Massachusetts’s Clean Energy Victory: A Long Night, a Major Bill, and a Bright Future

, senior energy analyst, Clean Energy | August 1, 2016, 4:29 pm EDT
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A few minutes before midnight last night came the news that the Massachusetts legislature passed the omnibus energy bill that had been under development for months (years, actually). The process involved a whole lot of pieces trying to fit together in one rational jigsaw puzzle. So where did we end up? A pretty good place, actually.

Lots of highlights

Here are some of the highlights of the final bill:

  • Offshore wind – This is one of two anchor pieces for this omnibus energy bill. The legislation calls for Massachusetts utilities to solicit contracts for 1600 megawatts of offshore wind development. That’s three or four good-sized projects, more than 50 times the size of the first US offshore wind project/pilot that’s under construction off Rhode Island, and enough to meet 15% of Massachusetts’s electricity needs.
  • Clean energy procurement – Other long-term contracts envisioned in the legislation will lock in good prices (and low-carbon electricity) for Massachusetts ratepayers by helping get renewable energy projects and their transmission lines built. The sources could include large hydro from the north, land-based wind from Maine or elsewhere, or combinations of resources.
  • Energy storage – The new law-to-be directs the state to evaluate targets for local utilities for bringing energy storage on line as part of our move toward a more flexible electricity grid that incorporates even more variable renewables like solar and wind.
  • Gas leaks – The legislation requires the administration to figure out what counts as “environmental impact” when it comes to gas leaks under streets in our cities and towns, and to come up with a plan to fix the most serious ones.

Other components of the final bill deal with renewable energy financing, nuclear plant decommissioning, carbon reduction research, and more.

All in all, an impressive collection of pieces, something that, says UCS President Ken Kimmell, “puts Massachusetts back in the top tier of states driving clean energy development.”

We’re not done yet

That’s where we ended up last night. But this isn’t, of course, the end.

The governor needs to sign the bill—and he has every reason to do that, since he has been a strong proponent of the idea of a big energy procurement with large hydro in the mix, and his administration is keen on energy storage.

And then the administration has to turn the words into reality, drafting regulations and overseeing the implementation of all the pieces.

We’re also not done because of the important stuff that didn’t make it in the final bill. The senate’s proposal to strengthen the state’s renewable portfolio standard was important for making sure that we drive renewable energy development as fast as possible. Important provisions on energy efficiency and renewable energy financing got left on the cutting room floor, as did pieces dealing with electric vehicles, climate progress and adaptation, and natural gas pipeline financing. And solar, dealt with by the legislature in part earlier in the year, is going to need more attention to make sure that particular engine of clean energy growth and jobs can keep accelerating.

So we know what we’ll need to focus on when the legislature reconvenes next year.

energy-renewable-wind-offshore-turbines-netherlands

Celebrate

But for now we definitely have cause to celebrate. This is a big deal not just for Massachusetts, but for the region. The state’s willingness to invest in offshore wind, to make real the promise of that abundant resource, will be a strong positive for the state, in terms of economic development/jobs, and for states up and down the Eastern seaboard. The long-term contracting should help get a lot of clean energy infrastructure built, and lots of affordable low-carbon electricity flowing.

All this happened because so many people weighed in, including via thousands of messages to legislators from UCS supporters in Massachusetts, and because UCS and its allies engaged directly. Particularly when people really get involved, our democracy, though imperfect, sometimes gets us to some pretty good places.

So congratulations to Massachusetts, and to the state’s leaders. This is a big win for all of us, something to be proud of. We’re not done yet, but in terms of the Massachusetts clean energy space, maybe we can rest on our laurels for a day or two.

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  • solodoctor

    GREAT news, indeed! KUDOS to the reps in Mass who did this. And to UCS and other organizations who lobbied for it.

    MUCH more yet to do, however.

    I hope UCS members will press their elected reps in their State legislators to follow the road map being built by Mass.

  • Jan Galkowski

    Terrific! But, as was written, we in Massachusetts still have a LONG way to go to get to where we need to be.
    https://667-per-cm.net/2016/07/22/now-if-we-could-only-say-the-same-think-about-massachusetts/

    • ucsjrogers

      You’re right, Jan — we’re certainly not done. Senate President Stan Rosenberg put it this way: “We made a step forward; we needed a leap forward… We will have to revisit this next session.”

      But that doesn’t diminish the value of the good parts of the bill. The offshore wind piece alone is a remarkable vote for clean energy innovation and progress — and investment to move us away from a risk of overreliance on natural gas. That’s pretty important stuff.

      Thanks,

      John