Massachusetts's Energy Future is Hot This Week (Senate Vote)

June 29, 2016
John Rogers
Energy Campaign Analytic Lead

UPDATE (July 1, 2016): They did it! Yesterday the Senate unanimously passed their version of “An act to promote energy diversity”—and it is impressive.

We’ve ended up with, in the words of one of our allies, “a landmark bill defining Massachusetts’ clean energy future.” It’s got the higher offshore wind target we had been pushing for; a strong “clean energy procurement” provision for hydropower, wind, and more; the RPS increase; and so much more.

Strengthening amendments (and the final votes) came from both Republicans and Democrats (and some of the ideas originated with our Republican governor), showing how broad the support is for action on energy and climate.

We’re not done yet—now the House and Senate have to agree on a version—but we’re in a really good place. Thanks to all who weighed in on this along the way!


 

The Massachusetts omnibus energy bill that has been under development for months is at a critical point in its path toward success: the Massachusetts Senate takes it up tomorrow. And UCS and its supporters have been in the thick of things. Here’s where we stand, and where we think we need to end up, with your help.

Our whereabouts

Credit: Tony Hisgett (https://www.flickr.com/photos/hisgett/6223344920)

Where it’s happening… with UCS help. Photo: Tony Hisgett/Flickr

I keep thinking of the old Schoolhouse Rock song about how a bill becomes a law (“I’m just a bill, yes I’m only a bill…”). We’re at that crucial point when one chamber in our bicameral system, the Massachusetts House of Representatives, has passed something (which we called “a good start”, but not enough), and now the state Senate is figuring out its version.

What they didn’t mention in the Schoolhouse Rock video was the part where lots of people and organizations (and lobbyists) try to strengthen the bill, or weaken it. On the strengthening side, that includes UCS and our many supporters in Massachusetts who have been weighing in as things have proceeded.

Where to head

That leads us to the temporal doorstep of the Senate vote. The Senate chair of the joint House-Senate energy committee, Sen. Ben Downing, and the chair of the Senate Ways and Means committee, Sen. Karen Spilka, unveiled their version on Friday. The next step is the floor of the Senate, where the bill will be taken up tomorrow (Thursday)—amendments, debate, vote.

What we’re thinking about the bill is expressed in the letter we sent to senators yesterday. Overall, we wrote “in strong support” of the version unveiled last Friday, and urged senators to back most of what’s in there. Sen. Downing in particular has been a strong champion of progress on clean energy and climate for years, and that is definitely reflected in the bill.

In particular:

  • We pointed to the provisions in the bill that would set strong targets for the state’s utilities for buying hydropower, land-based wind, offshore wind, and more, and would strengthen the state’s renewable electricity standard (or RPS) considerably.
  • We also applauded the piece that would help ensure real competition between some of those sources, letting land-based wind and solar fully compete against hydropower, to the benefit of Massachusetts consumers.
  • And we highlighted a number of other great pieces, including ones to drive energy storage development and deployment, give homebuyers better information about the energy efficiency of homes they’re thinking of buying, and more.

We also recommended a handful of modifications, ones that would “enhance the clean energy economy and protect consumers, and… strengthen our efforts to reduce global warming pollution more generally.” That includes in the transportation sector; there are likely to be amendments around increasing transparency around the oil we buy to fuel our cars and trucks, and around moving more quickly on electric vehicles.

“Think big”: We’re close, but not done

Overall, we said, with the Senate version we are very close to “an energy bill we can all be proud of…, and that re-asserts Massachusetts’s leadership position on energy and climate issues.” Sen. Downing, in an op-ed published yesterday, called for the state to “Think big.” And the bill certainly reflects that thinking.

The bill aligns fully with what we’ve been saying (and analyzing) about the potential to use clean energy to reduce our risks of overreliance on natural gas, cut our global warming emissions, bring other benefits, and do it all at modest cost.

That’s a great place to be in. But we’re not done yet.

And if you’re a Massachusetts resident, you still have a chance to say your piece.

Even if you’re not local, stay tuned in. What Massachusetts is on the verge of doing has great implications for not just one state, but the region and the country as a whole.

It’s up to the Senate, and to us.

About the author

More from John

John Rogers is a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists with expertise in clean energy technologies and policies and a focus on solar, wind, and natural gas. He co-managed the UCS-led Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative, a multi-year program aimed at raising awareness of the energy-water connection, particularly in the context of climate change, and motivating and informing effective low-carbon and low-water energy solutions.