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Berkshire's Key Role In Renewable Energy

60 Meter Wind Turbine Powers Williams Stone in East Otis

Berkshire County could play a key economic role in renewable energy efforts in Massachusetts. 

A recent report from the Northeast Clean Energy Council says increasing the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard would diversify the region’s energy sources, lower wholesale electricity prices, create new jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“It creates a real market for clean energy resources as a result,” Dickerson says.

Jamie Dickerson, a policy analyst with the advocacy group, says the RPS is a way for the clean energy market to gauge state interest and support for renewable energy development. Massachusetts and 29 other states, including the entire Northeast, have RPS policies.

“The RPS is basically a legal requirement – so it’s a law – that legislatures have passed to require that utilities who are providing electricity provide a minimum percentage of their annual electricity sales from renewable sources,” Dickerson says. “The RPS undoubtedly is the strong signal states can send to renewable energy developers about their long-term commitment to clean energy.”

Massachusetts’ RPS is 11 percent, and increases 1 percent each year – reaching 25 percent by 2030.

Dickerson says that’s too slow to meet the state’s clean energy goals. But he says there are many misconceptions that control the conversation.

“You know, renewable energy is overly costly and could be burdensome to some Massachusetts ratepayers but in fact the findings of our study shown that that is a real misconception,” Dickerson says, “and that the costs of implementing an increased RPS are extremely modest.”

Dickerson argues that doubling the state goal would produce more jobs and tax revenue, and cut prices for electricity customers in the long run. At the outset, residential ratepayers would see an increase of 15 cents to $2 per month.

In June, State Senate Pro Tempore Marc Pacheco brought the Massachusetts Clean Energy Future Tour to Pittsfield to engage residents from Cape Cod to the Berkshires on issues like clean energy.

“Critics said that we would kill jobs in Massachusetts if we did that,” Pacheco says. “That we would ruin our economy.”

Pacheco says clean energy employs more than 105,000 Massachusetts workers – an $11.8 billion industry. Massachusetts is tied with California as the most energy-efficient state.

Residents expressed concerns about the carbon footprint of installing wind turbines and the power they generate, and the impact on nearby property values and health.  

State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, a Pittsfield Democrat, says almost every municipality in Berkshire County has a renewable energy plan involving solar or wind. Many, including Lanesborough, Cheshire and Pittsfield, have undertaken job-creating initiatives this year to build solar arrays.

“One of the best ways to deal with our energy crisis is conservation, right?” Farley-Bouvier says. “And so there is a lot of work in weatherization and there is work in, like, solar installation and so we want to see those kinds of jobs happening.”

The largest wind farm in Berkshire County – and the second largest in Massachusetts – is the Berkshire Wind Power Project on Brodie Mountain in Hancock. Since 2011, it’s powered 6,000 homes every year and staffs 50 full-time jobs.

The latest wind power project to move forward is in Savoy. A decade after first getting approval, the five-turbine, $31 million project got the go-ahead from the state Department of Environmental Protection late last year. Groundbreaking is set for 2018.

“Those are the kinds of jobs that can’t be outsourced. You can’t outsource solar installation. You can’t outsource weatherization, you know, to China or India or something like that. So we are happy to invest in jobs like that,” Farley-Bouvier says.

But where the jobs do end up is sometimes on the other side of the state.

“Oftentimes I hear of contracts, state contracts going to people from Palmer or Worcester, or something like that, to drive to the Berkshires to do that kind of work. And that is a concern for me and something that I discuss at the state level saying ‘We need to put people in the Berkshires to work on these jobs,’” Farley-Bouvier says.

Dickerson, from the Northeast Clean Energy Council, says Berkshire County has potential for clean energy.

“A lot of these jobs will follow the projects to the communities where they are being built,” Dickerson says. “These are local construction jobs.”

The state legislature will discuss many of the RPS proposals in September.

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