BOSTON – The House unanimously passed a sweeping energy reform bill yesterday that takes great leaps toward encouraging conservation and forcing utility companies to invest in renewable energy sources as the state looks to position itself as the nation’s leader in clean energy policy.
The bill, which cleared the Senate on Tuesday, now goes to the governor’s desk for his signature, marking the end to what House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi called a “colossal effort” to rethink the way Massachusetts approaches energy and the environment at a time when rising fuel, electricity and home heating costs are hurting consumers.
“This legislation that we passed today is probably the most comprehensive and bold reform that will change the way we consume, produce and deliver energy in the commonwealth that we’ve ever seen in the history of the commonwealth of Massachusetts,” DiMasi said at a press conference after the passage of the bill.
The bill takes several steps toward cutting into the rising cost of electricity by forcing utility companies to invest in resources and technology that will reduce demand before purchasing power that costs more three times as much.
Environment Northeast of Massachusetts estimates that Massachusetts spends $6 billion a year to buy electricity that costs 10 cents per kilowatt hour, while investing only $150 million in home-grown energy efficiencies that can be delivered at 3 cents per kilowatt hours.
“The cleanest power plant is the power plant that never gets built,” said Sam Krasnow, policy advocate and attorney for Environment Northeast. “Energy efficiency is a common-sense and cost-effective energy resource that will now get the priority it deserves.”
The bill also encourages investment in renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and hydro by setting a goal for 15 percent of all Massachusetts energy sales to come from renewable sources by 2020.
The state’s vehicle fleet must begin to convert to high fuel-efficiency vehicles such as hybrids or other alternatives with a goal of converting at least 50 percent of the fleet by 2018.
And municipalities will qualify for a number of grants, loans an financing assistance to invest in conservation and energy-efficiency programs.
Furthermore, the legislation increases the opportunity for businesses and homeowners to save on energy by investing in solar panels, insulation and other energy-saving technologies with a move toward what lawmakers call “net metering,” which allows consumers to fully benefit from being energy-efficient.
Homeowners also can apply to outfit their home with renewable energy systems at no upfront cost and pay for the upgrade over time in their utility bills.
Consumers may not see an immediate savings with these reforms, lawmakers admitted, but House and Senate leaders said the long-term effect will be a move away from expensive fossil fuels to cleaner energy that benefits the environment and reduces cost by lowering demand for power.
DiMasi first filed the comprehensive energy reform bill in January 2007. It was redrafted with input from Gov. Deval L. Patrick and state leaders and passed the House for the first time last November.
In January, the Senate stripped the bill of many tax incentives for businesses and consumers, such as a tax break for individuals who purchase a hybrid car, because the incentives were too costly.
Sen. Michael Morrissey, D-Quincy, who worked extensively on the bill, said $4 for a gallon of gas eliminated the need for tax breaks.
“The market is incentive enough now for people to purchase hybrid vehicles,” he said.
By Matt Murphy, Eagle Boston Bureau
27 June 2008
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