MA Rep. Keenan’s proposed budget amendments bid clean energy goodbye

Sue Reid

The future? That's what MA Rep. John Keenan wants. (Photo credit: Marilyn Humphries)

Protecting dirty old coal plants. Whacking solar and wind. Sounds like the opposite of the clean energy revolution that is underway in Massachusetts, right?  Or perhaps a belated April Fool?  But no, sadly, these deeply troubling initiatives have been introduced by Representative John Keenan, the new House co-chair of the MA Legislature’s Energy Committee, through amendments to the state budget currently under debate on Beacon Hill.  All on the eve of Earth Day, no less.

These amendments are alarming, and would undo much of the enormous progress that has been made over the past few years with respect to reducing Massachusetts’ reliance on dirty and costly fossil fuels, most of which are imported from faraway lands and offer Massachusetts no economic development benefits.  And the use of the budget process, rather than stand-alone legislation with public hearings, adds insult to injury.   We strongly encourage everyone who cares about clean air and a clean energy economy to ask your Massachusetts state legislators to oppose the Keenan Amendments (# 594, 623 and 640).  For more detail:

Keenan Amendment # 594 would prioritize existing (and even mothballed) coal and oil plants over transmission alternatives – in other words, it would severely discourage upgrades to improve efficiency or capacity of existing power lines or new transmission that would connect to cleaner resources.  This amendment seeks to protect the dirty, obsolete energy generating sources of the past while standing in the way of cleaner alternatives.  Who would benefit?  Dominion Energy, the owner of the Salem Harbor Station coal and oil plant in Chairman Keenan’s District, would benefit more than anyone.  The rest of us would have to continue to pay the price in terms of dirty air.

Keenan Amendment # 623: This amendment would require Massachusetts to prioritize renewable energy that is the cheapest when viewed over a very short three year time period.  As such, it would promote facilities that can be cheaper to build, like biomass, at the expense of solar and wind, which have higher up-front costs but are powered by fuels that are free (unlike biomass).  The amendment would turn on its head the thoughtful balance struck by the legislature less than three years ago when the Green Communities Act was passed, requiring renewables to be “cost-effective” and “reasonable” to qualify for benefits such as long-term contracts.  If this system were scrapped in favor of prioritizing the “cheapest” resource, we probably would wind up with only one type of renewable energy – most likely biomass, possibly hydropower too – rather than the diverse array of clean energy solutions that we need.

Keenan Amendment # 640: The aim of this amendment is to take the MA Renewable Energy Trust’s limit of $3 million per year to support hydropower and convert that limit to a floor, or minimum, for annual investment of MA ratepayers’ dollars in hydropower.  The amendment has a fundamental technical flaw — it tries to adjust the language of a statute that was repealed last year — but otherwise it would guarantee investment in hydropower even if there are far more deserving solar, wind or other renewable energy projects available.

We hope that cooler heads will prevail and these amendments all will be rejected.  Otherwise, coal lobbyists and their clients will be dancing all the way to the bank (ka-ching!) while we face a major setback for Massachusetts’ nation-leading clean energy programs and the enormous environmental, public health and economic development benefits they bring.

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