BOSTON – This week Senator Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville) and her colleagues in the Massachusetts Senate voted to engross an omnibus energy bill to diversify the state’s energy portfolio by procuring additional clean energy resources to replace aging power plants that are going offline and move the Commonwealth closer to its emissions reduction goals under the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act.
The bill, S. 2372 – An Act to promote energy diversity, requires electric distribution companies to solicit long-term contracts for at least 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2027. Additionally, distribution companies would be required to purchase a minimum of 12,450,000 megawatt-hours of clean energy from hydropower and other resources such as onshore wind, solar, anaerobic digestion, and energy storage.
An amendment to the bill, sponsored by Senator Jehlen and unanimously adopted by a vote of 39-0, prohibited the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) from approving electric company contracts for pipeline capacity. The amendment would restrict energy suppliers from charging electric ratepayers to pay for the costs of natural gas pipeline expansion.
“Massachusetts ratepayers should not be subsidizing the corporate bottom line,” said Senator Jehlen. “Residents from all over the Commonwealth came together, reached out to my colleagues and I, and told us that they did not want to be responsible for shielding electric companies from risk by paying for the construction of gas pipelines.”
In 2015, DPU determined that an electric company can assess a surcharge on rate payers to construct gas pipelines under Ch. 164 § 94A of the Massachusetts General Laws. The Attorney General disagreed with DPU’s interpretation of the law, believing that § 94A included no such power and, further, that a pipeline is unnecessary based on the amount of energy Massachusetts uses and needs.
Jehlen’s amendment reinforced the Attorney General’s interpretation by clarifying that electric companies cannot force rate payers to pay for gas pipelines under § 94A.
“The inclusion of this amendment in the final Senate bill speaks volumes about the power of community advocacy and our constituents’ ability to impact policy,” continued Jehlen. “I’m very proud that the Senate took strong action to protect ratepayers in our state from subsidizing the corporate bottom line and I hope that it is adopted in the final conference committee report.”
The bill also increases the percentage of renewable energy that must be purchased by retail electric suppliers under the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) from an additional 1% annually to an additional 2% annually beginning in 2017, putting the state on track to reach an energy mix of 37% renewables by 2030. The bill also supports fuel cell and waste-to-energy technology by including them in the Alternative Portfolio Standard.
The bill would expand the use of the MassSave program, a highly successful home energy efficiency assessment program available for free to residents, which also offers significant rebates for energy efficient updates to homes. The bill further establishes a task force to develop recommendations for a next-generation energy efficiency program to be implemented at the expiration of the current 3-year efficiency plans.
Investments in energy storage help to maximize the value of new clean energy generation and reduce costs to consumers during peak energy usage. To that end, the bill tasks DOER to consider setting appropriate targets for distribution companies to procure cost-effective energy storage systems by 2020.
Additional provisions of S. 2372 include:
· Directing DOER to study the need to modernize the electric grid with the goal of reducing demand, reducing energy costs to ratepayers, integrating distributed energy resources, reducing carbon emissions, and enhancing reliability and resiliency;
· Creating a small hydropower tariff program for hydropower facilities with 2MW capacity or less. Distribution companies would pay the facility monthly for electricity provided to the grid, with an aggregate capacity of 50 MW;
· Clarifying the authority of the Attorney General’s Office of Ratepayer Advocacy to intervene in DPU proceedings, and, in exercising such authority, may retain experts and obtain information from companies subject to DPU’s jurisdiction;
· Requiring gas distribution companies to repair grade 3 leaks identified as having a significant environmental impact when construction on a public way exposes such a leak, and directing DPU to investigate specific criteria for the identification of the environmental impact of gas leaks; and
· Establishing an Oil Heat Energy Efficiency Fund into which funds are deposited and expended for providing financial incentives for residential and small business demand-side management programs that improve energy efficiency and reduce oil consumption for residential and commercial customers.
The bill will now be reconciled with the House version though a conference committee to work out the differences between the two bills.