Baker proposes major changes to climate change bill

Resurrects his proposal for $750m clean energy fund

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER sent the Legislature’s climate change bill back with amendments that appear to rewrite it significantly, including reinstating the governor’s original call for using $750 million in federal aid to jumpstart clean energy innovation in the state.

The governor’s 19-page letter to the Legislature noted he filed his climate change bill last October but lawmakers waited until recently to send their final draft to him, leaving little time for compromise with the legislative session ending on Sunday.

“I am returning this bill in a timely manner in hopes of reaching a successful compromise with the Legislature soon,” he wrote.

The Legislature’s bill was a blend of House interest in promoting the development of offshore wind with Senate interest in more nitty gritty environmental issues related to electric vehicle adoption and housing construction.

Baker, in his letter sending the bill back to the Legislature, acknowledged the need to promote offshore wind but said more needs to be done.

“We know the Commonwealth will need to look beyond offshore wind to meet its statutory emission goals,” Baker wrote. “The Commonwealth will need to take advantage of other clean energy, such as hydrogen and other disruptive technologies, to cost effectively meet our greenhouse gas requirements.”

Baker’s amendment lays out some broad and some specific spending categories adding up to $750 million. The Clean Energy Center would receive more than half the money to dole out for a variety of purposes. New Bedford would receive close to $40 million and a number of academic institutions would receive grant awards as well.

The governor’s proposal also makes a series of changes in the way offshore wind is procured, in particular doing away with the price cap, which required each successive project to come in at a lower price than the previous one. The Legislature had developed an elaborate compromise between those who favored the price cap and those who didn’t, maintaining the cap when two or fewer offshore wind developers are bidding  and doing away with it when three or more are bidding. The governor’s proposal would do away with the cap.

The governor significantly changed a proposal initiated by the Senate that would allow 10 communities to test the concept of doing away with fossil fuel infrastructure in new construction. As a condition of participation, the Senate had required each of the communities to meet their affordable housing targets under state law.

Baker, expressing concern that doing away with fossil fuel infrastructure could retard housing development and shift emissions to other communities, changed the qualifications for participation. His amendment letter said the 10-community experiment could only proceed when “the grid has enough clean energy capacity to ensure that electrification has the intended emission reduction benefit,” a fairly vague standard.

The Legislature proposed increasing the members of the Clean Energy Center board from 12 to 15 and giving the House speaker and the Senate president power to appoint two of the members. Baker proposed keeping the board at 12 members and doing away with the legislative appointees. He noted the Supreme Judicial Court has held that appointments by the Legislature are unconstitutional, but suggested as a compromise that the Legislature could nominate members for the board but leave appointing authority with the executive branch.