Climate Legislation in 2022

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. 

Please see also this post on the issue of grid reliability as we go green.

Published by Will Brownsberger

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

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44 Comments

  1. Impressive effort and a great boat to existing progress Will! Yes, more to do to hit the goal. Thank you for all you do.

  2. Utterly delusional. I don’t know what would be worse, if in a quiet moment you told me you knew of course that this was all utter madness, or if, you actually believe what you write here. But let me propose an experiment. For the next seven days, when you get up in the morning, just before sunrise, check the wind velocity. Chances are it will be 4-8 MPH tops. There is no sun to speak of. There is nothing coming from all of your foolish windmills. Where is our electricity coming from? Oh, nevermind. Go back to your delusions.

    1. It’s better than a delusion, but there are definitely cracks in the vision . . . variability in wind and solar generation, which you point to and I acknowledge above, is a big one. The large costs of building retrofits, which I also acknowledge, is another. Whether we will surmount those challenges is an open question. I do not minimize those challenges.

      Of course, one easy strategy to addressing variability is to preserve some fossil generating capacity. If we use it two weeks out of the year when all else fails — dark, cloudy, but calm winter weeks — it won’t contribute much to total emissions.

      1. So far between the state and the federal governments energy policies and state senate votes my household energy costs have just about doubled and I hold you personally responsible for the states mishaps especially regarding our limited supply of natural gas.
        I wonder how long it will take to build enough alternative energy resources to enable our state to charge all of the electric cars you are planning on being in use over the next 15 years or even if it is possible.
        I wonder if the financial sacrifices we citizens make will do anything regarding climate change with India and China lagging behind us in reducing their use of fossil fuel or are we suffering for no real gain.
        Now, I do not know about the reality of climate change but I do not want to take the risk if it is real so I agree that something must be done but so far the state and the federal government just cannot balance our citizens needs for affordable energy while transitioning to alternative energy and that is why so many people are in a financial bind now and I wonder how sorry our politicians are for their dumb policy votes

        1. See the WEF 2030 agenda….it will make more sense. These are authoritarian policies dressed up like responsible legislation.

      1. Sure Sarah…help me out here. Will of course always avoids real engineering, real numbers. How many windmills are you going to need to replace Seabrook? (Not SOME of the time, ALL of the time?) My real numbers estimate six rows stretching from Boston to Nova Scotia, backed up by many cubic MILES of batteries for the long stretches they are down. Remember, you have to feather the wind mills in high winds. Ever engineered anything used in a offshore marine environment? These 300’+ windmills will have a useful life of maybe, maybe 20 years of service. Where are you mining the lithium for your batteries? Is that a “renewable” activity? And on and on… Delusions, just delusions.

  3. Thanks for the update…. Up to $4,500 in subsidies for purchase of electric cars… And what, if any, support for purchase of bicycles, e-bikes, scooters?

      1. Hi Will, this is an extremely bad take. I really have to challenge this statement and strongly urge you to reconsider this opinion. We can all agree that $60k > $3k, but affordability is more complicated than that. Affordable to whom is the real question. At this time EV ownership all but requires home ownership and off-street parking for charging infrastructure, good credit, and the willingness/ability to maintain a fairly high monthly payment on the vehicle. Additionally, even without the cost of paying for gas the annual maintenance and upkeep costs for these vehicles is quite high. In short, the only folks this policy really benefits are those who could likely afford to go out and purchase an EV already. While micro-mobility devices like ebikes, scooters, etc. obviously cost less than cars, options for financing are limited and the large upfront cost (relative to an “acoustic” bike/scooter at least) is burdensome and often unattainable for many who would otherwise benefit from owning one. You can already drive off a car lot after putting $0 down, but try doing that with an ebike… For the proposed amount of incentives granted for EVs you could literally be giving away top of the line cargo ebikes to any families of any economic background who wants one. Not only does a device like a cargo ebike not require home ownership or a special charging station, but it will be able to effectively replace many car trips in urban/suburban areas, reduce congestion and improve safety on our roadways, and improve parking in urban centers. Furthermore, compared to EVs and conventional motor vehicles these devices reduce the significant road-wear caused by large and extremely heavy EVs, and more effectively utilizes the rare earth resources used in batteries—any guesses how many ebike batteries can be made from the resources used in a single EV battery? This isn’t to say we shouldn’t incentivize people to opt for EVs over gasoline or diesel powered vehicles, but that to do that at the expense of providing access to versatile modes of personal mobility *that are not cars* is extremely shortsighted and ultimately a backwards approach to combatting climate change.

