Energy compromise by state disappoints some

Combined Sources
Monday, August 01, 2016

A last-minute compromise energy bill approved late Sunday night will require utilities to procure large quantities of hydro­electric and offshore wind power to meet the state’s energy demand in the coming years.

Yet liberal factions of the Senate were upset with the compromise and were threatening to vote against the deal, although it passed on a voice vote there. In the House, there were not enough dissenting votes to stop the bill.

“We made a step forward; we needed a leap forward,” said Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst. “We will have to revisit this next session.”

The bill was more than just a procurement of large-scale hydro and wind power, said Rep. Thomas Golden of Lowell, the co­chairman of the Energy Committee, pointing to sections that also encourage small hydro with dams and energy storage.

“This should be a celebration,” Golden said. “This is the beginning to having a greener energy future for the commonwealth.”

The bill, according to Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, calls for the procurement of 1,600 megawatts of both offshore wind and hydropower that would likely be imported from Canada or upstate New York. It was less than the 2,000 megawatts sought by the Senate but more than the 1,200 megawatts included in the House version.

Downing said the bill also contains language promoting gas leak repairs and the development of energy storage technology, but it does not include Senate language increasing the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS), which requires utilities to obtain a minimum amount of their electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind.

“This was a historic piece of legislation that opens the door to the first commercially scaled wind farm,” said George Bachrach, executive director of the Environmental League of Massachusetts. “It further diversifies our energy portfolio away from fossil fuels toward wind and hydro. For those of us who believe we don’t need additional natural gas from pipelines, that diversification and added energy capacity is critical.”

Without dealing with the ongoing need to lift the cap on solar net metering, to create incentives to increase home energy efficiency or to boost the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards as a way of pressuring utilities to raise their renewable energy procurements, Bachrach added, “That simply means we have more work to do.”

The Senate had proposed to double the current rate of growth in the RPS standard from 1 percent a year to 2 percent a year, but the section was dropped from the final compromise.

The conference committee also dropped Senate­backed language that would have banned utilities from seeking rate increases from customers to front the cost of building new natural gas pipelines.

The omission, according to sources, has contributed to the anger and frustration among some senators who oppose the expansion of natural gas and sought the protections for consumers.

The compromise was viewed by some as short of comprehensive energy bill that had been promised earlier in the session.

“There’s definitely going to be an energy bill next year,” said one senior ranking Senate official, who acknowledged that senators were being asked to put aside their disappointment in order to get something done before the midnight deadline.

Many senators, including Downing, had hoped to see the Legislature go further this session to promote energy efficiency and other strategies that they view as critical to meeting demand and the state’s clean energy and carbon emission reduction mandates.

The conference committee also adopted the House’s preferred language that would exclude the long­fought, controversial Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound from bidding for the long­term offshore wind contracts.

It did include language for the state Department of Energy Resources to provide energy storage systems, weaker than a Senate provision encouraging utilities to purchase energy storage systems to maximize the value of the intermittent renewable technologies like solar or wind.

Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, called the compromise “adequate. It’s a good step in the right direction. I wish we could have done more with solar.”

Mass Power Forward, a statewide coalition of more than 150 environmental, social justice and community groups, businesses, and faith organizations, said that while the compromise “represents vital progress on offshore wind, gas leaks, and other key issues … it is not as bold as it needs to be in light of the climate crisis.” The bill fails to include Senate provisions that would have increased the renewable energy portfolio standard and banned the so-called “pipeline tax,” which requires electric ratepayers to subsidize new gas pipelines.