Massachusetts Legislature passes renewable energy compromise bill

Source: By Shira Schoenberg, Springfield (Mass) Republican • Posted: Wednesday, August 3, 2016

BOSTON – The Massachusetts Legislature late Sunday night sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a compromise energy bill that, while less broad than some senators had hoped, would require the state to purchase significantly more energy from offshore wind and other renewable sources.

“I don’t think that where we ended up is nearly as strong as where the Senate was,” said State Sen. Ben Downing, D-Pittsfield, Senate chairman of the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. “But both the administration and the House had a far narrower view, and that made for a rather difficult negotiation.”

State Rep. Thomas Golden, D-Lowell, House chairman of the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, praised the bill on the House floor. “Today is a celebration for the Massachusetts Legislature,” Golden said. “We are poised with your vote today to pass and authorize the largest procurement of renewable energy in the history of the commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

Golden said in an interview that although the House proposal was not as expansive as the Senate’s, he believes the bill can be built on in future years. “Energy is not a one-shot deal,” Golden said. “I really, truly believe next year we’ll be doing another energy bill, and the year after that we’ll be doing another energy bill.”

The House passed the conference committee report by a 157-1 vote, with State Rep. Jim Lyons, R-Andover, as the sole no vote. The Senate accepted the conference committee report on a voice vote.

The bill, H.4568, requires Massachusetts to solicit long-term contracts to procure 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power. That figure is halfway between the 1,200 megawatts proposed by the House and the 2,000 megawatts proposed by the Senate.

The bill would also require Massachusetts to solicit long-term contracts for 1,200 megawatts of hydropower or other renewable resources, such as land-based wind or solar. Baker has been a strong advocate for purchasing more Canadian hydropower.

The bill includes Senate language requiring the state to develop a plan to repair gas leaks.

It does not include a Senate amendment that would have barred utilities from charging customers fees to cover the cost of building new natural gas pipelines. Advocates for the energy industry said that would prevent pipelines from being built, which would risk increasing electricity costs for consumers.

One of the biggest disappointments for some senators was that the bill failed to increase the amount of energy that the state requires utilities to buy from renewable sources, the so-called renewable portfolio standards.

“That was the final give on the Senate’s part, and it was no small give,” Downing said. Downing called it “shortsighted” to not increase the standards, but he said the House “was dead set” on not including an increase.

But Golden said the House did not want to increase the standards because that would result in increasing payments made by ratepayers. Golden said the House would be open to taking additional steps in the future.

The bill includes provisions favored by the Senate to increase the use of energy storage technology.

Small in-state hydropower projects would receive a slight increase in a tariff that is paid by ratepayers.

“This is a huge victory for off-shore wind both for our environment and our economy,” said George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts. “It’s also a victory for diversifying our energy portfolio away from fossil fuels by adding both wind and hydro.”

Bachrach said the requirement for procuring offshore wind will pave the way to build the first commercially scaled wind farm in the U.S.

Bachrach said advocates will continue pushing for more solar projects, greater energy efficiency standards and an end to the building of new gas pipelines.

The bill excludes some Senate-sponsored provisions on energy efficiency, such as requiring home energy audits.

Senate President Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, who favored a more expansive bill, said senators wanted to more aggressively replace retiring coal and nuclear plants with renewable energy.

“Whatever we don’t get done now, we’ll be back at it again in January,” Rosenberg said. “Whatever we don’t get now, we will fight again later.”

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, said, “The Legislature took a major step towards expanding the Commonwealth’s access to clean energy and diversifying its energy resources. This proactive effort to ensure the needs of Massachusetts are met with clean, reliable resources while safeguarding our ratepayers demonstrates our state’s continued leadership in the development and deployment of cost-effective renewable energy.”

Clean energy and environmental advocates generally praised the bill.

Donald Jessome, CEO of Transmission Developers, Inc., said in a statement distributed by the Massachusetts Clean Electricity Partnership, a group of hydropower and onshore wind generation developers: “With today’s vote, Massachusetts has taken an extraordinary step toward diversifying the Commonwealth’s energy portfolio with clean, affordable and reliable hydropower and wind resources while providing electricity customers with ongoing electricity rate predictability and affordability.”  Several offshore wind companies also had positive responses.

The environmental group Clean Water Action praised the commitment to offshore wind power and the focus on repairing gas leaks, but criticized lawmakers for not including the ban on fees for natural gas pipelines. “It is disappointing to see the legislature fail to enact pertinent consumer and environmental protections,” said Joel Wool, a spokesman for Clean Water Action.

New England Clean Energy Council Executive Vice President Janet Gail Besser said the bill “will not only accelerate the deployment of clean energy, but will also serve to accelerate our economy by providing a stable policy climate for investors and developers of clean energy.”