With the state Legislature again racing to the finish line of the session like college students cramming for final exams, a pair of energy bills are still awaiting action. One should become law, while the other may need more work to address concerns.
A solar energy bill that would, among other provisions, increase the state’s statutory goal of 400 megawatts by 2020 to 1,600 by that year, reflects how far the state has already progressed in the field of solar. The leadership of Governor Patrick and the Legislature, as well as efforts in the private sector and by private citizens, are rendering the goal of 400 megawatts that once seemed ambitious obsolete.
Utilities object to a provision lifting the caps on large solar developments because under the "net-metering" programs some solar users are now able to sell so much solar energy to the grid that they "zero out" their electric bills. Great for them but not for the utilities, who want these customers to pay a $5 or $10 distribution fee to cover their costs. A compromise reported by The Boston Globe would provide an exemption for those already zeroing out their bills through net-metering, so add that provision and pass the solar bill.
More complex is a bill requiring utilities to sign long-term agreements to purchase hydroelectric power from Canada.
Not enough is known about the environmental impact to justify passage of the hydroelectric bill yet, and there is concern as well that utilities would pass along their costs of adding more hydroelectric power to customers. However, hydro should not be played off against other green energy sources. The enemy is greenhouse-gas producing fossil fuel energy, including natural gas, and the state needs more hydro, solar, wind and even nuclear power to diversify its energy portfolio.