The senate passed climate legislation this evening. With Senate 2819, we shift from setting goals for the executive branch to direct legislative action. The debate highlighted the limits on the state’s ability to achieve its climate goals and the need for a federal green new deal.
Last year, we set a goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. To get there we need to be 50% below our 1990 emissions by 2030. Currently, we are at about 75% of our 1990 emissions. So, we need to cut our emissions by roughly one third over the next eight years. That is a tall order because much of the easy work has already been done.
The state’s climate plan is basically to shift to green sources of electricity and to electrify everything. That means growing our wind and solar generating capacity, shifting to electric vehicles, and shifting to heat pumps as sources of building heat.
Wind power will be the backbone of our green energy systems. The bill encourages additional wind capacity. This is largely symbolic, because the bill’s language is aspirational, not binding (see note below), and the DOER still has not mandated all the contracts we have authorized it to mandate. Ultimately, we need fifteen gigawatts or more of off-shore wind capacity. We have authorized 5.6 gigawatts and 3.2 is under contract. None is operational yet. One of the barriers will be the electric grid — the grid can only support so much variable generation capacity.
Note on Off-shore Wind Authorizations, Requirements, and Contracts
This note unpacks the statements that (a) the current bill’s language is aspirational; (b) we have authorized 5.6 gigawatts and 3.2 is under contract.
The Department of Public Utilities inventories wind authorization statutes on this page: Section 83 of Chapter 169 of the Acts of 2008, the original Green Communities Act, required distribution companies to solicit renewable energy proposals twice in every five year period. Sections 35 and 36 of Chapter 209 of the Acts of 2012 revised that process and increased the share of total power in a service area that could come from renewables to 4% of demand (the limit apparently reflects concern for the ability of the grid to support the variability of a larger renewable contribution). Section 12 of Chapter 188 of the Acts of 2016 added three new sections to Chapter 169 of the Acts of 2008. New section 83C speaks specifically to off-shore wind contracts and requires that distribution companies (collectively) enter into long-term contracts for an aggregate 1600 megawatts (16MW) of wind capacity by 2027. Section 21 of Chapter 227 of the Acts of 2018 requires the Department of Energy Resources to investigate the feasibility of adding another 1600 megawatts and — if their study recommends it — authorizes DOER to require utilities to enter into another 1600 megawatts worth of wind capacity by 2035. Most recently, Section 91 of Chapter 8 of the Acts of 2021, the Climate Roadmap bill, goes back and amends Section 83C of Chapter 169 of the Acts of 2008 (the text of which may be found in Section 12 of Chapter 188 of the Acts of 2016): The effect is to raise the required amount of capacity for the 2027 target to 4000 megawatts. So as of now, the utilities are by statute required to have a total 4000 megawatts of off-shore wind capacity under contract by 2027 and DOER may require the utilities to add an additional 1600 megawatts by 2035, for a total potential requirement of 5600MW (5.6 gigawatts).
Pursuant to these statutes, the Department of Energy Resources has conducted three rounds of bidding which are documented here. The first round resulted in the 800 megawatt (800MW) Vineyard Wind project. The second round resulted in the 800MW Mayflower Wind project. The third round, completed most recently in December 2021, resulted in an additional 1200MW contract for Vineyard Wind and an additional 400MW contract for Mayflower Wind. Together, these contracts total 3200MW (3.2 gigawatts).
The language in last night’s legislation, added by Amendment #5, is aspirational — it does not actually impose any new requirements on distribution companies or authorize DOER to place new requirements on distribution companies. It simply mandates that DOER “shall strive to achieve the goal of not less than 10,000 megawatts of offshore wind capacity by not later than 2035 . . . if it finds it is necessary to meet the statewide greenhouse gas emissions limits.” This leaves at least four questions open: Whether DOER will deem additional capacity necessary to achieve climate goals; how DOER will respond to the mandate to “strive”; whether utilities will feel that the grid can support additional variable wind capacity; and whether utilities will perceive grid improvements and/or wind capacity additions as in their interest.
Additional background on wind capacity concepts and the green grid here.
The bill also makes adjustments in our solar rules, increasing the cap on residential solar net metering and improving the tax treatment of agricultural land that is also used for solar farms.
All of these measures taken together will have only a modest impact on the trajectory of our alternative energy expansions. We will certainly need executive branch leadership and likely will need to give continued attention to growing alternative energy in future legislation.
Speaking to other possible sources of energy, the bill expands the charter and funding for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. The CEC makes various small and medium investments on behalf of the state to support clean energy innovation.
