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State energy bill in flux

BOSTON – House Speaker Robert DeLeo on Tuesday described the energy bill set to land on the floor of the House Wednesday as “very comprehensive” despite concerns raised by one leading senator about the scope of the bill and a promise of significant revisions once the matter comes before the Senate.

The energy bill would require utility companies, subject to Department of Public Utilities approval, to competitively solicit and purchase a combined 2,400 megawatts of renewable hydro and offshore wind power through long-term contracts in an effort to diversify the state’s energy mix.

“We’ve already tackled the solar piece. We’re talking about hydro. We’re talking about offshore wind,” DeLeo told reporters after a private caucus with House Democrats to discuss the legislation. “So quite frankly, I see this bill as very comprehensive in terms of addressing our energy needs for the future.”

With just seven weeks left for formal sessions, however, the scope of the ambitions in the House and Senate for energy policy updates could complicate the bill’s chances of final passage before the end of July.

When the original House leadership bill was released two weeks ago, state Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, the co-chairman of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, said the bill was “by no means complete or comprehensive.”

“If the goal is to address climate and cost, then you can’t put forward a bill that omits building on the progress we’ve made on energy efficiency,” Downing said. “We certainly need to do more and have a more concerted strategy on storage.”

With energy efficiency and storage just two of the ideas Downing said he would explore adding to the bill once it gets to the Senate, DeLeo said the House would go into conference negotiations with the Senate “in good faith to try to get something done.”

But the speaker also said he thought the bill slated for debate Wednesday is “a very comprehensive bill as it is.”

“In terms of further expansion, I have no idea what the senator could be referring to considering that we discussed and we looked upon all the new and clean sources of energy,” DeLeo said.

Mass Audubon on Tuesday was trying to round up support for an amendment state Rep. Frank Smizik, D-Brookline, proposed to the House energy bill requiring the state to adopt a climate change adaptation plan. Senators have twice approved adaptation plan proposals this session, but the idea has so far failed to gain traction in the House.

As of 5 p.m. on Tuesday, 16 amendments had been filed by House lawmakers and posted to the Legislature’s website for consideration on Wednesday.

Cape Wind also blasted the House bill as “anti-competitive” and potentially unconstitutional due the way it was written to exclude that project from bidding for the long-term contracts for offshore wind, which would be a lifeline for the long-stalled wind farm proposal.

“The revised version of the Act has been deliberately structured to arbitrarily exclude one of the region’s four holders of federal leases for offshore wind development from competing in the RFP processes, making the supposedly ‘competitive’ procurement process blatantly anti-competitive,” Cape Wind wrote in a position statement on Tuesday.

Under the bill, only a wind farm with a federal lease issued before 2012 and that does not propose to build any turbines within 10 miles of an inhabited area could compete for a long-term contract to provide wind energy. Offshore wind developers DONG Energy, Deepwater Wind and OffshoreMW could all be eligible to bid for the contracts, according to industry experts, but Cape Wind fails to meet those two criteria.

Claiming that neither of the restrictions on offshore wind were ever debated during public hearings on the topic, Cape Wind suggested the bill could violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution as “an arbitrary legislative attack on one particular company with no ‘rational basis’ to a legitimate state interest.”

It did not appear as of Tuesday evening that any lawmakers had proposed an amendment that would allow Cape Wid to compete for a contract.