HOLYOKE – The general managers of Holyoke and South Hadley’s electric utilities support legislation that gives more local control to municipal lighting plants (MPLs) around the state.
The bill, H.2863, authored by state Rep. Thomas Golden and state Sen. Anne M. Gobi is pending before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy.
The bill would give Holyoke Gas & Electric, the South Hadley Electric Light Department and other MLPs more say in their finances and renewable energy portfolios.
Sean Fitzgerald, SHELD’s general manager, said the bill’s goal is reducing greenhouse gas emissions and “acknowledging and preserving the statutory scheme of Chapter 164, which places municipal Lighting plants’ operations finances and rates under local control.”
Fitzgerald attended a June 18 hearing on the bill and spoke on behalf of SHELD. Executives from 20 other utilities and energy concerns joined him. He also participated in a June 25 advocacy day on Beacon Hill, meeting with staff from the office of state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, and other legislators.
“This bill, in summary, would incorporate nuclear energy as a renewable source, and recognize it,” Fitzgerald said at SHELD’s June 27 board meeting. “Therefore, (it would) not force a utility, like South Hadley, to go out and double up and buy more energy that we don’t need just because it’s solar or wind.”
Fitzgerald said the bill has support from more than 50 legislators, including state Rep. Aaron Vega, D-Holyoke, and 41 Massachusetts utilities.
In an email this week, Fitzgerald said the bill remains in committee until the current legislative session expires July 31. He expects the committee would take up the bill again in September, after the summer break.
Fitzgerald said the bill establishes that noncarbon-emitting energy includes solar photovoltaic, solar thermal electric, nuclear, hydroelectric, marine or hydrokinetic electricity, geothermal, landfill methane, anaerobic digestive gas, biomass fuel and other sources under the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards.
In a statement, James Lavelle, HG&E’s general manager, said the state’s 41 MLPs operate differently than independently owned utilities like Eversource or National Grid. The MLPs serve 15% of the state’s customers and “are answerable to the customers they serve.”
“Legislators and regulators have generally deferred to the local decision-making authority of MLP’s as the one-size-fits-all approaches are not consistent with the public power business model,” Lavelle stated.
He added, “MLP’s have unique tools, such as the ability to self-generate power and enter into long-term power contracts. They are vertically integrated and can generate, transmit and distribute power.”
The Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act requires utility companies to reduce carbon emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. Lavelle said HG&E made “significant investments” in carbon-free generating resources prior the law’s enactment.
“These investments include the purchase of hydroelectric resources and the execution of long-term contracts for carbon-free nuclear power,” Lavelle stated.
The bill pending now before the Legislature would give MLPs an option not to purchase nonemitting credits. “Without this consideration, electricity costs would increase significantly due to the added costs of credits required to meet the standard,” he said.
In a statement, Vega said, “This bill provides a balance between strong support for clean energy and our environment while ensuring MLP’s independence.”
He added, “Allowing the flexibility for municipal lighting plants to either purchase or self-generate non-carbon emitting energy allows MLP’s to be part of the State solution in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”