Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Offshore wind farms are a vital investment for the Commonwealth

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker discussed Wednesday his administration’s efforts to develop the United States’ first major offshore wind farm, which may break ground by the end of 2019 near Martha’s Vineyard. Offshore wind uses turbines placed in the ocean to generate electricity, which is then transmitted via cables to the mainland grid.

Wind and solar power, Baker noted, are unlike other sources of energy in that they lack consistent production. Wind speed and cloud cover vary, and the battery technology that stores the electricity produced during large gusts and sunny days is still very much in a nascent stage.

Battery technology will, after several more years of research, be advanced to the point that it will allow for the transition to an almost fully renewable energy infrastructure.

Baker seems to understand this, saying Wednesday, “Storage has the capacity to turn wind into something dramatically more significant than just another available energy source,” according to The Boston Globe.

But we aren’t there yet. Battery subsidization and implementation plans must be thoroughly thought out to avoid unintended outcomes, as research has shown that battery storage actually increases net energy consumption and net carbon emissions.

Even though Baker is supportive of wind energy, he has been criticized for the state’s goal to produce 1,600 megawatts of energy through offshore wind power. This total pales in comparison to New York’s goal of 9,000 megawatts and New Jersey’s goal of 3,500 megawatts.

But the transition to sustainable forms of energy will not occur overnight. Massachusetts produced only 10.3 percent of its net energy production from nonhydroelectric sources in November 2018. The decline in coal since 2001 as an electricity source is remarkable, but in many states, including Massachusetts, natural gas has increased the most as a result.

Offshore wind energy also has side effects. Commercial fishing can be disrupted, which is why Vineyard Wind, the company behind the proposed major offshore wind project, created a $12.5 million fund to ensure the safety of the fishermen who will need to continue doing their jobs in the project area.

Nevertheless, the transition to a model of sustainable energy production and consumption in Massachusetts is of paramount importance. With careful and thoughtful planning, we can move toward 1,600-megawatt capacity. Hopefully, we will develop the technology to surpass even that.

It is one thing to talk about implementing renewable technology, but it is another thing entirely to go out and make it work. Wind power may be a young technology, but it’s only a matter of time before it becomes one of the only options we have left.

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