Just one day after President Joe Biden visited the closed Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset to talk about climate change and the administration’s plans to take action, the state Legislature took action of its own — on July 21 passing what is being touted as a “sweeping clean energy bill.
The bill, which compromises between plans separately developed by the Senate and House, bolsters green transportation, green buildings, and clean power production, including offshore wind, solar, storage and networked geothermal.
A major aim of the bill is to reduce energy waste, and lay the groundwork for buildings and transportation to work on clean energy.
Legislators said the bill also creates “thousands of new jobs and economic benefits.”
As of July 22, the bill was awaiting the signature of Gov. Charlie Baker. He has until July 31 to take action. In the meantime, and leaders from Environment Massachusetts (https://environmentmassachusetts.org/) are planning to gather in front of the State House on July 26 at 11 am to urge positive action on the bill.
to a release from Beacon Hill, the new climate legislation stands on the foundation of the Next Generation Climate Roadmap bill passed earlier this session — a bill that, the release states, “overhauled the state’s climate laws by putting Massachusetts on a path to reach net-zero limit on greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.”
Climate action has been a top priority for state Rep. Jeffrey Roy, D-Franklin, and state Sen. Michael Barrett, D-Lexington, who co-chair the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy.
“Massachusetts has an opportunity to meet the urgency of the climate crisis through our nation-leading innovation, workforce, and energy resources,” said Roy.
He praised the legislation as a “timely and comprehensive” plan that is “carefully calibrated to provide a portfolio of robust clean energy, including offshore wind, and de-carbonize our largest-emitting industries, all while attracting a world-class supply chain, intensive workforce training initiatives, and the investment necessary to prepare our electric distribution system for the energy needs of the future.”
Barrett said the changes legislators are after “make for an unusually long list, because they track the lengthening list of concerns our constituents bring to us.”
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“The climate problem takes many forms, and with this bill we respond in kind,” he said. “People worried about the issue will find grounds for hope here.”
Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, said reaching the net-zero carbon emissions goal by 2050 “will require us to take the important steps outlined in this legislation to expand our clean energy capacity, encourage the adoption of electric vehicles, reduce emissions from buildings, and foster high-paying, green jobs for our workforce.”
Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts, also has praise for the bill — the organization works for clean air, water, and energy, wildlife and open spaces, and a livable climate.
“President Biden said (July 20) that when it comes to fighting climate change, he won’t take no for an answer,” he said. When the legislature voted on the climate bill on Thursday, he continued, Massachusetts answered “yes” to climate action.
While the bill won’t get the state all the way to 100% clean energy, Hellerstein conceded “it will take several big steps in the right direction.
Following are some of the highlights.
Incentivizing offshore wind
To incentivize the development of the offshore wind industry in Massachusetts, the legislation establishes a Massachusetts Offshore Wind Industry Investment Program, administered by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC).
This consists of annual tax incentives, grants, loans, and other investments through the fund, and assistance from MassCEC in accessing other state or federal economic investment programs. It also creates the Massachusetts Offshore Wind Industry Investment Trust Fund, which can be used to promote the manufacture, fabrication, and assembly of domestic supply chain components of the offshore wind industry; stimulate increased financing for permanent manufacturing facilities; advance clean energy research, technology, and innovation, and; prepare individuals for offshore wind careers by supporting workforce training at a range of educational institutions and through regional employment boards.
With the goal of making the Massachusetts offshore wind bidding process more competitive, the legislation modifies the price cap to set clear criteria to allow for offshore wind project proposals that are cost-effective and promote economic development. Under this legislation, the price cap will be removed if three or more offshore wind developers submit bids, and if less than three companies bid a modified price cap would remain in place.
Preference will be given to bids that invest in local manufacturing, provide employment opportunities for underrepresented populations, and mitigate environmental impacts. Ultimately, a contract would only be approved if deemed cost-effective and beneficial to ratepayers.
The legislation also establishes a commercial fisheries commission to provide input on best practices for avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating impacts to wildlife related to offshore energy generation and transmission.
Shining a light on solar energy
To support the advancement of solar power, the bill permits agricultural and horticultural land to be used to site solar panels as long as they do not impede the continued use of the land for agricultural or horticultural use, eliminates the so-called “donut hole” for on-site solar energy net metering to promote residential solar, and loosens the so-called single parcel rule to help expand solar on sites where it already exists.
In addition to wind and solar power, the bill addresses other innovative sources of clean energy such as fusion and geothermal. Acknowledging the harmful health and environmental impacts of utility-scale biomass power plant facilities, this legislation removes biomass from the list of energy-generating sources that are allowed to receive certain state incentives for generating clean electricity.
The legislation also modernizes Massachusetts’ electrical grid and energy storage infrastructure. It requires utility companies to proactively upgrade the transmission and distribution grid to improve reliability and resilience and accommodate the anticipated significant shift to renewable forms of energy.
As the transportation sector is the largest source of fuel emissions in Massachusetts, the bill takes steps to encourage the use of electric vehicles, including expanding and codifying the state’s MOR-EV electric vehicle incentive program into statute, which provides rebates to individuals who purchase electric vehicles.
Under the bill, the rebate amount will increase by $1,000, to $3,500 for passenger cars and light-duty trucks. Moreover, electric vehicle purchasers who trade in their emission-producing vehicles will be eligible for an additional incentive of $1,000.
The program may include a point-of-sale rebate model for individual purchases that offers consumers savings at the point of purchase or lease. The bill also makes used vehicles eligible for rebates.
Further, the bill directs the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to conduct an outreach campaign to promote awareness about the MOR-EV program among consumers and businesses in underserved and low-income communities, as well as in communities with high proportions of high- emission vehicles.
To expand access to electric vehicle charging stations, this bill convenes an interagency coordinating council to develop and implement a charging infrastructure deployment plan in an equitable and comprehensive manner.
The Department of Public Utilities (DPU) would be required to set vehicle electrification and greenhouse gas emission requirements for electric vehicles for transportation network companies. In addition, to ensure that zero-emission vehicle charging remains affordable for consumers, the bill requires all electricity companies to submit proposals to DPU for how they will offer reduced electricity rates for consumers who charge their zero-emission vehicles at off-peak times.
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Finally, the bill takes historic steps to address emissions that come from MBTA bus fleets. Starting in 2030, this bill requires every passenger bus that is purchased or leased by the MBTA to be a zero-emission vehicle.
By the end of 2040, the MBTA will be required to operate exclusively zero-emission vehicles. Underserved and low-income communities would be prioritized for the equitable deployment of these zero-emission buses.
To tackle the difficult issue of emissions from the building sector, the bill creates a 10-municipality demonstration project allowing all-electric building construction by local option. Participating municipalities must receive local approval before applying into the demonstration project.
The measure has two important provisos: first, each community must first meet certain affordable housing or multifamily development thresholds; and second, each must exempt life sciences labs and health care facilities from the all-electric requirement.
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The bill makes targeted enhancements to the Mass Save program, which provides rebates and incentives for owners and renters related to efficient appliances and other home energy improvements.
Under the bill, priority for Mass Save projects will be given to those that maximize net climate, environmental, and equity impacts. Beginning in 2025, Mass Save funds will also be limited in most instances from going to any fossil fuel equipment.
This bill requires DPU to conduct an adjudicatory proceeding prior to approving any company-specific plan under the DPU’s future of heat dates. In addition, the bill requires DPU to convene a stakeholder working group to develop regulatory and align recommendations for how Massachusetts can best align the Commonwealth’s gas system enhancement program with the state’s 2050 net-zero goal.
The working group must submit its final recommendations to the Legislature by July 31, 2023.