Mass. Senate passes renewable energy bill
BOSTON >> An energy bill passed 39-0 by the Senate on Thursday evening would require the solicitation of long-term contracts for at least 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2027 as part of an effort to diversify the state's energy mix and comply with greenhouse gas emissions reduction requirements.
Under the bill, energy distribution companies would also be required to purchase a minimum of 12,450,000 megawatt-hours of clean energy from hydropower and other clean-energy resources including onshore wind, solar, anaerobic digestion and energy storage.
And the bill doubles the annual rate of increase in the state's Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, which requires utilities to obtain a minimum amount of their electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind.
"None of us should think that any one bill is going to solve the climate crisis here in Massachusetts, in New England, or beyond," said Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, the Senate chairman of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee. "The steps that are in this bill are necessary, but they are not sufficient. We have more work to do, both as a body here and future legislatures will have more work to do."
Both supporters and critics of the bill (S 2372) described it as a significant step in energy policy, disagreeing over whether its provisions would leave the state in a better or worse position.
"This is a landmark bill defining Massachusetts' clean energy future," Clean Water Action advocate Joel Wool told the News Service. "The Senate today said very clearly that they want to choose wind turbines and other clean energy resources -- offshore wind, local renewable energy in New England -- over gas pipelines."
The New England Power Generators Association blasted the bill as a "major leap in the wrong direction."
"We are extremely disappointed and concerned about key provisions in this energy bill, which carves out nearly 50 percent of Massachusetts' electricity market in the form of subsidized long-term contracts," association president Dan Dolan said in a statement. "Not only will this lead to a dramatic increase in electricity costs for Commonwealth businesses and consumers, it will hurt local energy innovation and undermine billions of dollars in new investments being made here today."
The bill's supporters said Massachusetts has grown too dependent on natural gas to meet its energy needs and expressed hope for a boom in jobs in the renewable energy industry.
With several major differences between Senate bill and the version passed by the House (H 4385) earlier this month, the energy legislation will likely head to a conference committee where lawmakers will try to strike a compromise between the two versions. The House bill would require utilities to solicit and enter into 15- to 20-year contracts for 1,200 megawatts of offshore wind and roughly 1,200 megawatts of hydropower.
House and Senate negotiators needed months earlier this session to agree on a solar energy bill and the conference ahead presents a wider array of policy differences. Formal sessions end for the year on July 31.
The Senate bill requires the Department of Energy Resources to establish a home energy rating and labeling system, which would score homes based on their energy consumption, costs and greenhouse gas emissions. The score would need to be disclosed when a home is listed for sale, and a home energy audit would be required before the sale.
Downing said the audit would help buyers know what energy-related costs they might incur.
Supporters of the energy rating system compared it to miles-per-gallon labels on cars that advertise fuel efficiency.
"I understand that this is a change," Downing said. "It is a change from how we have currently done business, but I also think that it is a simple, straightforward way to encourage more people to take advantage of our free home energy audits ... and in so doing, it provides them with the information in a transparent fashion so that they can choose if they want to make upgrades on that home or not."
Sen. John Keenan, a Quincy Democrat, said he believed energy ratings could convey valuable information but cautioned that the energy rating could "stigmatize" certain homes.
Keenan said the audit provided the "real meat" of the information a buyer would need. He said it was possible buyers could rule out homes below a certain rating without realizing a small financial investment could bump them up to the next level.
A Keenan amendment to strike the requirement that ratings be disclosed during a sale was rejected on a voice vote.
The bill originally called for offshore wind contracts by 2030, but an amendment filed by Sen. Mark Montigny moved that deadline to 2027. Montigny said the accelerated timeline "perhaps adds a bit of energy to the wind component."
Among the more than 30 amendments tacked on to the bill was a Sen. Jamie Eldridge proposal that would require gas distribution companies to repair gas leaks ranked as "Grade 3," or non-hazardous leaks, that were exposed during road construction and identified as having a "significant environmental impact."
Another Eldridge amendment creates an Oil Heat Energy Efficiency Fund, paid for by an assessment charged on heating oil and used to provide financial incentives for energy efficiency programs that reduce oil consumption. The fund, Eldridge said, would produce approximately $20 million annually for such programs and save $120 million annually by making homes more energy efficient.
Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said one of the "most important" changes the Senate made to its bill was the addition of a requirement that the state develop a "comprehensive energy plan" every three years, reflecting energy needs, demand and the best strategies for meeting demand.
"This amendment is the one that creates a roadmap for how we're going to build an energy future for the commonwealth of Massachusetts and do it in a prepared, planned way," Tarr said.
Utility companies would not be permitted to ask electric ratepayers to front the cost of building new natural gas pipelines in Massachusetts under an amendment unanimously added to the bill. Filed by Somerville Democrat Sen. Patricia Jehlen, the amendment does not prohibit the construction of new pipelines, but "says the Department of Public Utilities can't force electrical ratepayers to subsidize new natural gas pipelines," Jehlen said.
"Blocking additional natural gas supplies to the region can only hurt consumers," said Massachusetts Petroleum Council President Steve Dodge. "The Senate bill allows special interest groups to determine what's best for Massachusetts ratepayers. We need to give Massachusetts consumers and manufacturers a break, not potentially pile on additional costs and waste opportunities to lower utility bills."
While senators touted the bill's importance to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington said he did not believe the state would hit its 2020 reduction requirements without the addition of carbon fees. But after making a case for the fees, Barrett later withdrew his proposal, which never surfaced for debate or a vote.
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