Massachusetts blown away in wind power development race
Wind energy projects across the country raced ahead in the third quarter, but Massachusetts is barely registering among states competing for the electricity, jobs and environmental benefits available through the industry, and the state's top energy official is calling for passage of a siting reform bill in the Legislature.
Nationally, Texas is the runaway leader with nearly 8,800 megawatts of wind energy installed, according to a report released Tuesday afternoon. The other top states, as measured by installed capacity, are Iowa (3,053), California (2,787), Minnesota (1,805) and Oregon (1,659). Those states are outpacing Massachusetts, which Gov. Deval Patrick envisions as a leader in wind power, but which has only 9 megawatts of wind energy in operation, largely through small, single turbine wind facilities.
Within New England, Massachusetts has more wind energy capacity installed than Rhode Island, Vermont and Connecticut but trails Maine (104 megawatts) and New Hampshire (25), according to the new American Wind Energy Association report. New York has 1,274 megawatts of installed capacity, and was joined in the third quarter by Illinois among 10 states in the "gigawatt club," the association said in its third quarter market report.
Project "siting difficulties" are an issue for the industry in Massachusetts, said Elizabeth Salerno, the association's director of industry data and analysis. "There's definitely potential in the state," said Ms. Salerno. "There's definitely developer interest in the state to build projects."
According to the report, the states that showed the fastest growth in wind power installations in the third quarter were Arizona, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Wyoming and New Mexico. In all, 1,600 megawatts of wind energy came online in the third quarter and 5,800 megawatts were added so far this year.
In January, Governor Patrick, saying "now is the time to turn to wind power," set a state goal of establishing 2,000 megawatts of wind power by 2020. Mr. Patrick cited growing interest in wind projects and abundant Bay State wind resources, and said wind power would be "a centerpiece of the clean energy economy we are creating for Massachusetts."
According to the numbers, there's a long way to go.
State Energy and Environment Secretary Ian Bowles said the Patrick administration's goal is to have 11 megawatts of wind power installed by the end of 2009 and more than 40 by the end of 2010, but Mr. Bowles said growth in wind power in Massachusetts is dependent on passage of a siting reform bill pending before the Legislature.
That bill (H 3065/S 1504), he said, would maintain local control over projects but kick project appeals up to a state board when projects have received local approval. Bowles said bigger wind energy developers "don't tend to focus on Massachusetts" currently and the siting reforms would "dramatically" speed up permitting.
"It would fast-track consideration of people who want to challenge a town's decision in favor of wind," he said, adding that projects under the legislation would still need to meet environmental protection and setback requirements. "I think there's a real consensus forming around the bill," Mr. Bowles said.
He called the bill "the main piece of unfinished business from last year's very sweeping session on greenhouse gases and clean energy."
The siting reform bill remains before the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, which held a public hearing on the legislation in May.
Federal stimulus law funds are a factor behind the uptick in wind energy installations nationally, the report said, along with expected action on climate change legislation, state policies and "attractive wind project economics."
Mr. Bowles said Massachusetts was missing an opportunity to benefit from wind power stimulus law opportunities.
In January, the Patrick administration said more than 300 wind turbines, representing generating capacity of 800 megawatts, were in the planning and permitting processes. A study commissioned by a state advisory commission and released in April concluded that wind power developers "perceived Massachusetts as a difficult state in which to pursue development" and that other states had procedures in place "that they felt made development more consistent, certain and predictable."
The report noted that the 30 megawatt Hoosac Wind project has been in the permitting process for seven years and said case studies of projects in Massachusetts showed that appeals of local and state permits had a "profound effect" on project schedules and that "Massachusetts stood out from other states in the number of times that the same issues can be argued, simply because there is opportunity for so many levels of appeal."
The new management plan permitts about two percent of state waters for commercial wind development, capable of supporting about 600 total megawatts, enough to power up to 200,000 homes, according to the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
Renewable energy supporters assert a state law passed last year, the Green Communities Act, will accelerate the increase of renewable energy required of all electricity suppliers, boosting requirements from 4 percent of sales to 15 percent by 2020 and setting a goal of 20 percent of all electricity from renewables by 2020. The law requires utilities to enter into long-term contracts with the developers of renewable projects, in order to help them obtain financing. The act also created the commission that reviewed state laws to identify potential obstacles to renewable projects. State officials are also zeroing in on land-based and offshore sites for renewable energy installations.
Massachusetts is becoming a hub for wind power research and development and testing, Ms. Salerno said, and could become home to a strong offshore wind industry. "Once hopefully you get over that first project, the rest will follow," she said.