As Kinder Morgan withdraws gas pipeline application, Massachusetts House proposes wind-hydropower energy bill
BOSTON – An energy bill released Monday by key lawmakers in the Massachusetts House would require the state’s utilities to enter into long-term contracts to buy more offshore wind and hydroelectric power.
“Obviously, the hope is trying to contain further costs and most importantly, the need to change the direction in terms of where our energy sources would be coming from now that former sources are going offline,” said House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop.
The bill, proposed by House members of the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, would require the state’s energy distribution companies to solicit 15- to 20-year contracts to purchase 1,200 megawatts of offshore wind power by 2027.
The companies must also solicit long-term proposals to purchase 1,200 megawatts of hydropower. (This would be contingent on the building of a transmission line that could deliver the power to Massachusetts.)
The distributors would be required to enter into the contracts as long as the bids go through an evaluation process and are found to be reasonable and cost-effective. Bids for both kinds of energy could be solicited regionally, with other New England states.
The committee’s senators did not vote on the bill when it emerged from committee. State Sen. Ben Downing, D-Pittsfield, Senate chairman of the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, said senators are still reviewing the language.
Downing said he does not think the bill is comprehensive enough. “It’s not a bad place to start, but I think it’s a bit much to call it an omnibus bill,” Downing said.
Downing said any comprehensive energy bill should also include provisions related to energy efficiency, energy storage, and increasing the amount of renewable energy being purchased – not only hydropower and offshore wind.
“There’s a good deal more we need to do,” Downing said.
Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, previously floated his own plan for procuring long-term contracts for hydroelectric power. Baker proposed buying 1,200 to 2,400 megawatts of hydroelectric power, but did not include wind power.
Baker voiced tentative support for the House bill, though he noted that it must still pass the House and Senate. “I would describe it at this point as a very strong bill that’s built around the idea of expanding our portfolio, diversifying our energy sources and incorporated big slugs of hydro and wind in our portfolio here in Massachusetts and across New England,” Baker said.
Baker added, “I think now more than ever, it’s really important that we create what I’ve called the combo platter, diversify our portfolios and incorporate some alternatives to the more traditional sources of energy we’ve been using to be sure that we can meet our region’s energy needs going forward.”
The Legislature has until the end of the July, when it concludes its formal legislative sessions for the year, to pass the bill.
State Rep. Thomas Petrolati, D-Ludlow, a member of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, said the House plans to vote June 15.
Advocates are already criticizing the bill.
Dan Dolan, president of the New England Power Generators Association, which represents power generators including nuclear, natural gas, coal, oil, solar, wind and local hydropower, said the bill could increase costs for consumers.
Dolan said carving out one-third of the Massachusetts electricity market and locking it into long-term contracts would raise costs because hydroelectric power and wind power would not have to compete with other forms of energy.
“You’re insulating these two resources from competition in the broader marketplace,” Dolan said. “You’re effectively acknowledging that these resources need a separate market to be able to function, which to me means if they had to compete in the open marketplace with everyone else, they wouldn’t be the most cost-effective resources.”
Dolan said the proposal would move Massachusetts away from a competitive marketplace toward “the bad old days of monopoly regulation.”
Caitlin Peale Sloan, staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental group, said her group wanted to require the purchase of even more offshore wind, and it is disappointed that the bill focuses on hydropower rather than onshore wind or other renewables such as solar energy.
“We don’t want to trade over-reliance on one imported energy source – natural gas – for over-reliance on another imported energy source – hydro,” Peale Sloan said. “Even if hydro is cleaner than natural gas, it’s not as clean as onshore wind from a climate perspective.”
Mass Power Forward, a coalition of environmental, social justice and community groups, said the group had hoped for the procurement of 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind power, rather than 1,200 megawatts; for a ban on raising electric rates to fund natural gas pipelines; and for new investment in solar energy.
“I want it all,” said Claire Miller of Toxics Action Center, in a statement released by the coalition. “A ban on gas pipeline taxes, the full 2,000 megawatts for offshore wind, and accessible uncapped solar. Our health, our economy and our future require we double down on local renewable energy.”
The Massachusetts Clean Electricity Partnership, which represents wind, hydro and transmission companies, called the bill “an important step forward” in meeting state goals for greenhouse gas reduction.
Petrolati said he hopes lingering questions, such as whether 1,200 megawatts of power each from wind and hydropower is sufficient to make projects financially viable, can be worked out in a committee of House-Senate negotiators, assuming versions of the bill pass the House and Senate.
Also Monday, the energy company Kinder Morgan withdrew its application to build the controversial Northeast Energy Direct natural gas pipeline. Kinder Morgan suspended work on the project in April, citing inadequate capacity commitments from prospective customers.
“NED is dead, and it gets us to a point where we have to make sure we find a path for replacing the roughly 9,000 megawatts that are coming offline with closing existing plants that are beyond their natural life and shifting off of the coal and oil,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst.
Rosenberg said senators still have to review the House bill, but he hopes that debate over the bill will provide an opportunity “to really green our energy supply and make sure that we have the best possible chance at reducing our climate footprint.”
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