NEW BEDFORD — As panelists spoke Wednesday night about the proposed expansion of LNG storage and pipelines in Acushnet and Freetown, North End resident Christine Goben heard concerns that struck very close to home.
Goben said she sold her previous home, in Fairhaven, about three years ago, after one of the wind turbines in the town went up about 1,500 feet from her door. Hearing Roger Cabral of anti-LNG group South Coast Neighbors United talk about potential issues for residential neighborhoods near the proposed LNG expansion site, she said, was an “eye-opener” for her.
“That’s what happened to us — I’ve seen it,” she said. “I chose to give my home up because I didn’t want to fight anymore. We fought for about five years.”
Goben said her son lives near the expansion site, off Peckham Road in Acushnet, meaning energy debates could again become prominent for her family.
LNG and offshore wind debates weren’t prominent in the minds of many SouthCoasters on Wednesday night, though, as only about 20 people attended the free public forum at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational-Technical High School on Ashley Boulevard.
The forum was a collaborative effort between the Marion Institute; Acadia Center, a nonprofit, multi-state organization that advocates for the development of clean energy; and other partners.
“This is a very sparse gathering,” said panelist Janet Milkman, executive director of the Marion Institute, who looked out from the stage at rows of empty seats.
“We’re having trouble getting traction, clearly,” she said.
In addition to Cabral and Milkman, other panelists were Claire Miller, lead community organizer for the Toxics Action Center, and Peter Shattuck, clean energy director for Acadia Center’s Massachusetts office.
The event had a decidedly anti-LNG, pro-renewable feel, as panelists urged attendees to take advantage of state energy efficiency incentives and contact their legislators about provisions in the omnibus energy bill, which the state Senate is scheduled to debate Thursday on Beacon Hill.
The Senate version of the bill, released last Friday, would require electricity distributors to enter long-term contracts for offshore wind energy totaling at least 2,000 MW, with build-out by 2030, and 400 MW as a minimum initial project.
Backers hope turbines will be installed over the next decade or more in leased federal waters south of Martha’s Vineyard. A potential staging site is the $113-million, state-funded Marine Commerce Terminal on New Bedford’s waterfront, just inside the hurricane barrier.
Shattuck noted the disparity between a massive natural gas expansion north of New Bedford, and the potential for large-scale offshore wind development in waters to the south.
“What we could see in the next six months is a decision about whether you’re going to have natural gas pipelines or offshore wind turbines on your energy bill,” he said.
LNG forums in recent weeks have drawn larger crowds in Acushnet. Attendees at Wednesday’s forum said “meeting fatigue,” a beautiful summer evening or other factors could have thinned that particular crowd.
Jennifer Downing of Leadership Southcoast, one of the forum partners, said additional energy-related events will be scheduled in coming months.
Follow Mike Lawrence on Twitter @MikeLawrenceSCT