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opinion | Roger Berkowitz and Gerard Dhooge

Charlie Baker should focus on wind

State support for natural gas could hurt thriving local clean-energy industries

This image provided by New Mexico power company PNM shows some of the more than five dozen giant turbines erected on a remote mesa in the state.
This image provided by New Mexico power company PNM shows some of the more than five dozen giant turbines erected on a remote mesa in the state. (PNM via AP/file 2014)

Massachusetts will command the national stage next week when the Department of Interior auctions off the largest area of federal waters in the nation for the development of offshore wind power. This lease auction will make available an estimated 5,000 megawatts of clean energy generation potential — 10 times the energy production of Cape Wind — bringing the Commonwealth’s collective offshore wind power potential to over 8,000 megawatts of home-grown power, which can service 2.4 million homes.

State leadership should ensure that there is a market in place to buy the power. By doing so, we will reduce our reliance on energy imports, which cost the state money, jobs, and control of energy pricing. And unlike the volatile cost of fossil fuels, the cost of wind power is stable.

The Baker administration and the Legislature will make decisions in the next six months that will affect us for the next 30 years. Representative Patricia Haddad has filed a new energy bill that supports offshore wind, and this is a good start. But the legislation also opens the door for additional fossil fuels. If we build new infrastructure for natural gas, financing terms mean that it will be with us for decades. And if we flood the market with more natural gas imported from other states, we will undermine the market for our local wind and solar industries, and the jobs that go with it. This energy mix must be carefully calibrated.

While the region’s leading utilities hike their winter rates, and while older, coal-fired power plants continue to retire, we are at an especially pivotal moment in New England’s energy story — with significant consequences for our economy in Massachusetts.

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As business and labor leaders in Massachusetts, we know that smart energy policy ensures that our companies and our workforce can turn on the lights and compete each and every day, not to mention that our pricing and production rely on a dependable and affordable supply of power.

But the state and the nation have yet to reap the environmental and economic benefits of wind energy. And we lag behind a booming wind power industry in Europe and Asia that supports more than 70 offshore wind projects and employs more than 70,000 people.

Meanwhile, as residents of a coastal state, we sit on the frontlines of sea level rise and face the constant threat of destructive storm surges. Just look at New York City after Hurricane Sandy. Choosing a new energy trajectory that prioritizes security, eliminates price volatility, creates local jobs, and promotes a healthy environment for future generations must be our focus.

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Massachusetts is uniquely positioned to lead the nation toward our largest untapped renewable energy opportunity. America’s first terminal for offshore wind project assembly and deployment is being built in New Bedford, and the innovative Wind Technology Testing Center located in Charlestown is the nation’s largest facility of its kind. Now is the time to ensure a return on these investments.

Related:

John Kerry and Philip Hammond: Smart energy policy is a win for the world

Editorial: Offshore wind can still rise despite Cape Wind’s fall

Ideas: Energy, what Americans really want

2013 | Derrick Jackson: Politics imperil offshore wind sweet spots

(Martin Leon Barreto for The Boston Globe)

Roger Berkowitz is president and CEO of Legal Sea Foods. Gerard Dhooge is the president of the Boston and New England Maritime Trades Council AFL-CIO. Both are members of the Environmental League of Massachusetts.