Let’s secure a healthy energy future  

Beacon Hill bill would provide Green New Deal for Massachusetts

LOOKING AT RECENT HEADLINES, one sees that climate change—and the call for pioneering solutions to combat it—are now front and center in the public consciousness.

We are at the forefront of an opportunity to truly modernize the Commonwealth’s energy economy, improve the health of its communities and become a producer and exporter of renewable power rather than an importer of fossil fuels.

The majority of the newly elected Massachusetts state representatives – 14 freshman lawmakers — are united in their vision to build a renewable energy economy that will rein in greenhouse gas emissions and grow the 21st century green-tech job sector. Informally dubbed “GreenTeamMA,” this ambitious crop of legislators wants to reform the way that energy is made and used in the Bay State. Like many of the new faces in Congress who are working to educate voters on the benefits of a renewable energy economy for the country through the Green New Deal, GreenTeamMA supporters understand the economic, environmental, and human health imperative of swiftly shifting to a renewably-powered Bay State.

Last month, state Sen. Marc Pacheco and state Rep. Ruth Balser jointly filed An Act to Secure a Clean Energy Future. This powerfully bold, visionary piece of legislation is something like a Green New Deal for Massachusetts; but rather than a broad resolution to be hammered out later, the bill presents specific prescriptions and timelines designed to guide businesses, municipalities, manufacturers, and electricity producers in transforming the way that energy is produced, stored, distributed and used. It considers where Massachusetts stands now with respect to climate change preparedness and fills in the gaps to get us where we need to be by 2050.

The legislation calls for net zero greenhouse gas emissions in three decades. To move us toward this goal, the bill proposes an epic expansion of offshore wind power, a doubling of the state’s target for electricity storage, and the ability for solar home owners (who, conveniently serve as “distributed electricity producers”) to sell their excess power back to the grid without penalty. It also raises the state’s annual renewable portfolio standard — the amount of clean electricity that a utility company is required to purchase and then resell to its customers – to 3 percent, putting Massachusetts on pace for a 50 percent renewable portfolio standard by 2030.

If producing 50 percent of the electricity Massachusetts ratepayers demand with renewable resources in just 11 years sounds far-fetched, it’s not. The breezes blowing along our coastlines and through Nantucket Sound and beyond to the Atlantic have long been hailed as the Saudi Arabia of wind. Massachusetts is without question a clean energy-rich state. We just have to harness it.

Bipartisan appeal is a big part of what separates the proposal from other progressive agendas. The bill’s market-based compliance mechanisms provide a flexible and practical framework for decarbonizing the state’s economy. Its provisions are specifically designed to create jobs and expand the rapidly growing clean energy industry.

Last session’s version of the bill passed with unanimous Republican approval in the Senate and, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr backed this year’s updated version by signing on once again. With support on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers, Pacheco and Balser’s proposal has the potential to usher in the changes necessary to secure a clean energy future for the Commonwealth.

State representatives supporting GreenTeamMA are busy engaging voters on the benefits of the Pacheco-Balser bill and its call to mobilize the state’s natural resources to power the economy. Included in their discussions is the bill’s provision for the removal of the fossil fuel infrastructure tax, thereby placing the cost burden for any new fossil fuel development squarely on the backs of fossil fuel producers and not on rate-payers.

For too long—over a century in fact—taxpayers have not only subsidized fossil fuel infrastructure, but they’ve also paid again and again for the “external costs” of the industry’s operation.

The damaging hurricanes and winter storm surges that rip away at our beaches and retaining walls are two examples of the costly burdens that the public bears as a result of a warming climate. The historic storm surges that we witnessed last winter were driven by high tides coinciding with the warming, expanding, “rising” ocean, excessive wind gusts and a warmer atmosphere that delivered increased precipitation.

Between January and March 2018, neighborhoods all along the Massachusetts coast were ravaged by waves up to 20 feet high. In the March 2018 nor’easter, seawall breaches, flash freezes, emergency rescues, flooded basements and power outages all strained the state’s resources. The total cost of these losses, when added to the damage to nine other states, is estimated by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration to exceed $2 billion. The Boston Business Journal reported last March that the three nor’easters of 2018 cost Massachusetts businesses close to an additional $1 billion in spoiled food and lost retail sales.

An Act to Secure a Clean Energy Future is designed to transition the Massachusetts economy to one that is sustained by renewable resources and to mitigate the damage from storms that are exacerbated by a planet in climate distress.

With the costs of climate change documented, lawmakers on Beacon Hill should support policies that address these urgent climate challenges and seize clean energy opportunities by passing An Act to Secure a Clean Energy Future. If they do, Massachusetts will become a global leader in renewable energy generation, making communities across the state more sustainable, more livable and more prosperous.

Meet the Author
That’s pioneering.

 Stacy Clark is an environmental geologist and educator working with @GreenTeamMA1 supporters to advance renewable energy deployments across Massachusetts.