In the final hours of its just-concluded 2015–2016 session, the Massachusetts legislature passed an energy bill (H.4568) that will help boost the production of local renewable energy in the state and get us on track to kick our dirty fossil fuel habit for good.
With the various details of the bill provoking strong disagreement and discussion among legislators, industry, and energy advocates over the last several months, negotiations continued into the final hours of the legislative session. The finished bill represents an important core consensus in the Commonwealth that cannot be denied: Fossil fuel power is a thing of the past, and Massachusetts’ future will be powered by clean energy.
The bill’s three main pieces tell that story.
Cheap, Abundant, and Clean: Creating Our Offshore Wind Future
The energy bill authorizes the largest procurement of offshore wind ever in the United States! For that, we tip our hat to the Legislature.
This is real progress – a big and important first step in building Massachusetts’ clean energy future. Why? Because we’re finally buying wind in bulk and, just like shopping at Costco, that can (and will, in this case) yield major cost benefits. One of the world’s greatest wind resources lies just off the Commonwealth’s coast, with enough potential to power all of New England for years to come. But to bring that power ashore without breaking the bank, we need a vibrant, local offshore wind industry. And to build an industry, businesses need some assurance that New Englanders are committed to the enterprise.
This bill shows that we are. Following the advice of CLF and other experts, the Legislature wisely kicked off round one of our offshore wind future with a purchase of at least 1,600 megawatts by 2027. That’s enough to power almost 1 million Massachusetts homes, which should help to jump-start a lasting local industry that will bring hundreds of solid high-tech and industrial jobs to the Bay State and deliver wind power for as low as 8¢ per kilowatt-hour, a price that allows clean wind energy to compete head-to-head with dirty, fossil-fuel power. Fantastic!
Pushing Gas Out with Low Emissions Power from the North
The bill authorizes Massachusetts utilities to buy another 2,000 megawatts (or so) of non-fossil fuel energy from the north: hydropower (mostly from Canada) and land-based wind power (mostly from Maine). This is also promising news, though not quite as wonderful as many have been led to think.
The good? When this power comes online, most likely sometime around 2025, it will displace a lot of existing gas-fired power and with it, a huge amount of air pollution, including millions of tons of greenhouse gases that are damaging our climate. That, together with the increase in offshore wind energy, will go a long way toward helping Massachusetts slash its overall climate-warming emissions to levels that meet the goals of the Global Warming Solutions Act, the state’s landmark climate change law.
The not-so-good? First, the timing. Contrary to the assertion of many in the “we need Canadian hydropower” camp, this power won’t be here in time to help the state meet the emissions cap goal set for 2020 – a cap recently upheld by the state supreme court after a long legal battle waged by CLF. That’s because, even if Canada has that much extra hydropower on hand (which is doubtful), getting it here will require the construction of hundreds and hundreds of miles of costly new high-voltage transmission lines.
Which brings up the second not-so-good point: Traditional high-voltage transmission lines scar the land and its ecosystems, slicing up precious forests, fields, and habitats.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Working with enlightened transmission developers, CLF and its allies developed state-of-the art environmental siting criteria for new power lines and we argued long and hard to have those incorporated into this bill. The utilities convinced the Legislature otherwise, so CLF will continue to lead the fight to ensure that we protect our regional treasures while we transition to a clean energy future.
Fixing our Gas Pipeline Problem
The energy bill took an important step forward in the fight CLF and its allies are leading to stop dangerous methane leaks from our aging gas pipes system. To date, gas leaks have only been classified for repair based on safety concerns.
That’s important, but it’s not enough. Because natural gas is some 80 times more devastating to the climate when leaked than carbon dioxide, we have to classify and repair gas leaks based on their volume and their day-to-day impact on our environment as the energy bill now requires. Doing so will not only help in the fight against climate change, it will help our pocketbooks, saving businesses and families across the state millions of dollars that we’re spending now on “lost and unaccounted for” gas that never reaches our stoves, furnaces, and water heaters.
The energy bill isn’t perfect, and we need to continue calling on our leaders to make Massachusetts a true national leader in clean energy. But today, we should be proud to see our state one step closer to that future.