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Energy bill filed

A revised but sweeping bill to redirect state spending on energy programs and expand incentives for hybrid cars, more energy-efficient buildings and new renewable energy projects was unveiled by House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi yesterday.

The bill received support from both the governor and Senate leaders.

Mr. DiMasi, who is expecting the legislation to be voted on in the House next Thursday, said the bill will start a new era of energy reform in the state and “forever change” the way energy is produced and used.

It calls for a series of tax incentives, public investments and regulatory changes to increase reliance on energy conservation over increased fuel use and purchase of more power from traditional sources, while calling for an overall reduction in energy use in the state by 10 percent over the next 10 years.

It also aims to make it easier to finance energy conservation improvements in homes and businesses and provides for expedited permitting to make it easier to site smaller-scale wind, solar, biomass and other alternative energy projects around the state.

The legislation was initially filed last spring but ran into extensive criticism in its original form, in part from environmental groups worried that it would curb ongoing alternative energy programs and that it did not go far enough to encourage utilities to use more renewable energy sources to meet electricity demand.

Yesterday, however, many of the initial critics lined up in support of the revised measure and both Gov. Deval L. Patrick and Senate President Therese Murray said they support the overall legislation. The plan earned statements of support from the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, NSTAR, National Grid USA, the Northeast Energy Efficiency Council, the Conservation Law Foundation and the Environment Massachusetts organization.

The Green Communities Act calls for the state to set and meet annual total energy reduction targets to comply with the 10 percent energy reduction goal by 2017.

Loans and grants, financed by redirecting a portion of the funds from existing monthly renewable energy charges on residential electric bills, would be made available to cities and towns for municipal energy efficiency projects.

Each year, $3 million from that revenue source would also be set aside for upgrades to existing hydropower dams, and the state would provide at least $5 million in low-interest loans to homeowners making energy efficiency improvements.

Buyers of hybrid vehicles would be eligible for a $2,000 state tax deduction, and the bill would extend tax credits of up to $300 for businesses that install solar hot water systems.

Another feature would establish a state program allowing homeowners and renters to finance energy efficiency improvements with no upfront payments and pay them off with a monthly charge on their electric bills.

A major provision praised by conservationists, and described as the centerpiece of the legislation by state Secretary of Energy and Environment Ian Bowles, would require utilities to consider all available power sources when purchasing electricity, and mandates that they purchase the most cost-effective power. The goal is to force utilities to use energy conservation programs or purchase of power from renewable energy sources before buying more expensive power from traditional sources.

The bill also provides for the state to adopt the international green building code, which Mr. Bowles said would ensure 30 percent energy savings in new buildings.

Other initiatives would require utilities to enter into long-term contracts of 10 to 15 years for purchase of renewable energy, which state officials said would eliminate a problem now facing efforts to build renewable energy facilities in the state.

By John J. Monhan

Telegram & Gazette Staff


9 November 2007