Today (Wednesday) the Massachusetts House of Representatives will vote on H. 4198 An Act relative to competitively priced electricity in the Commonwealth. As a whole, H. 4198, which passed the MA Senate in April, has great potential to keep Massachusetts on track to be a national leader on clean and renewable energy. In particular the bill has provisions that will expand access to solar energy; including the net metering provisions that would allow more Massachusetts residents, businesses and local governments to be fairly compensated for selling electricity back to the grid. This program has contributed to an over 24-fold increase in installed solar in Massachusetts in just 4 years.
Unfortunately House leadership – in particular Chairman John Keenan (D-Salem) – has added a provision (section 42) that would provide massive and unacceptable incentives to fossil fuel generators (full text of the bill can be found here (warning, PDF – section 42 starts at the beginning of page 23).
Section 42 requires Utility companies to enter into long term contracts 15+ with new generators opening on the site of closed coal or oil fired power plants. This provision would put electricity consumers on the hook for natural gas – whatever the price – for the next few decades. This provision on it’s own is incredible – natural gas is notoriously volatile in price, and could get worse, particularly if “major environmental issues emerge with hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,””. In case you are wondering if there are any environmental concerns with fracking, see here, here and here for a small sampling. There is no comprehensible reason, other than wanting to give ratepayer dollars to fossil fuel plant operators, to require long term contracts for fossil fuels.
Furthermore, these contracts are to be approved after an unreasonably short review period, ensuring insufficient oversight, and do not specify a fixed cost for the power to be supplied.
Finally, the provisions in section 42 lack specific criteria for satisfactory environmental remediation of the site before a new plant is put into operation.
Fortunately, Representative Lori Ehrlich (Marblehead) has proposed an amendment (#34) that would significantly amend this section by requiring a set maximum price for the long term contracts and improving the environmental safe guards in the site remediation process. Unfortunately, I fear that this could yet again be an example of House leadership ignoring the rank and file – with whom I have had many conversations – who may not want to support a provision that would leave their constituents on the hook for outrageous contracts that are nothing more than sweetheart deals for the fossil fuel industry.
I do hope that Rep. Ehrlich’s amendment is allowed to see the light of day and given a full roll call vote tomorrow. If that is the case, I will be sure to update this entry with the full vote count so you can contact your representative.
In sum, I do hope that the House passes H 4198 today, if not, investment in renewable energy will likely plummet in Massachusetts, but I hope members of the house are given a chance, and ultimately do reject, electricity customers being on the hook for excessive long term contracts to purchase fossil fuels.
For your reference, here is a link to the state house news service piece, re’printed’ on the Marblehead Wicked local site.