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Senate moves forward with climate bills focusing on achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, exclusive sales of electric vehicles after 2035. But local leaders are unsure if they can be practically implemented in the Berkshires

California Electric Vehicles

Electric cars are parked at a charging station in Sacramento, Calif., on April 13, 2022. Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, is working on a bill that would make all new vehicles purchased in the state after 2035 electric. 

BOSTON — The Senate is looking to pass a new policy-heavy climate bill that aims to achieve the net-zero emissions target by 2050. But, while there are high hopes for a greener future, advocates say there is still a need for improvement.

The legislation focuses on several different sectors: Transportation, buildings, electric power, non-energy and natural and working lands.

“It’s urgent that we are actually taking action instead of just talking about it,” said Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield.

Hinds is working on a bill focusing on electric vehicles, stating “that any new vehicle purchased after 2035 must be electric.”

“So it’s really game-changing legislation here, and I think it’s incredibly exciting,” he continued. The legislation aims to add more infrastructure around the state and the Massachusetts Turnpike to allow more charging stations to ensure the bill’s viability.

The bill addresses the affordability of electric vehicles by providing an expansion on rebates available to buyers in combination with federal rebates.

“Sometimes people have to spend the money and then get the money back from the federal government or the state government. And that’s hard for folks putting the money upfront, but this is changing. Now, it’s reducing the price on the spot,” Hinds said. “We want to go in this direction because the performance of electric vehicles is so strong and because we want to do what’s right for the climate.”

The legislation also aims to create more job opportunities for those entering the workforce, Hinds said, explaining the bill “would be investing in workforce development and training programs. It’s how we’re going to, I think, make sure that this is an inclusive transition that we’re working towards, and one that’s good for the climate and good for our families. And so that’s been a huge priority in this bill.”

The proposal is now part of the large Senate climate bill that faces negotiation with a House bill that focuses more on offshore wind.

“We have some big differences between our bills, so I think they’re complementary. We’re hopeful that we can retain as much as possible from the Senate version after we reach a consensus. So that’s where the really big challenge will be,” Hinds said.

“I’ve been disappointed in the administration’s implementation of our previous laws,” he continued. “So, that’s another big element – we’re going to have a new administration in the new year. It will be an administration that is more dedicated to aggressively address climate change.”

Challenges in the Berkshires

Clete Kus, transportation program manager at the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, has been focusing on the transportation sector of the climate change bills for the past couple of years.

“Emission reductions have to come from the transportation sector. But really, that’s going to be accomplished through the electrification of the fleet. Passenger vehicles, transit, buses, school buses, medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks,” Kus explained.

Kus pointed to an electric vehicle charging station plan completed this past year as a key to reducing emissions in Berkshire County.

“We’re proud of that work, and we’re continuing that work with the creation of a committee or working group to further that effort,” Kus said, adding he and the team hope to educate and encourage their community to transition to electric vehicles, acknowledging there is a reluctance to do so, focused on the cost of new electric vehicles, which can start at around $40,000.

“If you know anything about Berkshire County, our incomes are quite low, among the lowest across the commonwealth,” Kus said. “The incentives that are out there right now, at the state level, aren’t all that significant, and then when you take into consideration the lower economics, the state needs to step up and find a way to provide additional funding so that people do acquire those vehicles. Otherwise, what they’re counting on in terms of the emission reductions just isn’t going to occur.”

Kus expressed uncertainty about the viability of exclusive sales of electric vehicles after 2035.

“Right now, if you look at the numbers, they’re not on target, and that’s going to be really tough. The other part is that many manufacturers are struggling with the technology” and “getting products to market,” Kus said.

Berkshire Regional Planning Commission energy and environmental planner Emily Lange explained that the most critical aspect of the clean energy climate plan for 2025 and 2030 is the need for a higher rate of renewable energy.

In addition, Lange said, that a third of buildings need to be weatherized and use heat pumps for heating and cooling.

“So, something we will continue to focus on is outreach to our residents and our businesses,” Lange said. “The uptake of these programs has not been where it could be or where it should be to achieve these goals. We need to make sure our residents are aware and have the tools to participate in these programs.”

Lange also questioned whether the workforce will be available to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

“And that’s a statewide issue, but it seems particularly acute in Berkshire County. There have been many discussions — models and ways to train our workforce to be ready. How can Berkshire County residents capitalize on this? [They need] new opportunities to install, maintain heat pumps to reach the state’s climate goals, but also to bring economic benefits to our residents and Berkshire County,” Lange explained.

Berkshire Regional Planning environment and energy program manager Melissa Provencher also commented on the need for a proper workforce, noting Berkshire County does not have as much new development as other parts of Massachusetts.

“It is definitely harder to get tradesmen to come out and work on either smaller jobs or to work on more challenging older construction, rather than new construction,” Provencher said.

She also spoke about utilizing roofs and parking lots to implement solar panels.

“We really need to be careful that, with Berkshire County having a large percentage of open space and available land, that our lands aren’t sacrificed to meet the goals of the state as a whole. We need to make sure that there are no perverse incentives to continue,” she said.

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