Massachusetts greased the legislative skids for renewable energy last month when Governor Deval Patrick signed the Green Communities Act, expected to create far reaching benefits for wind power. First, the act strengthens the state's renewables portfolio standard (RPS), legislation that mandates a minimum proportion of renewable energy in the supply mix, raising the target for 2009 to 4%, double the previous yearly increase from 0.5% to 1%. It also sets a 25% renewables target for 2030. The 4% target applies to renewables plant built after 1997. "So that's not the complete percentage of renewable power in our system," points out Ian Bowles, the state's secretary of energy and environmental affairs. Second, the new law requires utilities to enter into ten to 15-year power purchase contracts for up to 3% of the state's load, or roughly 500 MW, considerably improving the prospects for project financing. Third, the capacity cap on projects' eligible for "net metering" is raised from 60 kW to 2 MW for home power producers seeking to offset their electricity consumption with their own generation. Lastly, the law creates a zoning process to find suitable offshore wind power sites in state controlled waters, although the process does not include the controversial Cape Wind site in federal waters off the coast of Cape Cod. "I think you'll certainly see growth in offshore wind," Bowles says. "You'll see a deeper penetration of community wind, the one or two windmill kind of things in coastal communities. And I think you'll see more growth in utility scale wind in a handful of locations. But this is not the Great Plains, so you're not going to see thousands of megawatts of onshore wind. That's unlikely to happen just for population density reasons." Massachusetts, which deregulated its electricity market in 1997, has 6.5 million people, 5 MW of online wind plant and some of the nation's highest electricity prices.
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