Legislature Gives Clean Energy a Boost
BOSTON – On the last day of July, in the closing hours of the Legislature’s two-year session, negotiators for the Senate and House hammered out agreement on a bill that will boost electricity from solar and wind, get a better handle on natural gas leaks, and create “clean peak” incentives for driving down energy use at the busiest times, when the costliest and dirtiest electric power turns on.
“An Act to Advance Clean Energy” was worked out by a six-member negotiating team led by State Sen. Mike Barrett (D-Lexington) and Rep. Tom Golden (D-Lowell). It drew the unanimous support of the Senate and every vote but one in the House of Representatives.
Barrett said, “This is a good bill. It’s solid. We can take satisfaction in it. But, so long as we face the calamitous effects of climate change, energy policy will continue to involve the highest of stakes. What this legislation does not do is to shift the state’s thinking beyond a current focus on clean electric power and towards other, and even more serious, sources of climate change. It does not give us clean energy in transportation. It does not give us clean energy in our businesses and our homes. This year’s bill is necessary but not sufficient. It’s the most we could get this year, but the Senate will be back next session pushing for more.”
Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland) said, “I am proud of the Senate’s commitment to addressing climate change and leading the way to a clean economy in an equitable way. The energy legislation agreed on today and the environmental bond bill passed yesterday are vital next steps, laying the groundwork for our ongoing efforts to address the realities facing the Commonwealth.”
Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) said, “Massachusetts must continue to make progress on increasing usage of renewable energy and decreasing carbon emissions. This bill does so on several fronts: energy storage, conservation and efficiency and a pathway to more offshore wind power procurement. The progress made here must be the basis for further action in the future.”
The legislation provides protection for solar users by reforming the Monthly Minimum Reliability Contribution (MMRC). Two years ago, the Legislature allowed utilities to charge a monthly fee to solar customers as a contribution to basic system upkeep. A specific form of MMRC proposed by Eversource and approved by the DPU has been widely criticized by legislators, environmental groups and constituents. This week’s new legislation nullifies the Eversource model and sends the utility and the agency back to the drawing board.
To make more headway on addressing the problem of leaky underground gas pipes, the bill requires utilities to report all sources of lost and unaccounted for gas. This will allow the authorities to keep track of unburned methane, which is very harmful to the environment. The bill also allows, in limited cases, waivers of regulatory requirements for projects that reduce such leaks.
The bill increases the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) by 2% per year, starting in 2020. The RPS requires utilities and other suppliers to source a certain percentage of electricity from renewable resources. Currently the RPS stands at 13%. With the 2% per year increase, 36% of Massachusetts’ energy will come from renewable sources by 2030.
The legislation also creates a “clean peak” standard, requiring utilities to acquire a minimum percentage of clean energy during peak hours. This will help drive down the use of dirty energy sources that come online during hours of highest system demand.
In addition, the bill:
• Allows the Governor and his Administration to procure an additional 1600 MW of offshore wind.
• Sets a target of 1000 MWh for implementing innovative battery technology and other means of storing electricity for later use.
• Updates the MassSave program to allow funds to be used for storage and demand management resources.
• Requires electric utilities to produce “heat maps,” showing areas of congestion or constraint in the electric grid.
• Allows utilities to competitively procure “non-wires” alternatives to conventional transmission and distribution infrastructure, in order to address stress on the electric grid.
• Requires the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to study the feasibility of mobile battery storage systems that can provide emergency backup in extreme weather and power outages.
The bill has been sent to the Governor’s desk for his approval.