Albany, and in future assembly areas for the turbines to be erected south of Martha’s Vineyard and south of Long Island. New York is preparing for and investing in the infrastructure and the associated well-paying onshore jobs that are expected to accompany the emergence and expected growth of the offshore wind industry in the United States.

Myth: Price is what matters most in procurement. The bids from the first Massachusetts contracts have been surprisingly low, yet by prioritizing pricing, rather than long-term economic development, Massachusetts risks being pennywise and pound foolish. Our singular focus on low-cost electricity cuts against the most tried and true investment advice—hold the long view. Capitalism is premised on the fact that wise investments now can yield outsized returns in the future. Focusing exclusively on low-cost electricity is not an investment strategy, but a way to favor market incumbents and ensure that a considerable amount of the investment in equipment and infrastructure will flow to Europe and Asia, which currently dominate the global offshore wind supply chain. Policies designed to encourage the growth of that supply chain here in the Bay State are needed if we are to encourage more of that investment to stay closer to home.

Myth: The economic activity is primarily with the turbines offshore. In fact, the onshore supply chain is where most of the economic action will be. New York’s recent port investment recognizes a stunning fact: Contemporary turbines are among the largest machines in the world—taller than Boston’s Hancock Tower. Meeting our climate goals along the US Atlantic Coast alone will require an estimated $35 billion in average annual private investment between now and 2050. If wisely structured, such investments can help ensure that communities in southeastern Massachusetts, on Cape Cod and the Islands, and throughout the entire Commonwealth, have the opportunity to share in the economic opportunities and the financial benefits associated with these large-scale offshore wind developments just off their shores.

With wise economic development policies that prioritize equity, the Commonwealth can be a model for investing in job growth that will benefit communities that have historically been left behind during previous technology-driven economic booms across the Commonwealth.

A relatively modest public investment – on the order of 1-2 percent of the development costs — would support efforts to develop the infrastructure and prepare the Massachusetts workforce for these opportunities. Massachusetts could set the standard for job creation, racial equity, and climate change with the right policies in place.

Wind energy at the scale we’re anticipating must come to shore efficiently and with an economic development strategy in place to maximize the local and regional benefits.

A smart, targeted economic development approach would incentivize investment in Massachusetts ports and onshore points of interconnection leveraging federal and state funding. It would invest in the education and training that will be required to prepare our workers for expected opportunities. And it would explicitly include economic development considerations in future offshore wind procurements

With such an enormous tailwind about to be blowing from Washington, the time to act is now.

David W. Cash is dean of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston and a former commissioner in the Department of Public Utilities and Department of Environmental Protection in Massachusetts.

Michael D. Goodman is acting provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and co-editor of MassBenchmarks, the journal of the Massachusetts economy published by the UMass Donahue Institute in collaboration with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

Jennifer J. Menard is the interim vice president of economic and business development at the National Offshore Wind Institute at Bristol Community College.

Originally published on CommonWealth on 03/11/21. Read here.