Massachusetts bill would superspeed path to all renewables

Source: Saqib Rahim, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A bill to accelerate Massachusetts’ renewable energy targets, en route to a 100 percent renewable grid, is advancing in the state General Court.

The state Senate last week passed S. 2545, a portfolio of energy programs that would set aggressive new goals for offshore wind, greenhouse gas cuts and energy storage, among other things.

Now, the bill passes to the House. Will it reach Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk? Not necessarily.

“Is all of this going to become law? Absolutely not,” said Mark LeBel, a staff attorney with the Acadia Center, which has advocated for the bill. “I think ultimately we want to get to a workable set of bills or single bill that works for a broad range of stakeholders and represent significant progress this year.”

Baker’s administration has undertaken some of the most advanced clean energy efforts in the Northeast. It’s currently overseeing a major contract for hydropower from Quebec, as well as one of the country’s largest deployments of offshore wind.

But environmentalists and clean-energy advocates are hoping to push the envelope before the General Court wraps its session at the end of July. Their goals: beef up the state’s global warming targets and hasten its renewable energy development, both in the near term and long term. They say the state is lagging in both of these areas compared with its competitor states.

But both the New England Power Generators Association (NEPGA) and National Grid, which has 1.3 million power customers in Massachusetts, said the bill would risk hiking electric rates.

“We’ve got a lot of concerns about it, particularly in a moment in which the state is only in the beginning stages of embarking on the largest procurements in its history for Canadian hydro and offshore wind,” said Dan Dolan, president of NEPGA. “I think it is simply cart-before-the-horse and is going to do nothing but increase prices in the region.”

Nevertheless, it was the renewables reformers whose arguments carried the day in the Senate, and S. 2545 passed 35-0 last Thursday.

The bill would ratchet up the growth rate of the state’s renewable portfolio standard, from 1 percent a year to 3 percent a year.

It would also hike the amount of offshore wind the state can procure. Right now the state’s trying to arrange contracts for 1,600 megawatts; the bill would follow that up with authority for another 5,000 MW.

The long-term RPS goal would be hiked to 100 percent by 2047. Currently, the RPS structure isn’t quite on that track; one clean energy group estimates 25 percent by 2030.

Another notable inclusion: eliminating a “net metering” cap that, solar advocates say, was choking solar deployment because it was too tight.

There’s no companion bill on the House side yet. But there are assorted clean energy initiatives that touch on elements — such as the RPS and greenhouse gas goals — in the Senate bill. Baker hasn’t taken a position on the bill as yet.

“The Baker-Polito Administration is proud of its nation-leading work on important issues like climate change and renewable energy, including recently securing the largest single procurement of offshore wind by any state in the nation,” said Katie Gronendyke, a spokeswoman for Baker’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. “The governor will carefully review any legislation that comes to his desk.”

As the legislation develops, hydropower will be a key sticking point. Baker has treated hydropower — imported via long-distance power lines from Quebec — as foundational to the state’s low-carbon plans. Business groups and utilities see its low cost as a way to counterbalance the pricier renewables, such as small solar and offshore wind.

But in Massachusetts, hydro isn’t eligible to count against the state’s RPS. And at least some environmental groups and clean-tech advocates are fine with that — they’d prefer solar, wind and distributed resources to carry the load in the long term.

The Associated Industries of Massachusetts, a business group, is concerned that speeding up too quickly on renewables would effectively “crowd out” hydropower, raising energy costs for everyone.

The group expressed caution about a House bill, H. 1747, that would multiply the RPS’s growth rate from 1 percent a year to 2 percent a year.

“As the RPS mandate increases (along with other energy mandates) hydro power will at some point become ineligible to be sold in Massachusetts,” the group said in a June 8 blog post. “It would remove hydro power as a long-term potential source of clean energy for Massachusetts.”