The bill allows the center to invest in fusion projects, while continuing to prohibit investment in traditional nuclear energy plants using fission. This continued prohibition on investments in fission power, although perhaps politically popular, may be unfortunate: Private capital is pouring into new companies that are experimenting with smaller, safer, cleaner nuclear plants.
The bill speaks to the electrification of our vehicle fleet by modestly increasing the state incentives for purchase of electric vehicles — from $2,500 up to a possible $4,500 for purchase of an electric vehicle with a trade-in of a gas vehicle. Additionally, the bill would require the incentives to be applied at the point of the sale, sparing buyers the paperwork of applying of a rebate. The bill also proposes to prohibit new gas powered vehicle sales after 2035.
These are certainly steps in a necessary direction: Consumer adoption of electric vehicles has been far below the levels needed to achieve our 2030 goals.
Having shopped diligently but unsuccessfully for an electric vehicle for my family, my impression is that manufacturers are not yet supplying the SUVs that most consumers want at affordable prices. Federal and state available subsidies are insufficient to bring attractive vehicles within reach.
However, the global pressure on manufacturers to go electric is huge and we will see many more attractive and affordable vehicles coming on to the market this year and over the coming years. We will need to keep watching the market and the consumer response closely and — unless the federal government steps in with new incentives — we will likely need to consider further incentives in future legislation.
The bill creates and funds an “interagency coordinating council” with a mission to accelerate the build-out of our charging infrastructure. Personally, I’m hopeful that the private sector will get most of this build-out done: The auto industry knows that if it is going to sell the EVs it is planning to manufacture, it will need to follow Tesla’s lead and provide the needed charging stations.
As to public transportation, the bill sets timelines for electrification of buses and trains. Diesel powered public transportation vehicles account for roughly one percent of vehicle emissions, but transit electrification is important to improve urban air quality — diesel exhaust contains many unhealthy particles.
On the heating front, the bill expands the mandate of the Clean Energy Center to cover new sources of building heat, allowing the CEC to invest in experiments with the intriguing concepts of networked heat — possibly supplying geothermal heat through pipes to homes.
The bill also puts pressure on the executive branch to be more aggressive in building code changes that would mandate new residential construction be fossil-free. The administration is in the middle of a rule-making process as to a new optional “stretch” building code for municipalities. The bill would authorize a few municipalities to mandate fossil-free new construction on their own, ahead of the statewide process. The bill also creates more procedural scrutiny for the administration’s planning process as to the future of natural gas utilities.
The conversation about one amendment was uncomfortable: We voted against a proposal to put $1 billion into building energy conversions away from fossil fuel. Most of us recognize the need for a huge acceleration in conversions, but putting $1 billion to that end would make it harder to address many other critical goals like affordable housing and child care. Moreover, $1 billion applied to conversions would not take us close to our 2030 goals — the cost of hitting our 2030 goals just in the building sector could easily reach $25 billion. Funding on that scale has to come from the federal government.
To do its share in arresting climate change, Massachusetts will need to further intensify its efforts. That likely means that in every legislative session, we will need to move climate legislation forward. No doubt we have much more work to do and we will need more federal help.
Popular Amendments from the Debate
Amendments that my constituents reached out about that were adopted include:
#5 Offshore Wind
- Increases aspirational wind capacity to 10 Gigawatts.
#7 Large Building Energy Reporting
- Establishes utility use reporting requirements for large buildings.
#13 Commuter Rail Electrification
- Requires all MBTA commuter rail procurements to be electric by 2031.
#36: Air Quality Bill: Air monitoring and Air Pollution Targets
- Requires the Department of Environmental Protection to convene a technical advisory committee for the purpose of identifying communities with high cumulative exposure burdens for toxic air contaminants and criteria pollutants and reducing air pollution in those communities
#85 EV Off-Peak Rebate
- Provides EV drivers with rebates for charging during off-peak hours and expand time-of-use rates generally.
#114 Pollinator-Friendly Solar Incentive Program
- Provides for the solar incentive program, or any successor programs, to include provisions further incentivizing pollinator-friendly solar installations.
#128 Green and Healthy School Buildings
- Requires an assessment of K-12 school buildings statewide for energy efficiency and environmental health factors. It also requires the development of standards for green and healthy schools based on the assessment, and a plan to help schools meet those standards by 2050.
#131 Smarter Solar Incentive Program
- Amends the provision directing DOER to recommend a successor to the SMART program to include that the recommendations should avoid and minimize impacts to natural and working lands, and valuing biodiversity, climate resilience, and agricultural production and farm viability.