On August 3 my piece on the energy bill appeared in Commonwealth Magazine under the title “Energy Bill a Solid Step Forward; Still, It Could Have Been Better.”
It is indeed a solid step forward. As the article summarized, the bill requires the state’s utilities to enter into long-term contracts for the purchase of 1,200 megawatts of primarily hydroelectricity and onshore wind. Even more significantly, the legislation requires the state’s electric utilities to purchase 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind. A well-respected study had argued that a requirement of 2,000 megawatts (which is what the Senate’s version of the bill would have required) would be enough to jump-start an industry. But the 1,600-megawatt requirement likely gives Massachusetts a fair shot at grabbing the lead on offshore wind—and the jobs that go with it—from other northeast states.
This requirement is clearly achievable. Note that at the end of 2015 Europe had 3,230 offshore wind turbines and a total of 84 wind farms, with prices falling as experience grows.
The closest wind turbines that three different developers will be competing to install in three different wind farms off the coasts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island will be 15 miles away—making them barely visible in clear weather.
By increasing renewables, the legislation also begins to address the reliability concerns that arise from our growing and worrisome overdependence on natural gas for generating electricity.
But it could have been better. The Senate version—many of whose provisions landed on the cutting-room floor—was a more sweeping and progressive piece of legislation by a good bit.
In addition to requiring utilities to purchase 2,000 (as opposed to 1,600) megawatts of offshore wind power, the Senate bill would have required an energy audit at the time of the sale of a home, as well as implementation of an energy rating system for homes. Would you ever consider buying a car with no idea of the number of miles per gallon it gets?
The Senate also created a mechanism known as “community empowerment,” which would have enabled cities and towns, and not just distribution companies, to enter into long-term contracts for renewable resources.
And, astonishingly, under current law no agency or other entity has the authority or mandate to conduct comprehensive energy planning for Massachusetts or the region. This planning gap, which the Senate bill would have filled, has left the Legislature in the position of making difficult choices about energy policy regarding electricity, heating, and transportation without a comprehensive proposal from a trustworthy source.
Senate President Rosenberg is quoted in Commonwealth Magazine as saying, “Whatever we don’t get now we will fight for again later.” As good as the energy bill is, the fight is worth having—not just for the provisions discussed above, but for many others as well. I would add to that fight a provision that emerged in neither the House or Senate version: the imposition of a price on carbon emissions, to send the correct price signals to achieve the state’s policy objectives.
Here’s the link to my piece in Commonwealth Magazine: http://commonwealthmagazine.org/environment/energy-bill-a-solid-step-forward/