A clean energy initiative designed to dramatically ramp up the state’s reliance on renewable energy is on its way to Gov. Deval L. Patrick’s desk.
The compromise version of the bill emerged from a six-member House and Senate conference committee this week, much to the delight of environmental groups already toasting the passage last month of a first-in-the-nation initiative designed to protect the state’s coastal waters.
The bill is intended to help Massachusetts begin to wean itself off fossil fuels and other polluting forms of energy while cutting down on emissions that lead to global warming.
A key section of the bill would require utilities and other electricity suppliers in Massachusetts to procure an increasing percentage of their energy from renewable sources – from 4 percent in 2009 to 25 percent in 2030. Those renewable sources include wind turbines, solar panels and biomass generators.
Patrick – who recently signed a $1 billion life-sciences initiative and spent this week rolling out an ambitious education reform initiative – said the bill was yet another high priority for the administration.
“This legislation will help consumers take control of their electric bills, promote the development of renewable energy, and grow the clean energy industry that is taking root in the commonwealth,” said Patrick, who is expected to sign the bill Wednesday.
The multi-pronged bill also is designed to encourage conservation and the use of renewable energy on a building-by-building basis. It establishes a new program to help homeowners or tenants buy renewable energy products by allowing them to make the purchase without cash and pay them off over time through their monthly utility bill.
The bill also requires the state to adopt the most stringent green energy building codes.
“Strong energy legislation can help reduce global warming pollution, save consumers money, increase our energy independence and keep our air and water clean,” said John Rogers, manager of the Northeast Clean Energy Project for the Cambridge-based Union of Concerned Scientists.
The bill reinvents the electricity marketplace in Massachusetts with the goal of putting energy conservation and clean power at the core of the state’s energy production and consumption, according to state Environmental Secretary Ian Bowles.
Among the bill’s innovations is a change that will allow homeowners who generate excess solar or wind power to sell that energy back to the electricity grid, Bowles said.
The legislation also makes Massachusetts the first state to allow utilities to use solar power to produce electricity – effectively putting the utilities into the solar power delivery business, he said.
“This bill puts us at the forefront,” Bowles said. “I think a lot of other states will do what we’re doing here.”
The bill also:
# Creates a “green communities” program giving cities and towns the chance to use state loans and grants to finance energy efficiency improvements and renewable and alternative energy projects;
# Establishes a pilot program requiring utilities to enter into long-term contracts with renewable energy developers;
# Replaces state-owned and operated vehicles with more fuel-efficient vehicles;
# Requires the state to draft a master plan to develop the infrastructure needed to support alternative fuel cars and plug-in hybrids.
Although generally supportive, environmentalists criticized a provision in the bill that would provide taxpayer funded incentives for the production of electricity through gasified coal. Critics say gasified coal could increase greenhouse gas emissions, undermining one of the goals of the bill.
Part of the funding for the bill comes from something called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Auction Trust Fund.
In January, 2007, Massachusetts joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate program to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. The program established the trust fund from money recovered through carbon dioxide allowance auctions.
Under the bill funds from the auctions will be used for projects like the green communities program and the promotion of energy efficiency and conservation.
By Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press
29 June 2008
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