Betty Francisco & Paul Francisco

CEO, Boston Impact Initiative, Entrepreneur & Angel Investor with Pipeline Angels. Cofounder of Amplify Latinx. | Senior Vice President- Chief Diversity Officer at State Street

Reflections on ABL and UMass Delegation in Denmark

Earlier this month, we had the incredible opportunity to join 30 Massachusetts business and civic leaders for the Alliance for Business Leadership (ABL) delegation to Denmark to explore the country’s green transition and world-leading offshore wind industry. The #ABLinDenmark trip, which had been three years in the making, was anchored by UMass Boston researchers and funded by the Barr Foundation. This masterfully curated learning journey gave us a deep dive into how Denmark and its people have shaped a collective goal to become independent from fossil fuels, a goal accelerated by the need for energy security and addressing the climate crisis.

Over the span of six days, we got to explore the quaint, walkable neighborhoods of Copenhagen which have more bikes than cars. We visited Nordhavnen which aims to be the first carbon neutral city, and CopenHill, the cleanest waste-to-energy plant in the world, featuring a ski slope on its roof and one of the tallest artificial climbing walls in the world. We spent time visiting the Port of Esbjerg, the leading port harnessing wind power development on the continent; we toured the Middelgrunden Offshore Wind Farm, the world’s largest offshore wind farm when it was opened in 2001, and got to stand on the base of a wind turbine; we learned about Samsø Energy Island which transitioned to 100% energy self-sufficiency using wind, solar, and biomass energy, showing that getting to net zero is possible. 

We learned about the wide range of clean technologies in Denmark, including offshore and onshore wind, solar, biomass and energy-from-waste, and other energy assets like Power-to-X. We also learned about Denmark’s climate policies, investments, job targets, and partnerships from the State of Green, Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, Realdania, and the Office of the US Ambassador to Denmark. Denmark’s social democracy, which has a commitment to long-term policy solutions and social benefits like free education and healthcare for families and workers, give it a competitive edge. No wonder Denmark is deemed the happiest country in the world. 

This knowledge sharing provided great insights and ideas for how Massachusetts can adopt some of the best practices from Denmark’s green transition. Before leaving Copenhagen, the ABL team and the delegation debriefed what we learned and next steps. In Axios style, I’ve outlined my three key takeaways. The trip was an unforgettable gift of learning and connection, a profound call to action for me and my colleagues to accelerate the green transition in MA as part of an inclusive economic recovery and future.

1. Community Ownership Can Power an Inclusive Green Transition 

Big Idea: What if you could own a share of the wind farms coming to the Massachusetts coast, and benefit from the electricity and revenues they generate? Community ownership can drive Massachusetts’ clean transition, allowing low-moderate income communities and people of color to build wealth, create good career-building jobs, and accelerate the transition to a green economy.  

Why It Matters: Locally owned community wind projects create economic opportunity for multiple community stakeholders who benefit from jobs, lower energy costs, and participation in the project revenues. Direct community ownership of wind projects also allows for distributed decision-making, community support, and increased collaboration. 

Go Deeper: In Denmark, approximately 80% of all wind turbines are either individually or cooperatively owned, rather than commercially owned.

  • Denmark’s earliest offshore wind farms were financed using cooperative ownership models that allowed local residents to invest, make decisions and get a financial return. 
  • Built in 2000, the Middelgrunden off-shore wind farm outside of Copenhagen was the world’s largest wind farm, with 50% owned by 10,000 local residents in the cooperative, who now make a 7-11 percent return on their investments.
  • Samsø Energy Island which is now carbon neutral, boasted 100% local ownership of the renewable energy investments which led to significant benefits for the island community and economy, including new jobs and local growth.
  • Recognizing the impact of energy cooperatives: in 2011, the Danish government passed a law requiring new wind farms be at least 20% community-owned.

What’s Next: Investments in wind-energy projects in the United States are getting so large and capital intensive that they are largely funded by commercial developers and investment funds with limited local ties. Policies and government incentives will be necessary to encourage commercial developers to incorporate community ownership and public-private investment models, where environmental justice communities in MA can benefit the most. 

2. Three Ps of the Green Transition: Policies, Partnerships, and Place

Big Picture: Denmark aims to be the world leader in the clean energy transition, committed to achieving 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and getting to net-zero by 2050, while also achieving sustainable growth and job creation. 

  • Effective public-private partnerships have allowed shifting Danish government administrations to enact policies and programs with the support of business and industry, ensuring successful implementation and the broader buy-in by the Danish people.

Why it Matters: Building an inclusive renewable energy sector requires stability in energy policy, a high level of participation from public and private players, and investment in innovative technologies that center people and community. 

Zoom Out: Offshore wind will be the dominant source of clean energy for the MA and New England grid by 2050, thus the race to bring technologies, know-how, and talent to our region is fierce. 

Zoom In: Massachusetts has the potential to generate the most offshore wind power of any state in New England, allowing us to serve the Bay State’s electricity demand, and supply other New England states.

  • Offshore wind developers who invest in local communities and businesses where their projects are located will have the competitive advantage. 
  • Innovation and small business growth is also dependent on how we develop our clean energy talent base.

What’s Next: MA needs to pass the Offshore Wind and Clean Energy bill (H.4524 / S.2842.) which shapes our policies, partnerships, and investments in offshore wind energy development.

  • The bill supports investments in wind industry workforce development, transmission infrastructure, strengthens wildlife protection, invests in energy storage, modernizes our grid, and prioritizes social equity in wind development. 
  • Community leaders, workers, and local advocates will need to have their voices invited to the table to shape legislation that prioritizes equity, justice, economic inclusion, and ownership for our most under-served communities. 

3. It’s All About the Jobs 

Greening the Workforce: Huge investments and commitments to jobs and economic development are being made by Mayflower Wind and Vineyard Wind, the two offshore wind developers coming to Cape Cod.

Why It Matters: Successful development of MA’s offshore wind sector requires a well-trained, local clean energy workforce that reflects the Commonwealth’s diverse communities. 

State of Play: Clean energy jobs represent about 3% of the Massachusetts workforce and the industry accounts for more than $13.7 billion in gross revenue according to the MassCEC. 

  • A follow-up MassCEC Study on Offshore Wind Workforce Training & Development identified the requirements and opportunities for the emerging offshore wind workforce, showing that construction, maintenance/repair, engineering, and manufacturing occupations have the largest gaps.
  • MA has strong training programs but deeper investment will be needed to prioritize talent development and new business formation in our most marginalized communities.

What’s Next: Our talent development strategy to support the offshore wind and renewable energy sector in MA can be a game changer in closing the racial wealth divide. This is a unique opportunity to create career-building roles, union jobs and  long-term, transferable employment opportunities between offshore wind and other industries for Black and Brown residents in MA. We need all hands on deck – including diverse voices and community organizations closest to our workers – to be part of shaping programming, allocating investments and reaching out to our most overlooked talent.

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