AS MASSACHUSETTS DOUBLES down on offshore wind in pursuit of a clean energy future for both climate and economic benefits, it is leaving behind the communities served by municipal light plants, rather than investor-owned utilities. Energy New England (ENE) and Vineyard Offshore want to change all that.

New England is home to 78 public power systems serving 2 million retail customers with 13 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. In Massachusetts, there are 41 municipal utilities serving customers in a total of 50 cities and towns and accounting for just over 13 percent of electricity usage.

Whereas large, investor-owned utilities are answerable to their shareholders and board of directors, and in Massachusetts are subject to regulation by the state’s Department of Public Utilities, municipal light plants are governed by elected boards drawn from their communities. By design, these municipal utilities are uniquely responsive to their customers and closely attuned to the preferences of their communities. This is the public in public power.

Established in 1998, ENE is a municipal light plant cooperative. ENE currently manages the power supplies of over 20 municipal electric systems in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, and Vermont.

Long before they were subject to any state mandates, municipal light departments in environment-minded communities had an interest in cleaner energy sources, and ENE was able to help them get what they wanted. As early as 2009, well before any mandates or requirements were contemplated, 13 municipal utility systems entered into an agreement with an onshore wind developer for a project. Since then, ENE and the municipal systems it represents have completed an additional three onshore wind projects with this developer because it made sense for their portfolios.

Now, under legislation passed in 2021, municipal utilities are required to meet goals of 50 percent non-carbon emitting energy by 2030, 75 percent by 2040, and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. As a result, their pace of clean energy procurement has picked up, with ENE helping members reach their targets.

ENE’s member municipal light plants are on track to meet these state standards well ahead of schedule. Of the 21 power supply portfolios that ENE manages, 17 are already at or above the 50 percent non-emitting threshold required by 2030, six years early. The 21, taken as a group, are three-quarters of the way toward the 2030 target.

What municipal utilities do not currently have in their portfolios is offshore wind power. That is because, when Massachusetts solicits offshore wind developments like Vineyard Wind 1, which is now under construction, it is the investor-owned utilities that contract for the power produced by the project, through a state procurement.

Municipal light departments would like to have access to offshore wind for the same reasons the Commonwealth is committed to it. A large energy resource that is particularly strong in the winter, offshore wind would further diversify our members’ clean energy supplies and protect against natural gas price spikes. Long-term contracts for offshore wind provide certainty and protect against the volatility of fossil fuels. And municipal utilities want to contribute toward development of homegrown clean energy that keeps our dollars local, creating jobs and boosting the Massachusetts economy.

Thanks to Vineyard Offshore, we now have a path to offshore wind power for municipal light plants in Massachusetts.

In response to solicitations from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, Vineyard Offshore has proposed Vineyard Wind 2, a 1,200-megawatt installation to be located 29 miles south of Nantucket. If the project is selected by Massachusetts, the power generated by Vineyard Wind 2 will be under contract with the three Massachusetts investor-owned utilities – Eversource, National Grid, and Unitil – and not be available for municipal utilities.

But ENE and Vineyard Offshore have signed a letter of intent to explore options for purchase of generation in excess of the 1,200 MW reserved for the three large utilities, or additional power from a future project awarded by Massachusetts, by ENE or its member utilities. It is estimated that up to 20 MW of capacity, or enough to power 10,000 homes, could be available for municipal utilities under this arrangement.

Though dependent on developments that would happen between now and 2031, when Vineyard Wind 2 would be expected to reach commercial operation, ENE has confidence in Vineyard Offshore as its partner in pursuit of offshore wind power for municipal utilities. There is alignment between our two organizations on corporate leadership and a joint commitment to sharing the benefits of offshore wind development broadly.

That’s why ENE and 14 of our member utilities – in Belmont, Braintree, Concord, Hingham, Holden, Littleton, Merrimac, Middleton, Middleborough Peabody, Reading, Taunton, Wellesley, and West Boylston – which serve a total of 22 cities and towns, submitted letters of support for the Vineyard Wind 2 proposal.

We look forward to the day when ENE member communities will be powered in part by offshore wind from Vineyard Wind 2.

John Tzimorangas is president and CEO of Energy New England.

This article first appeared on CommonWealth Beacon and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

About Energy New England
Energy New England (ENE) is a municipal light plan cooperative that was established in 1998. Owned by light departments in Braintree, Concord, Hingham, Reading, Taunton, and Wellesley, Massachusetts, ENE provides energy trading, wholesale risk management, and other services to municipal utilities in the Northeast. ENE is a not-for-profit organization that is committed to providing its members with access to a diverse range of energy resources with the best possible service and at the lowest possible cost.

Vincent J. Ragucci, III
Chief Strategy Officer Phone: (508) 698-1240

Translate »