July 10, 2017

On a clear day, you can stand atop Allerton Hill and view nearly the whole town: down Nantasket Beach towards Cohasset and out across the Atlantic Ocean, with lobsterman skirting the horizon of Hull Bay. Hull, Massachusetts, a narrow peninsula jutting out from the mainland just south of Boston proper, has always held a strong connection to the ocean and Nantasket Beach has long been a treasured destination for those in the region hoping to get closer to the sea.

Despite a celebrated history, Nantasket Beach has recently been suffering a fate like that of many beaches across the Commonwealth. Many of our state’s beaches have been slowly, and quite literally, losing ground to rising sea levels and increasingly frequent, intense storms. On Nantasket, the beach’s seawall protects the town from pounding surf and storm surges; yet, accelerates the beach’s erosion over time. Photos from the early days of iconic Paragon Park only confirm this fact: the ocean is slowly but surely encroaching on the shoreline and the beach is slowly but surely being scoured away.

The town of Hull has been forward thinking about its coastal issues and released its first Coastal Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Study, prompting similar studies in neighboring towns. Familiar locations such as Cohasset Harbor and Hingham Square are also threatened; adaptation studies predict inundation during storm surges and rising tides.  The consensus is the continued, unchecked effects of sea level-rise will have severe impacts on the homes, business, and natural resources of our coastal communities.

Yet we have reason to be hopeful, as there is proven economic potential embedded in climate change mitigation. The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center reports that more than 100,000 residents hold clean energy jobs in Massachusetts. These jobs fuel an $11.8 billion industry, cover 2.5% of the Gross State Product and make up 2.9% of the state’s workforce. What’s more, the clean energy sector continues to grow each year. And this doesn’t even begin to consider how clean energy enervates other business sectors.

Hull has taken great strides transitioning into clean energy. Today, the town is proud to host Hull Wind I and Hull Wind II, which collectively generate an impressive 12% equivalent of its total energy use. Together, these turbines produce 660 Kilowatts and 1.8 megawatts of clean, renewable electricity. Since coming online, they have produced over 29 million kilowatt-hours. This is equal to removing CO2 emissions from over 2 million gallons of consumed gasoline, over 4,000 cars on the road, or nearly 2,220 homes.

But of course, it is hard to ignore the opportunity of clean energy when the waves are quite literally pounding at your door.  Ultimately, it was the ocean that prompted Hull residents to ask the inevitable question:  what can we do to protect our community?  To answer, Hull made a community commitment to clean energy. And the economic benefits have followed – low, stable electric rates, tourism from across the globe, energy conferences, and new ideas for innovation. Though Hull is only a small community, it is also a community on the front lines, experiencing firsthand the impacts of climate change and sea level rise. Through this they have come to recognize that investing in clean energy and climate change mitigation can preserve key economic drivers, like their popular beaches, and open the door to future economic growth fueled by innovation.

Although only a few fond remnants of Paragon Park can still be spotted along Nantasket’s shores, the town continues to draw hundreds of thousands of people year round.  Hopefully, visitors will be able to enjoy this thriving oceanfront long into the future, and the area will continue to reap the economic benefits. In the end, it will be up to us.

State Representative Joan Meschino represents the Third Plymouth district, which includes Cohasset, Hingham, Hull and North Scituate. Meagan Greene is the program director of the Alliance for Business Leadership.