CONTRIBUTORS

Wind energy has value for New England’s ratepayers, economy

Posted Nov. 03, 2013, at 3:19 p.m.

In a recent Bangor Daily News OpEd, New England Ratepayers Association’s Executive Director Marc Brown incorrectly claims that wind power contracts recently announced by Massachusetts officials are a bad deal for ratepayers due to wind energy’s “hidden costs.”

A number of these claims are inaccurate and overall miss the main point: that there are numerous benefits that make the power contracts announced in Massachusetts — as well as similar agreements announced days prior in Connecticut — an enormous value to ratepayers both in the Commonwealth and throughout the New England region, as well as the state and regional economy.

All energy resources widely used today have received government support. While wind may be receiving a Production Tax Credit now to encourage its development, that is not a reason to discount its value. The truth is that every energy source receives tax credits in some form or fashion. Without the significantly greater federal support they have received, nuclear, oil and gas would not exist as the industries they are today. To count this against only wind energy is disingenuous.

In addition, renewables, such as wind, are not any less reliable than non-renewable sources. The fact that they are intermittent — not less reliable — can be addressed with small amounts of natural gas generation, emerging storage and battery technologies, or traditional storage such as hydro.

The real news is that the price of these wind projects has come in just above the cost of natural gas electricity today, which is the cheapest power in the current market. And with no fuel costs, wind provides price insurance for the future. To compare the cost of new wind power to the cost of power produced by old plants, some of which are about to retire because they face the need for significant capital investments, is inappropriate. It’s like comparing the price of a new car to the costs of continuing to repair an old clunker. At some point you have to make the new purchase. These old power plants are retiring because they are facing competition from new, more economical sources of power like wind.

With wind energy now cost-competitive with conventional fuels, states like Massachusetts owe it to their ratepayers to embrace wind resources. Adding wind to our energy mix can help reduce electricity prices because wind has zero fuel costs. Wind in the mix reduces the use of generation that requires costly fossil fuels to run. The net effect is that renewable energy resources lower the overall wholesale electricity price for everyone.

Wind energy also contributes to local economic development, not just in Massachusetts, but also throughout New England. In Maine, where a number of the wind projects will be built, the state will see direct economic benefits from jobs, while Massachusetts will see economic benefits associated with a more secure energy system that is less vulnerable to fluctuating fossil fuel prices. With strong public support, Massachusetts and its New England neighbors have taken an approach that uses market forces to drive down the cost of renewable energy, which will provide both economic and environmental benefits to our citizens, businesses and industry. Environmental benefits include reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change and the more frequent storms we have seen in recent years, which bring their own very negative economic impact to local communities.

By tapping the region’s wind resources, Massachusetts is creating an energy system that is cleaner, cheaper, more reliable and more secure, with the power to continue driving the state’s economy forward — a true value for ratepayers and the region’s present and future economy.

Peter Rothstein is president of the Boston-based New England Clean Energy Council.

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