Massachusetts on Verge of Energy Greatness

, president | July 28, 2016, 8:07 am EST
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Note: This post originally appeared as an op-ed in CommonWealth magazine and was co-authored with Daniel C. Esty, Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy at Yale University, an advisor to Hydro-Quebec, and former commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

In case you missed the news, the Massachusetts House and Senate just did something big that we should all celebrate. By passing major energy bills, they have set the Bay State on a path of reduced reliance on fossil fuels while propelling our state towards a clean, affordable, and reliable energy future in which up to 50 percent of our electricity will come from hydropower, onshore and offshore wind turbines, and solar arrays. These actions will also drive investment in energy storage and continued gains in energy efficiency.

The two bills share some important features. Both seek to have Massachusetts tap into abundant renewable energy sources available in the region—mainly hydropower and land-based wind power — through long-term contracts that will stabilize energy costs and capture added benefits for Massachusetts. Both look to kick-start offshore wind, a potential job creator. And both address the issue of leaky natural gas pipes under the streets of our cities and towns.

As is common in the legislative process, the House and Senate bills also have differences, requiring a conference committee to iron out the differences in time for enactment of a final bill by the July 31 deadline. We urge the committee to combine the best ideas from both bills to form the most comprehensive bill. Doing so will blaze a bipartisan path that can be duplicated across the country, a trail that will replace aging coal and nuclear plants while simultaneously lowering energy costs, cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and positioning Massachusetts for continued leadership in the emerging clean energy economy.

When it comes to procurement of hydro and wind power and construction of cutting-edge offshore wind technology, the Senate improves upon the House bill by authorizing larger amounts of clean energy for long-term contracts, strengthening the state’s renewable portfolio standard, and promoting more competition to ensure an abundance of bids by the broadest possible group of clean electricity generators and transmission companies.

These requirements have many benefits, starting with saving residents money on their electric bills. In fact, a recent study by the Massachusetts Clean Electricity Partnership—a coalition of hydropower, wind, and transmission companies—showed that expanded hydro and wind power could save Massachusetts homes and businesses more than $170 million annually by lowering wholesale energy costs and reducing demand for natural gas. This package would also reduce the state’s heat-trapping gas emissions that cause climate change by 7 million tons annually— equal to 10 percent of current levels and equivalent to taking 1.5 million cars off the road.

We hope the final legislation will lean toward the Senate’s bolder offshore wind option as well. According to a recent Union of Concerned Scientists study, moving forward with 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind (equivalent to 15 percent of the state’s electricity needs), a larger long-term contracting provision for land-based wind and hydro, and accelerating the state’s renewable electricity commitments—all elements of the Senate energy bill—would bring reduced emissions and provide a host of public health and economic development benefits at a cost of just $3 per month for the average homeowner. The Senate bill would also promote energy storage, grid modernization, and expanded home energy efficiency—including, for the first time, funding for those who heat with oil.

The House bill contains some model policies too, such as an important provision on “property assessed clean energy” (PACE) financing, a tool already in place in more than half the states that broadens options for homes and businesses to finance clean energy on private property. PACE programs can pay up to 100 percent of the upfront costs of energy efficiency measures, allowing property owners to pay off the loans through their property taxes, just as they pay for other improvements such as water and sewer services.

These bills move the state in the right direction at a faster pace by diversifying our energy supply, cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and creating jobs and careers in new industries. By combining the most ambitious parts of the Senate and House bills, Massachusetts can blaze a trail to a clean energy future that others across the country and the world will follow.

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  • solodoctor

    Thanks for an informative summary of these important pieces of legislation recently passed in Mass. I hope the conference committee will take the best of each of these measures in order to construct one that does the most for the environment and the consumer. I hope UCS members who live in the state will contact their elected reps to encourage them to do this.

    I look forward to a follow up post which will inform us about the outcome of the conference committee’s efforts.