          1. Good to hear. I would add to R. Bennett’s incisive analysis that such subsidies could be particularly helpful for 16-30 years in providing a substitute that diminishes need for their first purchase of a car… perhaps forestall it until EV prices have come down a lot and electricity production is far less dirty.

  4. thank you for this great summary. I am glad that the possibility of a few municipalities banning new fossil fuel infrastructure was in – Hoping Cambridge is one,and wish every municipality that wanted to could try. Glad to see the other amendments, especially the district geo-grids for ground source heating .

  5. Thank you. Every action is necessary. So glad you are part of the solution. If only we all do what we can…

  6. Any specific suggestions as to how to get the Federal Gov’t to commit to large actions?

  7. Thank you for all your hard work; it’s a big important step forward. As the new owner of a plug in hybrid, ( took 4 months for the car to arrive and yes, more rebates needed to make it more accessible) there are so few chargers available especially the further you get from Belmont. I work right next to the Lottery building on the South Shore, they have a charger but they’ve never activated it! So disappointing! Yes the private sector should address this, but we need some mandates too, like availability at all schools and public buildings to start with. Apart from the cost of installing them, there should be no further costs if people are paying for the charging?

    1. I don’t believe in unfunded state mandates. Look what it done to property taxes look at public school costs. a disaster in progress. Since EVs don’t pay gas tax, I think there should be a mileage traveled tax on them with the revenue earmarked for charging infrastructure. That data could be collected at auto inspection time.

  8. How is the federal government going to help when it’s already over 30 trillion dollars in debt?

  9. I was a big fan of the electric vehicle until I understood the devastation the mining of rare earth minerals that go into the batteries. Also, they should really be called coal/gas powered vehicles since they ultimately rely on a power plant. Another consideration is the loss if freedom of movement of the individual. Very easy to control electric grid or shut off the ability for these EV cars to operate. An authoritarian’s dream.

    1. I agree with Mark above. Nothing we do is without consequences, and yet it is always presented as a “have your cake and eat it too” proposition. Americans want big SUVs—well, won’t those use more resources to build, run and charge than a smaller car? Yet automakers are all focusing on the luxury market which your average person cannot afford. And people wonder why everyone isn’t adopting EVs. Don’t get me started on public transportation. Although your worry about control of the grid for nefarious purposes is probably about the same as our slavish reliance on fossil fuels when big oil can raise their prices at will.

      As long as we base our response to the climate crisis as an economic opportunity for people to make money and not a necessary paradigm change for the common good, I fear it is hopeless.

  10. We need to start somewhere. Something about “the perfect being the enemy of the good”. Obviously, these efforts need to extend federally and globally. Our future and that of our children depend on it.

  11. Today’s priority should be surviving inflation. The poor and lower middle class are suffering.
    What should be done is suspend the sales tax, gas tax and meal tax for the rest of this year.
    The environment profiteers and the panic peddlers can wait.

    1. I think there should be an exemption for the first $7.50 for the meals tax to get the restaurant industry back on it’s feet. I think the gas tax suspension drives the wrong behavior, Instead have a gas tax rebate on the income tax.

  12. I’m thrilled that Commuter Rail Electrification amendment made it through! Can’t happen soon enough. Thank you Senator or the update.

