Massachusetts House leaders today are to unveil plans for steering the state away from reliance on fossil fuels and toward embracing renewable energy and alternative fuels.
House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi will file legislation offering financial incentives to cities and towns to rapidly approve permits for the building of so-called “clean” energy generation facilities. It also establishes various programs to make it financially palatable for homeowners to invest in expensive energy efficient products.
Haverhill Democrat Rep. Brian S. Dempsey, the chairman of the House Telecommunications and Energy Committee, helped draft the sweeping proposal, called “The Green Communities Act of 2007.” He said it represents a dramatic change in the state’s energy policy.
With the memory of last October’s Clean Energy Fair in the backs of their minds, and rising concerns over climate change, energy independence and escalating energy costs, Cape Ann residents and business directors have looked forward to Dempsey’s statement.
“I know enough about Dempsey and the new administration to know they’re trying to do something positive,” said Elliott Jacobson, energy director of Action, Inc., in Gloucester. “The problem is trying to match the details with the rhetoric.”
Jacobson said Action, Inc., works to provide energy affordabililty to low-income residents throughout Cape Ann. Action’s energy programs include fuel assistance, weatherization and insulation of houses and energy conservation tips.
“We’re really looking forward to seeing (the bill),” Jacobson said. “What is in this bill could affect us. We hope it affects us positively.”
“In my view,” said Tim Greiner, coordinator of the Cape Ann Climate Change Network, “I think it’s great to provide incentives for renewables, but I’d like to see incentives for energy conservation, too.”
The Cape Ann Climate Change Network is an organization of local residents, businesses and government officials working to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and to minimize emissions of greenhouse gasses.
Greiner said energy conservation is as important as clean energy and pointed to some $200,000 Gloucester schools saved in energy costs last year, simply by tuning appliances, turning off lights and turning down thermostats.
Greiner welcomed any program proffered by the state government that carries incentives.
“We certainly could use the economic stimulus (here in Gloucester,)” he added.
Lori Ribeiro, a senior consultant at Blue Wave Strategies in Boston who has been working to finalize a wind turbine project with Varian Semiconductor in Gloucester, said financial incentives should be the foremost consideration in the energy bill.
According to Ribeiro, there have been at least two major barriers to clean and renewable energy sources. The first was the overriding cost of installing a clean energy source versus purchasing energy from a local energy provider. The second was the difficulties in procuring federal, state, and now local, permits.
But Ribeiro was still hopeful that legislators have made the right stipulations this time around.
Anything that “streamlines and simplifies” the problems of acquiring clean and renewable energy sources is beneficial, she said.
Susan Reid, a staff attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, said the time is right for addressing long-term energy policy.
“We’re in the midst of a perfect storm,” Reid said. “Global warming, energy reliability, unchecked consumer costs that are moving us in the direction of reform. Preferably, that will lead to an increase in energy efficiency and renewable energy.”
A major feature of the bill would encourage cities and towns to approve the permitting of so-called “clean energy” generators within a year. Those facilities include coal gasification plants (converting coal to cleaner natural gas), solar power facilities and wind turbines.
The House bill also would require power companies to buy that power, making it up to 2 percent of their energy portfolio.
In exchange for rapidly approving the construction of new energy facilities, the state would create a $30 million to $50 million fund for low-interest loans and grants to cities and towns to pay for their own energy improvements. They would also be allowed to keep the savings on their energy bills.
Other North of Boston lawmakers, such as Rep. Barry R. Finegold, D-Andover, and Sens. Steven A. Baddour, D-Methuen, and Bruce E. Tarr, R-Gloucester, last year proposed measures aimed at encouraging the use of renewable energy and alternative fuels. Those measures failed to pass the House last year.
Correspondent Sam Carter contributed to this report.
By Edward Mason
Gloucester Daily Times
20 March 2007
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