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Wide-ranging bill aims to promote wind, water power sources and curb harmful greenhouse gases

After months of negotiations with Governor Deval Patrick and business and environmental groups, House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi and legislative leaders are unveiling a sweeping bill today to promote energy conservation and innovation.

The wide-ranging bill would require the state by 2020 to quintuple – to 20 percent – the percentage of electricity it generates from renewable sources such as wind, hydroelectric, and crop-based fuels while cutting emissions of climate-affecting greenhouse gases by 20 percent.

Several new measures would provide financial incentives and reduce red tape and paperwork for homeowners and businesses that install solar panels, wind turbines, and super-efficient basement-based devices that produce both heat and electrical power. Massachusetts residents buying fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles could qualify for a $2,000 deduction on their state income taxes.

The bill would require utilities to pay customers to install energy-conserving measures. The utilities would pay for such measures only when the measures cost less per unit of electricity than it would cost the utility to purchase power from generators.

The provision, a priority of Patrick’s, could lead to utilities paying for hundreds of millions of dollars more in efficiency measures like replacement lightbulbs and appliances and weatherproofing for Massachusetts homeowners, businesses, and institutions.

The 106-page bill heavily reworks the Green Communities Act that the speaker floated 11 months ago.

The new plan is being rolled out by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Energy just 13 days before the end of this year’s legislative session. It isn’t expected to be taken up by the House until next week, DiMasi aides said.

In an interview, DiMasi said he is hopeful that because so many of the bill’s terms have been negotiated in compromises with Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray, other legislative leaders, Attorney General Martha Coakley, and several business and environmental groups, it could earn quick approval.

“When this bill is passed, this will be the shining moment of this year’s legislative session,” DiMasi said. “I think this is the signature accomplishment of the year.”

State Senator Michael W. Morrissey, a Quincy Democrat who is co-chairman of the legislative energy panel along with Representative Brian Dempsey of Haverhill, said, “We think we have a great product. It’s important now to move the bill ahead to members of the House and Senate and get it to the governor’s desk later this year or early next year.”

Asked about the likelihood Murray would push the bill through the Senate in the next two weeks, Morrissey said, “I can’t say she’s in 100 percent agreement with what’s going on, but I think we’re very close to agreement, subject to the input of my colleagues.” Murray had no comment yesterday.

Patrick’s energy and environmental affairs secretary, Ian A. Bowles, who plans to speak at a State House event introducing the bill this morning, said, “This legislation reflects the governor’s top priorities on energy efficiency and renewable energy, and reflects a lot of cooperation between the administration and the speaker. The public is ready for bold steps on renewable energy and efficiency.”

The DiMasi-backed plan would:

Set up a new consumer advocate in Coakley’s office to represent consumers in utility rate cases.

Amend state corporation law to require mergers involving Massachusetts utilities be approved by the state Department of Public Utilities.

Require that total energy consumed in Massachusetts be cut 10 percent by 2017.

Replace the Division of Energy Resources with a new Department of Clean Energy to manage hundreds of millions of dollars in energy efficiency and conservation programs.

Change state law to allow utilities – which now are restricted to signing only one-year energy supply deals – to sign some 10- and 20-year contracts that could be crucial for wind farms and other renewable-energy projects to get financing.

The bill is drawing support from business groups, utilities, and advocacy organizations such as the Conservation Law Foundation, Environment Northeast, and Environment Massachusetts. “It’s very, very exciting,” said Frank Gorke, director of Environment Massachusetts.

Robert J. Rio, vice president of environmental programs for Associated Industries of Massachusetts, which represents about 7,000 businesses and employers, said businesses are excited that the bill would make more funding available to them to pay for energy-saving measures.

“It’s a good bill,” Rio said. “We want to work to get it passed.”

By Peter J. Howe

The Boston Globe

8 November 2007