Tuesday, June 23, 2015

New Bedford: The City That Lit the World...

Can An Old Massachusetts Fishing Port Light The World Again?


A shabby old fishing port on the South Coast of Massachusetts was once known as the City That Lit the World. Its whale oil powered candles and lamps around the country.

Now, the city is trying to rekindle that flame with an alternative form of energy: offshore wind.

A Distant History Of Wealth

New Bedford's glory days are long gone. The city suffers from a long list of woes — high crime, persistent unemployment and poor public schools.

For generations, the sea was New Bedford's lifeblood. Now, the water is still there, but the wealth is gone.

You can see just a glimmer of New Bedford's old opulence shining through its cobblestone streets and the whaling captains' old mansions.

"On the eve of the Civil War, New Bedford was the wealthiest city per capita in the United States," says Mayor Jon Mitchell. "New Bedford was to whaling what Detroit was to automobiles."

Striving For New Opportunities

On a chilly May morning, Mitchell joined state officials and local union representatives to break ground on the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal —a 100-million dollar state-funded project.

The port is being described as the first of its kind in the country — big enough to transport wind blades the length of a football field. Locals hope it will serve as the hub for the offshore wind industry and bring in jobs. New Bedford's current employment rate is among the worst in the state.

The Energy Department estimates that if the U.S. takes advantage of its wind potential by 2030, some 20,000 jobs could sprout up around the offshore wind industry.

A quarter of the nation's wind reserves lie just south of Martha's Vineyard, and New Bedford is the closest deep-water port. Mitchell says his city is sitting on the Saudi Arabia of wind.

"New Bedford is the biggest commercial fishing port in America," says Mitchell. "We know what we're doing out on the water."

Contagious Optimism

The mayor's optimism is rubbing off on Justin Silvia, who wakes up at 3:30 am to drive more than an hour to get to his job as a heavy equipment operator. He says he would love to find work closer to home so he could spend time with his three kids. He's trying to land himself a job on this port project.

"There's definitely a big buzz in the area as far as how many jobs it's going to create. I mean, the main focus is get as many New Bedford unemployed workers that are capable and trained properly," he says.

New Bedford is already working with Bristol Community College to secure grants that will train displaced workers.

Skepticism Remains — On The Water And Off

But not all of the folks on the water think offshore wind is the solution to all the city's troubles. Fishermen have been struggling to find work in recent years as the government declared certain waters off limits.

Tony Alvernaz is a fisherman in New Bedford. He wonders how fishermen will be able to navigate around giant wind turbines to find healthy fish.

"New Bedford has been a seafaring city for how many years, how many centuries? And so let's do away with that; let's bring on the wind farm. Is that the answer? I don't think so," he says.

Matt Kaplan, a wind analyst for IHS Emerging Energy Research in Cambridge, says it's a big bet. "Offshore wind will have to be tied to creating jobs in order to really be successful here because of the premium cost."

Kaplan says the problem is that no matter how strong the wind gusts blow, local utility companies have to be willing to pay a premium for pricey offshore wind energy. For now, there are federal subsidies that help nudge development along, but there is no guarantee that the government's helping hand will always be there.

Still, Kaplan said it helps that New Bedford is first in designing an offshore wind-friendly port.

"But whether that's going to make New Bedford the one-stop shop moving forward forever, for being the only port for offshore wind, I think it's a really tough call just because of the need to really create local jobs in each state that has one of these projects," Kaplan says.

With Cape Wind Faltering, New Bedford’s Future As Offshore Wind Hub Uncertain


NEW BEDFORD, MASS. In the opening chapters of “Moby Dick,” Herman Melville illustrates what was once the wealthiest city on earth. But the end of the whaling age, and later the city’s massive textile industry, brought depression to New Bedford. The city that lit the world now has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.

Enter offshore wind: the prospective industry that’s been a cornerstone for New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell.

“Offshore wind is important to New Bedford because it holds the potential to rebuild our economic base and grow jobs that can support families and make the community stronger,” Mitchell said.

New Bedford was supposed to stage the assembly of Cape Wind turbines, the country’s first large-scale offshore wind farm. To make it happen, the state built a marine commercial terminal in the city. But Cape Wind recently ended its lease contract with New Bedford, leaving the terminal without a tenant.

Making The Most Of The Investment

So far the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal has cost taxpayers $113 million. It doesn’t look like much yet, but the ground is fortified to support the heaviest components of a wind turbine.

The city was prepared for the onshore demands of offshore wind, and former Gov. Deval Patrick announced last fall that Cape Wind would be first to use the terminal.

But the project needed so-called power purchase agreements to work. In exchange for a green light from Patrick on a pending merger, Eversource Energy, formerly NStar, had agreed to buy a quarter of Cape Wind’s power. National Grid was in for another 50 percent.

But in January both companies ended their purchase agreements, effectively sinking the project days before Patrick would leave office. They cited Cape Wind’s failure to meet financing and construction goals. The next blow was to New Bedford, when Cape Wind ended a $4.5 million contract to lease the terminal.

The hundreds of jobs promised were gone before they arrived.

Gov. Deval Patrick joined state officials, clean energy advocates and union representatives to break ground for the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
In the spring of 2013, then-Gov. Deval Patrick joined state officials, clean energy advocates and union representatives to break ground for the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Matthew Beaton, the new state energy secretary, was a state representative when construction started on the terminal in the spring of 2013. Beaton says he wouldn’t make that investment today.

“Probably not, no. I don’t know if, given the uncertainty of Cape Wind at that time, and the overall question marks of offshore wind development, is a $100-plus million investment the appropriate use of those funds? Could we have used those monies in a more well-suited manner?”

Beaton’s comments have extra weight now that he chairs the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the quasi-state agency overseeing the terminal project.

“The decision to make that investment was made and now it is up to us to make the most of that investment,” Beaton said.

Source: http://www.wbur.org/2015/04/06/new-beford-terminal-cape-wind-future

Is This The Alternative? A Resort Casino?

New Bedford voters to cast ballots in special election on $650M waterfront casino proposal

by Associated Press

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. –  New Bedford residents will vote on a proposed $650 million Foxwoods resort casino for the city's waterfront.

A development group that includes former Foxwoods CEO Scott Butera wants to build a glitzy resort on the site of a former power plant.

Polls open at 7 a.m. Tuesday and close at 8 p.m. Voter approval is critical for the plan to advance in the competition for the state's third and final resort casino license.

The plan by KG Urban Enterprises is competing with one proposed by Mass Gaming & Entertainment for the Brockton Fairgrounds that's already received voter approval.

Massachusetts' casino industry kicks off Wednesday with the opening of Plainridge Park, a slots parlor in Plainville

MGM and Wynn have state licenses to build casinos in Springfield and the Boston area.

Is the kind of future the Whaling City wants for its working waterfront? Fishermen have voiced opposition to the plan as there is much concern about impact on the industry after a casino gambling resort complex is situated on the Cannon Street site of the former NStar power plant. Even though Cape Wind's turbine assembly option for revitalization of  New Bedford's waterfront industry is now "dead in the water," alternative energy projects like wind and solar power make much more sense that turning the Whaling City into another gaming destination in the northeast, such as Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun. This referendum is a key issue for the voters of New Bedford. What kind of future do we want for the city that lit the world?

Joseph David Henry Ware Bryan-Royster

Video Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0JrV86EKCs


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