New York recently set a long-term goal of generating 9,000 megawatts of energy from offshore wind power, while New Jersey plans to build 3,500 megawatts.
But Massachusetts is seeking to produce just 1,600 megawatts, a target critics say is too modest.
Some environmentalists had hoped that Governor Charlie Baker would announce a loftier goal Wednesday at a forum in Boston about the future of offshore wind power.
Instead, Baker spoke more broadly about his administration’s efforts to bring the nation’s first large-scale offshore wind farm to the waters off Martha’s Vineyard, a project that could begin by year’s end.
He also spoke about the promise of new battery technology that in a few years could make wind and other renewable energy reliable enough to replace fossil fuels.
“There’s a tremendous amount of momentum and enthusiasm about what’s possible with respect to deep-water wind off the East Coast,” Baker said at the forum, which was organized by the Environmental League of Massachusetts and State House News. “It’s a significant opportunity to dramatically improve our environment and to take literally millions of metric tons of emissions off the grid.”
One well-known problem with relying on the wind and sun for power, he noted, is that they depend on the vagaries of gusts and cloud cover. But that issue becomes much less of a concern if the state could store the energy when the winds are strong and the sun bright.
That technology exists, but Baker said he thinks it could mature significantly within the next five or so years, to the point that it could transform the region’s power system.
“Storage has the capacity to turn wind into something dramatically more significant than just another available energy source,” he said.
While all the coal plants in Massachusetts have been shut down, the state occasionally relies on oil to keep the power on, particularly when energy demand surges.
But if the state could rely on stored wind or solar power during those times, it would no longer need to use oil — or even natural gas, eventually — as a backup.
Such a large-scale storage system would not only reduce emissions but also curb the costs of electricity, Baker said.
“It could make a very big difference, not just in the way we think about wind and solar, but how we think about everything associated with the nature of how we supply energy and electricity,” he said. “It’s a really big deal.”
Environmental advocates praised Baker for his efforts to promote offshore wind power but said they were hoping for more.
“I would have been pleased if the governor moved the goal post for Massachusetts to score more megawatts of offshore wind energy, but was pleased nonetheless that he still roots for the industry,” said Jack Clarke, director of public policy for Mass Audubon.
Baker also spoke of the need to ensure that wind farms don’t place an undue burden on the region’s fishing industry.
Fishermen have protested the $2 billion plan by Vineyard Wind, a New Bedford-based company, to install 84 turbines in the waters between Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard. They have criticized the company’s arrangement and spacing of the turbines, saying they could spark a dangerous conflict between fishermen who set traps on the sea floor and those who drag nets along the bottom.
The company and fishermen in the area recently agreed to settle their dispute, with Vineyard Wind creating a $12.5 million trust fund that will be managed by Rhode Island fishermen “for the purpose of ensuring safe and effective fishing in and around Vineyard Wind’s project area and future wind farms generally,” the company said.
The agreement also includes $4.2 million from the company to assist commercial fishing in Rhode Island.
Beth Casoni, executive director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, which has raised significant concerns about the offshore wind plans, said she was encouraged by Baker’s message and appreciated his “commitment to ensuring that commercial fishing and offshore wind can coexist.”David Abel can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.