Lawmakers give late-night OK to energy bill

Steer clear of Senate’s more aggressive measures

HOUSE AND SENATE LAWMAKERS approved a compromise energy bill Sunday night that they hope will pave the way for an offshore wind industry and sharply increase imports of electricity from Canada, but they shied away from more aggressive measures to promote renewable energy and reduce carbon emissions.

The compromise bill surfaced shortly after 9:30 p.m. on Sunday night, the final day of the legislative session. It reflected the priorities of House leaders and the Baker administration while including relatively few of the initiatives contained in the Senate’s more sweeping energy proposal. The compromise bill won the backing of five of the six members on the House-Senate conference committee, with Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton refusing to sign.

The legislation, which was approved by the House on a 157-1 vote at 10:37 p.m. and then by the Senate on a voice vote at 11:18  p.m., calls for the state’s utilities to negotiate contracts for 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind and roughly 1,200 megawatts of clean energy – primarily hydroelectricity from Canada, possibly in tandem with onshore wind.

The 1,600-megawatt offshore wind procurement is a compromise between the House (1,200 megawatts) and Senate (2,000 megawatts) proposals. The 1,200 megawatt clean energy procurement matches the House number, and is about 300 megawatts less than the Senate proposal.

Most of the Senate’s energy initiatives fell by the wayside during the last-minute negotiations. For example, a proposal that would bar the state’s electric utilities from tapping their customers for the money to finance a new natural gas pipeline into the region was omitted from the final bill. So was a proposal to double the mandated yearly growth rate for renewable energy.

The compromise bill sides with the House in barring Cape Wind from bidding on the offshore wind procurement and in allowing the state’s utilities, Eversource and National Grid, to collect hefty fees for negotiating the long-term contracts for offshore wind and clean energy.

Sen. Ben Downing of Pittsfield, the Senate’s lead energy negotiator, had said in June that the utility fees, equal to 2.75 percent of a contract’s value, were unwarranted based on his discussions with utility experts and officials in other states. “We don’t think there’s a compelling public policy case for it,” he said at the time.

On two Senate initiatives, the bill urges the Baker administration to require the state’s utilities to procure energy storage systems by 2020 and to identify and repair leaks in natural gas lines.

According to sources, the energy conference committee appeared close to a deal on Saturday when Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg surprised House officials by pushing for the Senate’s original 2,000 megawatt procurement for offshore wind. House leaders refused to go beyond 1,600 megawatts, creating a stalemate in the negotiations.

Fearful the stalemate could lead to no bill being approved before the Sunday night deadline, the trade group Offshore Wind Massachusetts urged Pacheco and other senators to go along with the 1,600-megawatt figure even though the group had initially advocated for a 2,000 megawatt commitment.

“We pushed for the most realistic, achievable result this session given all of the energy priorities that the Massachusetts Legislature needed to balance,” said Matthew Morrissey, executive director of the group. “Of greatest importance to us is that we have a bill at the end of the session to get offshore wind started in Massachusetts, reducing carbon emissions, stabilizing costs, and creating jobs now.”

During a break in the legislative action as the compromise energy bill was being finalized, Rosenberg said the Senate wanted the bill to include more ambitious goals. “We want to be as aggressive as possible overall,” he said. “Whatever we don’t get now we will fight for again later.”

George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, adopted a similar view. “This is a huge victory for offshore wind both for our environment and our economy. It’s also a victory for diversifying our energy portfolio away from fossil fuels by adding both wind and hydro,” he said. “The fight goes on for solar, greater energy efficiency, and to stop more gas pipelines.”

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo issued a statement after the energy bill’s approval emphasizing that the initiative promotes clean energy in a cost-effective way. “This proactive effort to ensure the needs of Massachusetts are met with clean, reliable resources while safeguarding our ratepayers demonstrates our state’s continued leadership in the development and deployment of cost-effective renewable energy,” he said. 

  • Frank Haggerty

    Sen. Marc Pacheco did not sign on to the compromise renewable energy bill

    MASSACHUSETTS HAS NO OCEAN WIND TURBINE PORT
    New Bedford is a financial fiasco. No rail, No cranes, No port operator and a hurricane barrier with a 120 legal opening that wind turbine jack up barges don’t fit
    http://patch.com/massachusetts/boston/massachusetts-has-no-ocean-wind-turbine-port-0

    Cape Wind is out ….in the cold in the bill -so long

  • Jan Galkowski

    I guess it will take seeing one or more Elliot City, MD experiences in Massachusetts until people and the leadership get it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-shmNbxAqs and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5j_OBNr8OY

  • Mhmjjj2012

    How could the Massachusetts House and Senate not agree that ratepayers shouldn’t finance privately owned gas pipelines? We’re talking privately owned pipelines! The owners will enjoy the profits while the ratepayers shoulder cost overruns and under utilized capacity. If that’s such a great idea then defend it! Don’t just let it happen thanks to Governor Baker’s Department of Public Utilities. This gross legislative failure should be on the front page of every newspapers but instead it’s barely noted.

  • NortheasternEE

    Wind power has no value on the grid. It is intermittent and variable, and can only function with 100% backup firming from dirty load-following natural gas and diesel. The combination more than doubles the price with no carbon avoidance. Wind Turbine Syndrome has destroyed neighborhoods in Falmouth, Fairhaven, Kingston, Scituate and the Florida/Monroe section in the middle of the state. Soon Bourne will join the ruined neighborhoods club with 4 giant wind turbines on either side of route 25. In a Nor’easter, watch out for high flying ice-throws and broken rotor blades. If one of them ever catches fire, route 25 will be closed for weeks and the neighborhood evacuated.
    Offshore, migratory birds will die by the thousands. Onshore, the Berkshire mountains are in danger of ecological destruction, birds and mosquito eating bats will die in large numbers.
    The unindebted consequences of the false promise of a clean energy future are severe. Skyrocketing rates, ecological destruction and no carbon avoidance to stop global warming are assured.
    Tell Baker to veto, NOW!