The real work begins now on climate change

This Spring, as flowers and trees begin to bloom in New England, our clean energy industry is also ready to blossom after decades of delays and setbacks.

Last month Gov. Charlie Baker signed one of the strongest climate bills in the nation, committing to reduce emissions 50 percent by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Boston, Massachusetts’ largest city, launched a municipal energy program to expand access to renewable energy for residents, including low-income families, and is considering nation-leading regulations to address carbon emissions from our biggest source – large buildings. Worcester has committed to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. Even smaller towns across the Commonwealth, like Arlington, Melrose, and Natick, are developing plans for net-zero emissions by 2050.

Our private sector is also stepping up with major hospitals such as Mass General Brigham and Boston Medical Center committing to “do no harm” by setting ambitious carbon neutrality goals. Even resource-constrained nonprofits like Mass Audubon have been leading by example for years through purchasing green electricity, installing solar on-site, and implementing other initiatives that have cut their carbon emissions by 50 percent since 2003.

All of this adds up to Massachusetts committing to do our part to meet or exceed the goals of the historic Paris climate agreement, which President Biden rejoined earlier this year.

There is much to celebrate this spring, but as any farmer will tell you, spring is when the hard work really starts. And when it comes to tackling climate change, that has never been more true. Globally, pollution levels aren’t falling nearly fast enough to prevent the worst impacts of climate change – extreme storms, droughts, heatwaves, and rising sea levels to name a few. Years of inaction or worse under the previous administration have left us badly behind where we need to be.

That is why it is so important that the Biden administration is moving forward with permitting the Vineyard Wind project off of New England’s shores as a first step toward the goal of installing 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030. These new offshore wind farms will create huge amounts of affordable clean electricity and will be a powerful new tool to achieve our carbon goals. The benefits extend well beyond decarbonization. Developing offshore wind at scale will make our region healthier by replacing polluting power plants that contribute to heart and lung disease with the most cost-effective source of clean energy available in New England. And ,as an added bonus, economic development will soar through new jobs, new businesses, and new investments to our region which will be brought in in an equitable manner thanks to the new legislation.

This is a tremendous opportunity to make a big positive change for our health, economy, and our environment at a critical time for all three. To take full advantage, it must be done right. That means developing the resource responsibly to protect our vital ocean ecosystems, investing in workforce development to ensure that the economic benefits extend to communities of color that are too often shut out from economic opportunity, and investing in the infrastructure to establish our region as the hub of this new industry.

It also means leveraging the power of private sector actors to drive the growth of offshore wind and the pace of decarbonization. While it is important that our utilities buy into offshore wind, as mandated by the state, we can and must go further. Many businesses and nonprofits in our state already go outside of their utility to source electricity to achieve their financial and environmental goals, and with the rise of municipal aggregations, such as Boston’s Community Choice Energy program, many communities are doing the same. Open access to low-cost offshore wind will help unleash the full power of our businesses, institutions, and communities to achieve our climate goals, and help ensure that everyone can contribute to, and benefit from, the clean energy revolution blooming off our coast.

Winston Vaughan is Massachusetts director of Health Care Without Harm.

Heather Takle is CEO of Power Options.

Originally published on CommonWealth on 04/17/21. Read here.