BOSTON – Key lawmakers in the Massachusetts Senate on Friday released a version of an energy bill that is more comprehensive than the bill that passed the House earlier this month.
The Senate bill would require the procurement of more renewable energy than the House bill and would also include new provisions related to energy efficiency and energy storage.
“The bill coming out of Senate Ways and Means is specifically designed to be bold and aggressive towards meeting our Global Warming Solutions Act goals,” said State Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “It’s written to really foster open competitive bidding and, especially in the case of offshore wind, to encourage economic development, job creation and job growth, to have companies set up shop right here in Massachusetts.”
Massachusetts lawmakers are trying to figure out how to replace energy that is being lost from retiring coal and nuclear plants while meeting the state’s goals for increasing the use of renewable energy, which are laid out in a state law called the Global Warming Solutions Act. Massachusetts already has some of the highest energy costs in the nation, so lawmakers must also figure out how to avoid further increasing residents’ electricity bills.
The bill that passed the House, H.4377, would require Massachusetts’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 House bill was opposed by both energy companies and environmentalists. Questions have been raised about whether long-term contracts will raise prices by limiting market competition. Some environmental groups complained that the House bill favored offshore wind and Canadian-imported hydropower at the expense of locally produced onshore wind and solar power.
The Senate bill calls for entering long-term contracts to procure 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind power, rather than the 1,200 megawatts in the House bill. State Sen. Ben Downing, D-Pittsfield, chairman of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, said the carve-out for offshore wind is necessary, because the technology is new and needs help getting off the ground. The larger procurement amount will provide a greater incentive for developers to build projects.
“Hopefully, we’ll get to the point where we don’t need those specific programs for them in the long run,” Downing said.
The Senate bill, unlike the House bill, would allow Cape Wind to offer a proposal.
The House bill also requires the solicitation of 1,200 megawatts of hydropower or other renewable resources combined with hydropower. The Senate bill would instead require the solicitation of approximately 1,500 megawatts of any renewable resource, which includes but is not limited to hydropower. So for example, a developer could submit a bid to combine onshore wind, solar power and energy storage.
“We want to see all the projects that are out there,” Downing said. “We want all the projects out there to be able to compete to get the best deal for ratepayers.”
There are several other areas where the Senate offers proposals that were not included in the House bill. The Senate bill would double the annual increase in the amount of energy that suppliers must buy from renewable sources. This means that by 2030, energy suppliers would have to get 38 percent of their energy from renewable sources, rather than the 25 percent that is the current goal.
The bill requires utilities to purchase some form of energy storage, so that wind and solar energy can be stored to use at a time when the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining.
On energy efficiency, the Senate bill would require homeowners to provide the results of an energy audit when a home is listed for sale. The state would establish a home energy rating system, so someone buying a house can know approximately how much they will spend on energy. A similar requirement is already in place to measure fuel efficiency in cars.
The bill would create study committees to look at future issues related to energy efficiency, electric grid modernization, and financing for renewable energy projects.
“Massachusetts is first in the nation in energy efficiency, but being better that 49 other states that are doing bad isn’t good enough,” Downing said. “We know the greatest cost benefit we can achieve is by increasing our investments in energy efficiency, and we want to do so in a smart way, in a way that builds on the success we’ve done thus far.”
Asked about the bill’s impact on electricity prices, Downing said the goal is to “stabilize” energy costs in the short-term and potentially lower them in the future, while keeping more money in-state by using locally generated energy.
The Senate is expected to vote on the bill Thursday. The Senate bill does not include anything about fixing gas leaks, lifting a cap on solar energy reimbursements or restricting new fees to pay for natural gas pipelines, all topics that are likely to be raised by senators through the amendment process.
Once the bill passes the Senate, House and Senate negotiators will need to agree on a final version, which lawmakers must pass before the session ends July 31.
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