Massachusetts passes ‘landmark’ climate bill to decarbonize multiple sectors, add 5.6 GW offshore wind

Source: By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utiliuty Dive • Posted: Sunday, July 24, 2022

The Massachusetts legislature on Thursday passed a climate bill widely supported by environmental and clean energy advocates, with measures for expanding offshore wind energy and energy efficiency as well as curbing transportation emissions.

H. 4515 sets a 5.6 GW offshore wind development minimum target by 2027, reforms ratepayer-funded efficiency programs focused on clean energy and low-income households, and removes market impediments for medium-sized solar developments, alongside a slate of building and transportation electrification measures.

The bill requires annual energy usage reports from buildings that are 20,000 square feet or larger, and creates a pilot for 10 municipalities to offer fossil-free home renovations, meant to target affordable housing and multi-family housing in part.

Howerver, the latest version of the bill removed language supported by the Office of the Attorney General that would have restricted residential electric choice — a multi-year effort that the consumer advocacy body recommended for protecting residents from high energy bills from retail suppliers.

The “landmark bill,” as dubbed by the state office of the Sierra Club, offers several transportation electrification incentives. It would:

  • Mandate all new passenger vehicle sales in the state to be zero-emission by 2035;
  • Ensure off-peak rates for charging vehicles are available, requiring time-of-use rate proposals from distribution companies; and
  • Provide up to $5,000 in rebates for electric vehicle purchases, with an additional $1,500 for low-income individuals, and additional rates for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.

The bill, which supports the state’s efforts to reduce statewide emissions 50% below 1990 levels by 2030, must be signed by Gov. Charlie Baker, R.

Environmental and clean energy advocacy groups largely welcomed the bill’s passage.

“This bill includes some important steps forward in limiting biomass subsidies and supporting the offshore wind industry,” but it falls short on environmental justice, said Caitlin Peale Sloan, vice president of Conservation Law Foundation Massachusetts.

Groups like the Conservation Law Foundation will be pushing for more progressive measures on decarbonization of buildings and public transportation, and a commitment to move away from fossil fuel sources, in the state’s next two-year legislative session.

“The state needs to take a stronger stand in protecting these communities from air pollution, creating access to an electrified commuter rail, and our leaders must do more to equitably phase out fossil fuels once and for all,” Peale Sloan said.

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The bill is “a huge step toward getting off fossil fuels while growing a local clean energy economy that creates good-paying jobs for the people of Massachusetts,” Jess Nahigian, political director of Sierra Club Massachusetts, said in a statement.

State Sen. Mike Barrett and Rep. Jeff Roy, chairs of a conference committee that resolved the differences between the House and Senate versions of the climate bill, announced a compromise was reached on Wednesday. The two said the Act Driving Clean Energy and Offshore Wind is the state’s response to President Joe Biden’s recent call to action on climate change.