The Massachusetts House on Wednesday pushed aside concerns of various advocacy groups and easily passed a bill to expand the state’s procurement of hydropower and offshore wind.
The vote was 154-1, with state Rep. James Lyons, R-Andover, as the lone dissenting vote.
“This is a green bill – not just a green energy bill, it’s a green dollar bill bill as well,” said state Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, whose district of Cape Cod could benefit from development of offshore wind.
Peake said investing in offshore wind could create jobs for fishermen, welders, high-tech manufacturers and others. “This area has been referred to as the Saudi Arabia of wind power,” Peake said.
Lawmakers introduced 61 amendments in advance of Wednesday’s debate, but almost all of them were withdrawn without votes or debate during seven hours of closed-door discussions. A handful of amendments were voted on and adopted or rejected, mostly by voice vote.
The bill, H.4377, would require the state’s energy distribution companies to solicit long-term contracts to purchase 1,200 megawatts of offshore wind power and 1,200 megawatts of hydropower by 2027. 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. The hydropower could be combined with other renewable energy sources, such as solar energy.
State Rep. Thomas Golden, D-Lowell, chairman of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, said if the bill becomes law, Massachusetts will be procuring approximately 20 percent of its electric load from renewable sources.
When the bill was first released, several advocacy groups voiced concerns about it. The New England Power Generators Association said the bill would increase costs for consumers. Environmental groups wanted a greater focus on local sources of renewable energy, including onshore wind and solar, rather than hydropower.
State Sen. Ben Downing, D-Pittsfield, Senate chairman of the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, said he had hoped for a more comprehensive energy bill, with provisions related to energy efficiency, energy storage, and increasing the amount of renewable energy being purchased – not only hydropower and offshore wind.
On the House floor Wednesday, no representatives voiced these concerns with the bill.
Potentially controversial amendments prohibiting ratepayers from being charged for the cost of expanding natural gas pipelines were ruled as being beyond the scope of the bill and set aside, since the bill does not address natural gas. Lawmakers withdrew amendments related to expanding the amount of renewable energy electric utilities must purchase, exempting industrial customers from paying for energy efficiency programs and others.
Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad, D-Somerset, a supporter of expanding offshore wind power, said if Massachusetts does not start procuring wind power, “There are tons of people nipping at our heels,” particularly the state of New York.
State Rep. Antonio Cabral, D-New Bedford, cited his city’s history as an energy powerhouse for more than a century at the time when whale oil was a primary source of energy. After the energy industry shifted to oil, coal and natural gas, he said, Massachusetts became “the end of the pipeline.”
Cabral said the bill has a chance to rejuvenate Massachusetts’ status as a center of clean energy as the offshore wind industry develops here. “This bill begins a step in that direction of us being in the beginning of the pipeline of energy,” Cabral said.
State Rep. James Murphy, D-Weymouth, talked about investment in wind and hydropower as the only way to avoid having natural gas pipelines expand in Massachusetts.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated incorrectly that an amendment related to fixing gas leaks was withdrawn. Although it was withdrawn, the amendment was rewritten as part of a technical amendment and passed.
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