The state Senate yesterday unanimously passed an energy bill that would force utilities to invest in conservation when it is less costly than buying more power, have the state buy more energy-efficient vehicles and help local governments and homeowners pay for energy-saving programs.
The legislation, which also includes incentives for development and marketing of power from renewable energy sources, was first proposed by House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi last year and redrafted with input from the Senate and Gov. Deval L. Patrick. It is expected to be approved by the House tomorrow before being sent to the governor for his review.
The bill, which got broad support from environmental groups after several key provisions were changed, also calls for the state to get at least 15 percent of its electricity from clean, renewable energy sources by 2020.
It also puts the governor and state energy and environment secretary in a position to oversee spending for renewable energy projects from a fund that comes from a surcharge on residential energy bills. Until now an independent agency has distributed those funds.
Advocates from Environment Massachusetts said the “least cost procurement” provisions – that would require the use of conservation programs when they are cheaper than buying electricity from power plants – would dramatically increase investment in energy efficiency across the state.
The legislation also calls for the state to update building codes to international efficiency standards, and to start a program to help homeowners, neighborhoods, cities and towns more readily afford small-scale energy generation and energy conservation projects. One provision would allow homeowners and renters to purchase renewable energy systems for their homes with no upfront costs and pay them off in monthly installments on their utility bill.
Not all the provisions were backed by environmentalists. Some objected to parts of the bill that would allow utilities to use ratepayer funds for financial incentives to develop electrical generation from coal gasification. Critics said the process may increase greenhouse gas emissions.
State Sen. Marc R. Pacheco, D-Taunton, who has proposed other legislation to cap and gradually reduce global-warming emissions, said legislation on the state level cannot replace better energy policy on the national level. He blamed the Bush administration for failing to develop alternative energy.
“If the oil men vacate the White House, we may have an energy policy that makes sense for the future of America, and what makes sense is to become independent of foreign oil and fossil fuels and getting us into a position where we can become competitive again,” Mr. Pacheco said. “It is an environmental issue and an economic issue.”
He said the state should support production of biofuels such as ethanol and other alternatives as supported in the legislation, but he criticized what he called “subsidies for coal” in the bill. “I’m going to have to swallow it, I guess, because it is one piece of a bill that has so many good pieces,” he said.
Sen. Michael R. Knapik, R-Westfield, complained the state was ignoring the need for more power supplies.
“Give me a break,” he said in response to Mr. Pacheco’s comments. “The oilman in the White House? We point the finger? My constituents are paying $4 a gallon for gas. There is nothing in the bill that is going to help them,” he said, arguing new conventional energy sources were needed and not being encouraged.
“Let’s not go crazy with the accolades and patting ourselves on the back. God forbid we drill,” he said, arguing for more domestic oil drilling. Mr. Knapik also complained about opposition and delays in development of a proposed wind turbine farm in Nantucket Sound that would provide clean power to Cape Cod.
“Wind power – God forbid, we help the Cape. We can’t even get that right,” Mr. Knapik said.
He said the state has the highest electric rates in the nation and there is serious worry about heating costs next winter. “This legislation does nothing to drive down those costs,” he said. Mr. Knapik, however, supported the legislation, commenting, “It does begin to move us incrementally in the right direction.”
Another Republican, Sen. Bruce E. Tarr of Gloucester, said the bill would restrict electrical supply at a time when the state needs more power. “There is no doubt we need to be exploring renewables … but does that mean we need to restrict ourselves on our supply of energy?” he asked.
Mr. Tarr said conservation will not bring the state the energy it needs and it should be finding ways to site new energy facilities, including nuclear power plants and ethanol production facilities. “We need to increase supply, that is the Achilles’ heel of this bill,” he argued, predicting severe spikes in energy costs without new power supplies.
By John J. Monahan
Telegram & Gazette Staff
25 June 2008
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