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Downing: Frustrated senators ready for look at energy industry  

The state’s energy framework is guided in part by the Green Communities Act, which became a signature achievement during former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi’s tenure and set ambitious goals, including the installation of 250 megawatts of solar energy by 2017, 2,000 megawatts of wind power by 2020, and significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Credit:  By Kyle Cheney / State House News Service, bostonherald.com 17 November 2011 ~~

Senate President Therese Murray tipped her hand a bit Wednesday night when she revealed that the Senate intends to tackle rising energy costs when lawmakers return in January from a seven-week recess, and she named a colleague, Sen. Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield) as her point-man on the issue.

While health care cost control talks continue, Downing told the News Service that there is broad interest among senators to tackle energy costs, competition for the transmission and delivery of electricity, much of it generated after widespread power outages enveloped broad swaths of the state.

“We’re in this sort of one-sided relationship with the utility companies,” he said. “We have competition on the generation side of things. Where we don’t have competition is in transmission and distribution. What that actually looks like, none of us know at this point.”

Finding a solution, he said, may require lawmakers to think “much further outside the box.”

Downing, co-chair of the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, said he intends to work within the committee and co-chair Rep. John Keenan (D-Salem) to review testimony received earlier this month at an eight-hour oversight hearing on the state’s efforts to boost energy efficiency and develop renewable energy sources.

At that hearing, stakeholders in the energy industry contended that efforts to require a move toward sustainable sources of electricity would drive up already-high costs for consumers and businesses. But advocates for the environment countered that efforts to increase green energy have supported jobs and would eventually lead to billions of dollars in savings for ratepayers.

The state’s energy framework is guided in part by the Green Communities Act, which became a signature achievement during former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi’s tenure and set ambitious goals, including the installation of 250 megawatts of solar energy by 2017, 2,000 megawatts of wind power by 2020, and significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Downing also said lawmakers would glean information from hearings planned by the Department of Public Utilities on utility companies’ responses to Tropical Storm Irene in August and an October snowstorm.

“Does the regulatory regime that we have set up right now meet the needs of ratepayers in the best way possible?” he wondered. “There are a lot of issues that fall under that. It’s a broad conversation that we’re having. But I know from talking to my colleagues, there’s a lot of frustration with the current state of things, especially with the response to the last storm … We have a lot more homework to do on the committee level.”

Downing’s comments followed the Senate president’s suggestion that energy costs will be at the top of the agenda when lawmakers return to action.

“We’re going to be addressing the high cost of energy,” she told the News Service after Wednesday’s session, which brought formal sessions to a close for the year. She said she would work with Downing on issues related to “competition in the electric industry.”

Source:  By Kyle Cheney / State House News Service, bostonherald.com 17 November 2011

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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