Massachusetts Legislature passes clean energy legislation

Half a loaf is better than nothing but it’s not good enough to get us to the 80% greenhouse gas reduction already called for in state law

On July 31st, the last day of the 2018 legislative session the Massachusetts House and Senate enacted H4756, An Act to Advance Clean Energy, sending it to the Governor for signature. Passage of this legislation caps a dramatic battle to enact legislation that could put us on a path to the 80% reduction in greenhouse gasses required by the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act, and upheld by the state’s highest court in 2016. ECA Mass and our partners in the Mass Power Forward coalition and Massachusetts Climate Action Network tirelessly engaged our members to reach out to their elected representatives on behalf of smart and aggressive clean energy legislation. We were only partially successful.

H4756 includes the following provisions:

  • Boosts the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) requiring electric utilities to increase their supply from renewable sources by 2% annually (up from 1%), but sunsets this provision in 2030.
  • Creates a path for an additional 1600 megawatts of offshore wind, doubling the current commitment.
  • Establishes a 1000 megawatt storage target.
  • Establishes a “clean peak standard” intended relieve the constraint on natural gas and minimize the use of fuel oil and LNG during periods of peak demand.
  • Expands energy efficiency offerings through the MassSave program.
  • Calls on DPU and utilities to quantify gas leaks. Senator Barrett credits pressure from our coalition partners Mothers Out Front for inclusion of this measure.

Important provisions are missing. From our perspective, the most glaring omission is the absence of a “clean energy roadmap” that could validate the most environmentally and economically advantageous pathway to an 80% reduction in climate pollution by 2050. This is a “no brainer” provision that would at little cost help us to define the most advantageous path to a clean energy future.

Other measures that weren’t addressed are:

  • No increase in net metering caps that would enable some community and commercial solar panel installations to sell surplus power back to the grid
  • No advancement of carbon pricing
  • No environmental justice provisions
  • No ban on pipeline taxes

The legislation was received favorably by the utility industry and other business stakeholders, who liked its measured and incremental approach.  In general, the climate advocacy community expressed disappointment that this incremental approach is far short of what will be needed to move our economy toward sustainability and environmental justice.

Arnie Epstein of the ECA Mass Leadership Team said “Unfortunately the outcome was not unexpected.  We need a Clean Energy Roadmap or we will continue to have disjointed views from the House, Senate, and Executive branches of state government.”

Senator Marc Pacheco, one of the conferees and architect of the more aggressive and comprehensive Senate bill, took a measured approach in his response to the H4756, but made it clear that there is much work yet to be done:

 “The day after the session ends, my office will be beginning again to pull together clean energy legislation for the next session, because we need to do it if we want to save ourselves from the worst effects of global climate change, and we need to do it if we are going to have a better future for our environment, for our public health and for the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink.”

Representative Frank Smizik, who championed the Clean Energy Roadmap and other key provisions in the House, expressed extreme disappointment, and ultimately voted against H4756. “It’s terrible,” Smizik told the State House News Service, echoing complaints about the bill from environmental advocacy groups. Smizik said utilities too often were able to influence the bill’s final details.

Senator Pacheco said that work on the next bill, including talks with advocates, will begin immediately.  Once ECA Mass  and our coalition partners complete an analysis of H4756, we will develop a set of principles for what must be included in subsequent legislation.