Massachusetts municipally-owned electric companies partnering with offshore wind developer

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Wind turbines are pictured at the Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island, which in 2016 became the nation’s first commercial offshore wind farm. (Chris Van Buskirk/SHNS/File 2021)

BOSTON (SHNS) – About half of the municipally-owned electric utilities in Massachusetts would be in position to buy clean power generated by the proposed Commonwealth Wind offshore energy development if other utility executives select it to be the state’s third offshore wind project.

Through a “first-in-the-nation partnership” that Vineyard Wind announced Wednesday with Energy New England, 20 municipal light plants (MLPs) in Massachusetts would have the ability to annually purchase up to 146,000 megawatt-hours of the cleaner power generated by the developer’s proposed Commonwealth Wind project in addition to renewable energy credits.

That would be equal to about three percent of the project’s total output, according to Vineyard Wind. The deal has the potential to reduce carbon pollution by 300,000 tons to 400,000 tons over the lifetime of the 20-year contract, the company said.

“MLPs generate 15% of the commonwealth’s current energy baseload, and until now they have not had the option of procuring power from the state’s ambitious offshore wind projects. With the announcement of this partnership, that’s no longer the case,” Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Pedersen said in a statement. “We know that municipalities like ENE’s owners have goals to green their energy usage, and with this partnership in place we can help them take meaningful steps toward this goal.”

The 20 MLPs that could purchase energy generated by the Commonwealth Wind project, if chosen, include those that serve Belmont, Braintree, Chester, Concord, Danvers, Georgetown, Groveland, Hingham, Littleton, Mass. Development/Devens, Merrimac, Middleborough, Middleton, North Attleborough, Norwood, Reading, Rowley, Taunton, Wellesley and Westfield.

ENE is a municipal light plant cooperative owned by the light departments in Braintree, Taunton, Concord, Hingham and Wellesley. It manages the power supplies of more than 20 municipal utilities in New England and describes itself as “the largest wholesale risk management and energy trading organization serving the needs of municipal utilities in the northeast.”

The organization’s board is made up largely of executives from participating MLPs but also includes Christian Scorzoni, a longtime aide to former Senate President Robert Travaglini who went on to serve in the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. He is now an attorney at Travaglini, Scorzoni & Kiley, a firm that lists Vineyard Wind on its website as a client.

“As Chairman of the ENE Board and GM of Braintree Electric I am excited to be part of the Vineyard Wind proposal to build a significant offshore wind project that will continue to increase the renewable power portfolio of the State Municipal Utilities,” Bill Bottiggi said. “This project, if successful, will continue to advance our plans to reach net zero greenhouse gases by 2050.”

The climate law that Gov. Charlie Baker signed earlier this year also applied the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, which governs the increasing amount of clean energy that utilities must purchase each year, to municipal light plants for the first time. The 41 MLPs in Massachusetts must get 50 percent of their power from “non-carbon emitting” sources by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 under the new law.

MLPs serve 50 communities across Massachusetts and carry about 14 percent of the state’s electricity.

Last month, the Massachusetts Climate Action Network released its Municipal Light Plant Scorecard, which found that 31 of the 40 MLPs evaluated had no clean energy in their energy mix. Gosnold Electric Light Company was not considered due to its small size, the report said.

The agreement with ENE comes as Vineyard Wind and Mayflower Wind each roll out proposals tied to their latest bids to develop more offshore wind power for Massachusetts to entice utilities to pick their project and, in doing so, pick which developer will take an early lead with two projects in Massachusetts to the other’s one.

In late September, Vineyard Wind announced that it, the city of Salem and Crowley Maritime Corporation would create a public-private partnership “aimed at establishing Salem Harbor as the state’s second major offshore wind port” and creating hundreds of jobs.

The project planned for the 42-acre Salem Harbor Station site would be used for turbine assembly and staging activities for the firm’s Commonwealth Wind proposal, if it is selected as the third offshore wind project to deliver power to Massachusetts.

Mayflower Wind, the other developer vying for the state’s third offshore wind contract, has said that if it is picked to develop the state’s next offshore wind farm, it would establish an operations and maintenance port at the Borden & Remington complex in Fall River and spend up to $81 million for supply chain support, training and education, port investments, and diversity and inclusion programs on the South Coast.

The evaluation team is expected to select a project for contract negotiations by Dec. 17, a contract is expected to be negotiated by March 28, 2022, and a final contract is to be submitted for Department of Public Utilities approval by April 27, 2022.

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