  13. Maybe gaping holes in the vision? We need serious storage capabilities for renewables and a solid baseload power infrastructure that does not appear to be realistically considered, including the need for smaller more efficient fission facilities, synthetic efuels and natural gas (for a transitional period). Are you prepared to fly long distances in a plane with batteries? Will the trucking and construction industries be willing to wait 4 hours to charge batteries – and will consumers be willing to pay for those added costs? And what about shipping? In ten years, when the batteries lose their functional capacities, it will be difficult and costly to completely recycle the products. There will be waste disposal issues that may not be evident for decades. Will mining operations for the metal supply of batteries be monitored in other countries? Coordinating with a unified national and international strategy is critical. The ban on natural gas will hurt the commercial and industrial growth in those communities who decide to go “fossil fuel-free”. There will be opportunity for communities that do not participate to grow their tax base. Glad to see provisions for “networked geothermal”, another term for networked ground source heat pump systems. Ground source is far more efficient than air source heat pumps.

  14. We need to expand the availability of electric-fueled boilers (heat pump or otherwise). This would allow folks who prefer (and have) radiant heating systems to convert from fossil fuels to electricity by replacing their boiler in their existing system.

  15. #13 Commuter rail electrification needs an overhaul. I think the radial lines in and out of Boston need to be converted to Light rail. We have 6 car trains every 2 hours. It would make more sense to a “streetcar” every 20 minutes than one train every 2 hours. The only difference between what we did in 1922 and 2022 is those trains were more frequent but used coal as a fuel source. Only solves the carbon problem, not the mobility problem.

  16. Thank you for this excellent summary and discussion. I share your concerns about eliminating nuclear fission.

  17. 1. I’m glad this might be a step forward in general for climate awareness.

    2. You would get a much greater reduction of CO2 output and energy demand by spending more on education, fighting overconsumption, reducing waste and finding efficiencies.

    3. I’m concerned that wind is just carrot to dole out with the net benefit being the transaction. At one point Mass Audubon estimated over 6,000 annual bird deaths for the failed Cape Wind project. I hope someday the technology to mix wind with sea air works. I hope it provides more than token Watts and the opportunity for an industry to cut its teeth on my dime. Senator Kennedy’s death gives wind new life. I’m not rich. I don’t have a house on the shore but I’m thankful for public access to the seashore where I can look out at the unspoiled ocean and feel free and not caged in by a wind farm.

    1. I mean yeah if off-shore wind in Southern New England will honestly, significantly reduce our global carbon footprint.

      There’s also nuclear.

      I shouldn’t harsh on anything that will reduce our dependence on the poisonous burning of fossil fuels.

      Especially when a part of free Europe is burning and the silence of nations, countries we call friends or at least have relations with are literally freeing Putin’s hand to lay waste to a country unwilling to be his puppet.

      “[MA]…is among the 10 states with the lowest energy consumption on a per capita basis, in part because the state’s economy relies on less energy-intensive service industries.21 Massachusetts uses less energy to produce a dollar of gross domestic product (GDP) than all but two other states, New York and California.22

      The transportation sector leads Massachusetts’ end-use energy consumption, accounting for about one-third of total state use. However, the residential sector and the commercial sector consume almost as much at slightly less than three-tenths each. The industrial sector uses about one-tenth.” -https://www.eia.gov/state/analysis.php?sid=MA

  18. If you’ve never had a chance to take a class with Mark Crsipin Miller at NYU, here is an interview he did yesterday that will give you a front row seat. He speaks about propaganda around the “climate change” narrative, among other issues. He reminds me of my favorite Professor from my years at Boston College, the Honorable John Heineman, who taught us about the propaganda that was used leading up to and during WW1 and WW2..

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTDvTCIU_aI

    1. I believe that you hit the nail on its head, many environmentalists use scare tactics and the politicians follow their lead without looking for a real solution to the problem.

  19. The work is not done, as you say, but this week’s work by the Legislature produced a big step forward.

    I appreciate all that you contributed to that ‘big step’ and also your determination to to keep improving on the present state of climate action.

    The work of democracy is not for the weak of heart–or for those who easily toss out charges of ‘delusion’ as criticism. Many of us appreciate your serious and thoughtful commitment to a clean energy future, your sense of urgency about getting there and your recognition that planning the journey to that future needs to be done both with a sense of idealism and urgency and with a some practical awareness of what can be done, right now.

