Since the beginning of my service as a legislator, I have made ending our addiction to fossil fuels a high priority.

Ending our addiction to oil, gas and coal will have a host of benefits:

  • Reducing our economy’s vulnerability to energy price fluctuations
  • Lowering international conflict and military expenditures
  • Cutting local air pollution
  • Keeping dollars in our local economy  instead of exporting them
  • Controlling global warming and climate change
  • Developing local clean energy industries — green jobs

In 2008, I worked hard to help pass the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA), which requires the state to develop and implement a clean energy plan reducing carbon emissions 20% by the year 2020 and 80% by 2050.  The Secretary of Environmental Affairs has created a web page about the Act and the plan at this link.

The plan recognizes that there is no single magic bullet — that we need a portfolio of different kinds of measures to achieve the goal of reducing fossil fuel use dramatically over the next few decades.  The plan provides a thoughtful framework and evaluates the contribution of each measure towards that goal.   I’ve lead sponsored a bill  in the present session to extend and strengthen the planning process created by the Global Warming Solutions Act (House 219).

In the last half of 2010, I participated in a set of conversations convened by the Environmental League of Massachusetts to prioritize further legislative steps towards fossil fuel use reduction.   Those conversations highlighted the need for further legislative action in the following areas and  I have sponsored or cosponsored legislation towards in each area.

  • Cleaning up electricity generation in MA by eliminating coal burning power plants (House 2612 and House 2613 and House 2614)
  • Reducing transportation related emissions
  • More consistently incorporating sustainable development principles in state agency actions (House 1125 — lead sponsor)
  • Improving building energy efficiency
    • Making building energy use a public record so that renters and buyers can more readily evaluate performance (House 1758 — lead sponsor)
    • Promoting energy efficiency
    • Promoting zero net energy buildings (Senate 1665)
    • Creating efficiency programs for oil and propane customers (House 879 — supporting this, but not a listed cosponsor).

Additionally, I am co-sponsoring the following related bills:

For me, the deep question is:  Are we intending to do enough on these issues?  The current state plan is limited mostly to measures which are financially cost-effective.  What is cost-effective depends heavily on one’s belief about energy prices and other uncertain factors.  Have we adequately valued the reduction in vulnerability to energy price fluctuations?  The risks of sharp turns in climate?  The risks of additional conflict over oil resources?

Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone really knows the answers to these questions.  What the analysis does make clear is that we can make lot more investment in clean energy and conservation before we push the envelope of uncertain value.  So, accelerating that investment remains a high policy priority for me.

I am most interested in energy conservation because the returns seem clearest there.  The ongoing nuclear tragedy in Japan highlights the wisdom of a strategy including aggressive conservation measures as contrasted with a strategy that merely shifts energy sources.  Many believe that to meet business as usual levels of electricity demand without fossil fuel we would need to include more nuclear power plants.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

6 replies on “Clean Energy Agenda”

  1. Will, two random thoughts:

    I think, short run, we’re going to see really expensive oil. It was predicted to rise before Libya turned nasty, and Bahrain (neighbor to Saudi Arabia) sounds unsettled. And Japan’s energy consumption will rise because of their several nuclear plants offline.

    Friends who live out in Maynard and Westford, and commute inbound, say that they would like to take the train, but there’s insufficient parking at the stations out there. One answer is “add more parking”, but abutters there (like abutters here) are not fond of that. Another possibility might be to add more bike accommodations, and I gather that the T is adding bike parking to many stations, but are there adequate local routes to get people there? This is not long-haul stuff like trails, but improvements within a mile or two of the station, so that people will have a non-auto choice that is faster than walking. And the cost of parking at the station, then needs to go up, so that local riders will decide to save money and take their bike instead. The hope, obviously, is to cut down on long-haul auto trips, and auto congestion, and to also boost ridership on the T, because they need every dollar they can get. However, this feels like one of those problems were the people who would need to spend the money (the town around the station) only receive a fraction of the benefit (at best, the increased revenues from the parking) and may perceive that they are burdened (people from out of town, using “our parking lot”; or, raise parking prices for “our commuters”). This seems like it would generally be an improvement, but requires more of a regional mindset than seems (to me) to usually be the case around here.

    1. Dave, thanks for these thoughts. Yup. T parking is hard to get towns to add. We’ve gone through this in Belmont.

  2. Will-I share your interest in developing alternative energy sources. I guess it comes with being a product of the 70’s (energy crisis). Thanks for your work in this area. Intersting stuff.

    I have a question and was wondering if you may have some suggestions. I was contemplating solar panels for some of my family’s electical needs. I read that such a conversion would be practical if my major appliances were gas fired. Unfortunately, I have no gas on my street. Gas is available on next block. I contacted the gas company a couple of years ago and they said my neighbors and I could pay to have it brought over ($80/ft). This news killed my interest in the project. I was wondering if there have there been any changes in the tax code that would make it more practical for the utility company to bear the burden for this expense? Best Spencer

    1. Solar panels save electric energy. Step one in saving electric energy is to replace all incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs — that is a huge impact. Once you have done that you should have a load under 500kwh per month. Chances are that you will still want to consider solar — 500kwh per month is a pretty big residential solar installation. The question is whether your roof will allow that much generation — depends on orientation and shading.

      The tax and other incentives for solar are very powerful — 30% uncapped federal tax credit; net metering support from your utility; marketable “Solar Renewable Energy Credits” which can pay back an additional couple thousand dollars per year. There are may be some additional state support available that depends on your electric utility.

      So, if you have the right roof space, it may very well work for you, regardless of gas service. (Running gas service could only mean shifting your appliances away from electric which would reduce the attractiveness of solar.)

      1. Don’t forget (good) LEDs as another alternative. I don’t trust most what’s for sale at the Big Box Stores, and they’re still expensive, but for certain applications (typically, places where you want a really low profile, and/or lights that are on a good chunk of the day) they do pretty well. I’ve done it twice under cabinets in our house; $100 (plus some time with a soldering iron) gets you a pile of light, drawing about 11 watts from the wall.

        I wrote up three relevant posts on my blog.

        Lights #1, least attractive wiring, but hidden behind a face frame:

        Lights #2, carefully glued to a long piece of aluminum:

        Light quality. Color temperature, and mix, matters:

        Their two main disadvantages are cost, and the difficulty of retrofitting into existing sockets (the cooler, the better, and they emit enough heat to reduce their own lifetime without good heat sinking).

        On the plus side, LEDs are durable, long lifetime, no penalty for turning on and off, instant on, better light than compact fluorescents, cool, and low voltage. Also, no mercury.

        It’s also possible to buy pre-assembled strips. Their cost ranges from a little higher, to a lot higher.

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