Boldness in the Massachusetts Energy Bill: The Who, What, and Why

July 22, 2016 | 11:59 am
Photo: Kim Hansen/Wikimedia Commons
John Rogers
Energy Campaign Analytic Lead

Massachusetts is on the verge of legislative greatness in the energy and climate space. How far and how fast we go and grow in clean energy is now in the hands of six key legislators. Here’s who they are, what’s in play, and why it all really, really matters.

Last month, both the state House of Representatives and Senate passed versions of an omnibus energy bill. The House led the way, breaking new ground in terms of the types of support for clean energy that the Commonwealth could provide. The Senate version built beautifully on that foundation, making the latest iteration truly a marvel to behold.

Who: Where the leadership has to come from

Now it’s up to the conference committee, the members of each chamber appointed to hammer out a shared vision for a final bill. The six conferees are:

Those six have been key athletes in the relay race that got us to this point. Rep. Golden’s draft led to one from Rep. Dempsey’s committee, then went on to the full House. For there it went to the Senate, where Sen. Downing led the charge and Sen. Pacheco contributed important pieces. Rep. Jones and Sen. Tarr also played important roles in this bipartisan push, including for managing natural gas.

While so much input has come from so many quarters (including from UCS supporters, at various key junctures), those six are the ones making the call now, the ones on whose shoulders rests the future of clean energy—and clean energy jobs—in and for Massachusetts.

No pressure…

What: The best of both worlds

Fortunately, their job isn’t that tough. All they need to do is take the best of both bills, to build one bold, beautiful bundle.

Okay, so maybe there are a few details to work out. But that’s where UCS, allies, and supporters come in. The coalition that includes UCS put together a great letter to guide conferees on what to take from the House and Senate versions (plus a handy FAQ, here). UCS’s own letter built on that, emphasizing the opportunities for bold targets and national leadership.

The bills center on two major components:

  • One is a large-scale clean energy procurement requirement for hydro, wind, solar, or other renewables, and the associated transmission to get the power to Massachusetts.
  • The other is a specific requirement around offshore wind, a powerful, nearby resource that Massachusetts has real reason to want to develop.

The versions also have a boatload of other really important pieces that make them truly omnibus-y. An increase in the state’s renewable portfolio standard. Renewable energy financing for homeowners and businesses. Support for energy storage. New energy efficiency measures. Support for electric vehicle adoption and climate adaptation management.

Just the material for crafting a nation-leading piece of legislation that all Bay Staters can be proud of.

Why: Leadership just makes sense

What seems clear in terms of the final bill is that this moment calls for boldness. The state is in real danger of over-relying on natural gas, the climate isn’t getting any cooler, power sector pollution still places a heavy burden on too many communities, and our clean energy sector is a powerful piece of the economy that still has much more to offer.

UCS’s analysis of some of these very policies showed how they could cut our risks of natural gas overreliance, reduce global warming and other pollution, and drive our economy forward with clean energy jobs and careers, all at really modest cost.

The right package can—will—mean so much in terms of positioning Massachusetts to continue to be a clean energy leader. With robust competition, long-term contracting for renewables will stabilize costs for Massachusetts ratepayers. Support for offshore wind in a big way will launch a whole new industry with Massachusetts at its center. Strong action on energy efficiency will keep Massachusetts energy bills down and keep the state at the front of the national pack.

All together, the pieces are about going big, broad, and bold. And that’s just what we need.

When and how: Now, and you

…and soon. The legislative session ends on July 31, so The Six are working even now to figure things out. There’s a lot of momentum behind this push, and support from the leaders of both houses, plus the governor, for getting it done.

If you’re a Bay Stater, it’s not too late for you to weigh in, too, particularly if you’re directly represented by one or more of the conferees.

This is really an incredible moment in the trajectory of Massachusetts in terms of energy, climate, and the clean energy economy, and so many voices have injected boldness and true vision into the package to get us to this point.

Now to finish the job. As UCS President Ken Kimmell and a co-author put it in a just-published op-ed,

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.

This is the state’s opportunity for legislative greatness. It’s time to go far, and fast. It’s time to be bold.

Posted in: Energy

Tags: Massachusetts, Offshore wind

About the author

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John Rogers is energy campaign analytic lead 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.