It is an admirable goal and an ambitious one — transitioning Massachusetts to renewable energy to meet all of its transportation, heating and electricity needs.
That is the aim of a new coalition called The Mayors for 100 percent Renewable Energy. At a Statehouse press conference this week, the group endorsed legislation with 113 cosponsors committing the state to have gradually phased out its use of fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy by 2045.
The initial group of mayors backing this effort came from outside the Route 128 belt and includes newly re-elected Mayor Linda Tyer of Pittsfield. Ben Hellerstein, the director of Environment Massachusetts, told The Eagle that he hopes North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard will sign on as the mayor's organization continues to expand its membership.
The group is chaired by the mayors of Somerville, New Bedford, Easthampton and Worcester. Worcester, led by Mayor John Petty, has invested in solar energy, switched to more sustainable sources of energy, retrofit streetlights to use less energy and increased its recycling rates. New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell touted the 16 megawatts of solar projects recently installed in that community. Cities across the state have undertaken similar initiatives but it is the belief of the new mayors coalition that municipalities cannot do enough on their own and need Beacon Hill to embrace their initiative.
The energy bill before the Statehouse (S1958, H2836) is designed to do just that. The goal of the legislation is to eliminate environmental pollution in the air, on land, and in bodies of water, reduce reliance on imported foreign fuel from nations that use their oil resources to apply economic pressure on the U.S., and stimulate investment in green energy, creating jobs in Massachusetts in the process. The latter was a major goal of the solar industry in Massachusetts, which after a period of growth has leveled off.
The legislation calls for the creation of a council for clean energy workforce development to facilitate the creation of jobs in the green energy sector.
The logistics of such an effort, even over a 25-year period if the legislation is passed in 2020, are complex. For example, expansion of solar energy regardless of its positive attributes will run into opposition from neighborhood groups opposed to the creation of solar farms near their homes, as has been the case in the Berkshires. The absence of suitable sites may slow this statewide effort.
However, as Mayor Mitchell said in Boston, "The goal is realistic. It is doable. It may be hard, but the circumstances call for hard work." Even if the goal is not completely met, any progress made on phasing in renewable energy and phasing out fossil fuel energy constitutes valuable progress. There is hard work ahead on this daunting task, but the goal is worth the effort and the state should pitch in and follow the mayors' lead.