Mass. lawmakers pursue ambitious clean energy bill

Source: Emily Holden, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Massachusetts could be on the cusp of a cleaner energy future.

Legislation making its way through the State House could raise Massachusetts’ renewable energy standard and establish an ambitious clean energy procurement program. House and Senate lawmakers are expected to hash out different versions of the measure before the end of the month.

John Rogers, a senior energy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists, called the legislation “impressive” and said it is a “a big deal — and not just for Massachusetts.” It could help make offshore wind development more commonplace in the United States, he argued.

He and other environmentalists described a Senate version that passed unanimously last week as a more aggressive omnibus bill than the House version. It would procure 12.45 terawatt-hours of clean energy and 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind power and double the growth of the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) to 39 percent through 2030.

Notably, the Senate bill would count any kind of RPS resources as eligible for the procurement program.

By contrast, the House proposal would procure 9.45 terawatt-hours of clean energy and 1,200 MW of offshore wind power and keep the RPS at 25 percent by 2030. Meanwhile, it would allow only hydropower or RPS resources paired with hydro — which drew complaints from local clean energy advocates.

They argued the House bill would favor imported Canadian hydropower and offshore wind while bypassing utility-scale solar or onshore wind power (ClimateWire, June 13).

Rogers said he hopes lawmakers will incorporate portions of both bills in their conference report. The House version, for example, includes provisions for property assessed clean energy financing. The Senate bill sets stronger standards and also includes measures to promote energy storage, grid modernization, climate adaptation and electric vehicles.

Rogers said while both Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and the Democratic-controlled House may have been focused on creating incentives for hydropower, the Senate strengthened the competitive nature of the procurement program by allowing renewable power to qualify alone. Projects with hydropower would still get preference, however.

“I’m not sure they’re that far apart,” Rogers said of the bills, adding that he thinks the chambers should be able to reach consensus in conference and pass a bill that Baker would approve of before the legislative session finishes at the end of the month.

A natural gas dependence ‘danger zone’?

State Sen. Ben Downing, a Democrat who chairs the joint committee on energy, said the bill would put Massachusetts closer to leading cleaner energy states like California and New York, which are aiming for 50 percent renewable power by 2030.

If Massachusetts raises its RPS, it would follow in the recent footsteps of neighboring Rhode Island, whose governor last week signed a bill to raise the renewable energy standard to 40 percent by 2035, and Washington, D.C., where the Council of the District of Columbia approved legislation to expand its target to 50 percent by 2032 (ClimateWire, June 23.)

Massachusetts Senate Democrats in an amendment debate that lasted into the evening Thursday warned of the state’s high reliance on natural gas and the need for new generation to replace retiring coal and nuclear power. The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station will shutter in 2019, requiring the state to find new sources for about 15 percent of its electricity. Massachusetts currently gets more than 60 percent of its power from natural gas, Rogers said.

If there is a “danger zone” for overdependence on one fuel, Massachusetts is in it, Downing said.

He said the provisions in the Senate bill would get the state close to levels that both former Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick and Baker have outlined. And they would provide market visibility for developers and create space for job-creating projects that lawmakers’ districts have benefited from, he said.

But, Downing said, “Investing in renewables isn’t enough. … [W]e also need to change the way our grid works.”

That means moving toward energy storage so that the power system does not have to build out to keep plants on standby to meet peak demand, he said.

Downing emphasized that lawmakers will have to keep revising standards and revisiting the interplay of power production, the environment and climate change.

“Gone are the days when we could do an energy bill and come back 10 years later,” he said.