    Our job as citizen advocates for that Clean Energy Future is not to be complacent about the ‘right now,’ but to urge the Legislature to the achieve the next level of effective action. I sense that there are many in the Legislature who share that sense of urgency and who know full well that the work done to date is good but unfinished. And we are fortunate to have a Legislature that has not rested on past laurels but continues to seek to strengthen our collective response to the perils of Global Warming.

    Thank you, Will.

  20. Observed onshore precipitation changes after the installation of offshore wind farms

    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s42865-020-00012-7

    If we’re worried about climate change reverse media consolidation. Stop the destabilization of governments and supporting kleptocracies and oligarchies to artificially depress the cost of oil. Probably the main thing we’re doing to slow climate change is to suppress development other countries.

    By the way Mariupol is gone. Wiped off the map. Literally.

    “About half of Massachusetts’ GDP comes from finance, insurance, real estate, rental, and leasing; professional and business services; and state and local governments. Overall, private service-providing industries account for more than three-fourths of state GDP.23” https://www.eia.gov/state/analysis.php?sid=MA

  21. With Senator Manchin being the perfect fossil fuel point man for regulatory capture what meaningful help will come from the feds?

    Regarding charging infrastructure, the private sector (including utilities?) should probably do the bulk of it, but there are holes the state should fill.

    The best charging model is the Tesla Supercharger model except for the critical problem of vendor lock in. In general, my experience renting electric Konas from the Waltham Enterprise and driving them to Vermont is that the charging industries resemble far too much Silicon Valley startups and not enough serious infrastructure companies.

    First, I had an initial frustration and fear of stranding in that the default payment method is through smart phone apps. To avoid e-waste and to run only Free and Open Software where possible, I have an old phone only able to access the F-Droid app store not google play, so that option mostly didn’t work for me. Once I ordered their contactless cards I was happy, but the bad first impression might be red meat for the fossil fuel propagandists.

    Worse, particularly with fast chargers, there’s a reliability problem, which seems especially bad when it’s cold, when the fast charges are most needed. You can see this as well as the charge station inequity by ethnic neighborhood by looking at the charge map from plugshare.com from time to time.

    Finally, the distribution of chargers is haphazard and suboptimal. E.g. there are several level 2 chargers in Erving that are always available, but what is there to do there after the Carriage House and the Chocolate Store close other than see the Mill River and the nice little park they have? From there pan over to the Chestnut Hill Mall with its couple of EVgo dc chargers: EVs roaming around like jackals waiting for the leopard to give up the kill, skinny bearded men sitting in the mall at their macbooks waiting for one to free up, etc.

    The state should study and monitor charging coverage gaps, fill gaps, and standardize payment systems. The building I’m moving to in Springfield (will miss having you as my Senator) will move to washing machines that take credit cards instead of vendor cards for our convenience. Why can’t Chargepoint, EVgo, SemaConnect, Blink, etc. do as much? Is it because their business is bound up with smartphone apps that collect and sell location data? Can the state help make Tesla or future Rivian charge infrastructure usable by all kinds of EV model? I thought Elon Musk promised to open up, but the statement was vague enough that it could be covered by only letting Aptera use Supercharges if they ever release that sweet two seater with the onboard solar panels. Or it might have been a 420 moment. Could the state horse trade with electric utilities to give them a good business running chargers, with the obvious benefits to them, in exchange for having them not fight generation competition from individual homeowners with solar panels? When the charging companies start consolidating, some going out of business, might the state have a role tidying up the carnage and ensuring continuity?

  22. Again. This is good, but global shipping accounts for 3% of the world’s CO2 emissions and growing, and will increase by 50% by 2050- MIT, so to get a better bang for the buck let’s find ways to get the amoral white-collard minions in the financial district to keep adding moral responsibility into the bottom-line; keep teaching liberal arts and sciences, because technocrats can be tools; and every time I hear that the consumer is going to “bail us out” I pinch my nose at the hubris.

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