Baker signs climate bill, despite ‘deep misgivings’

Backs new offshore wind procurement in first half of 2023

DESPITE “DEEP MISGIVINGS’ about some of its elements, Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law on Thursday a climate change/energy bill that he said would help Massachusetts retain its standing as a national leader in securing renewable energy.

It’s the fourth climate bill Baker has signed since taking office in 2015, and his signing letter suggested it is the one he is least enthusiastic about.

He said he welcomed the elimination of the price cap on future offshore wind procurements. The cap required each successive procurement to come in at a price lower than the last one, which Baker believed was hindering companies from pursuing onshore supply chain development here in Massachusetts.

He also welcomed increases in subsidies for electric vehicles, but he said funding for the subsidies will need to be identified because the new law doesn’t include it.

Funding overall was a major point of contention with the Legislature. Baker sought to set aside $750 million for clean energy development, but lawmakers chose to stash funding for the climate change initiatives in other pieces of legislation, largely because they didn’t want to turn the climate change bill into a spending bill over which Baker could exercise his line-item veto.

Baker had few options with the bill. He could only sign it or veto it, and he decided to sign it and take what he considered the good with the bad.

He said a key reason for signing it was to pave the way for the next offshore wind procurement in the first half of 2023. He also said the federal climate bill moving through Congress could provide funding for many of the initiatives in the Massachusetts legislation.

“Massachusetts must take full advantage of this remarkable opportunity both to make progress on our greenhouse gas requirements and to bolster the research and development of our entrepreneurs to take full advantage of the rapidly developing national and global clean energy market. It is one generational opportunity that we must seize,” Baker wrote.

The governor fretted about a series of working groups and commissions established by the bill that deal with transmission and grid modernization issues that are already the purview of other agencies.

“Execution on these cumbersome working groups and commissions will predominantly fall on the next administration, and I believe it is incumbent upon those officials and the Legislature to avoid at all costs the detrimental bureaucratic pitfalls these commissions pose,” Baker wrote in his signing letter.

The governor reserved his harshest words for a provision in the bill allowing 10 communities to go fossil free in all new construction except for the development of life sciences and health care facilities.

Baker said the decision not to also exempt multi-family dwellings in the 10 communities means moderate and low-income people will not be able to rent or buy there. He called it exclusionary zoning.

“Multi-family buildings that use only electric alternatives are currently cost-prohibitive,” he said.

Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, who led the charge for the 10-community experiment, said he was puzzled by the governor’s comments because a study done by Baker’s own Department of Energy Resources found that all-electric, four-unit dwellings would actually cost marginally less than buildings incorporating natural gas hookups.

“To my knowledge, the only data they have is the study I’m citing,” Barrett said.

Advocates generally hailed passage of the law, although some raised concerns. Joseph Curtatone of the Northeast Clean Energy Council said the lack of identifiable funding is a problem, particularly with the failure by the Legislature to pass an economic development bill at the end of the session.

Staci Rubin of the Conservation Law Foundation hailed the elimination of subsidies for wood-burning power plants but said the bill doesn’t go far enough in protecting environmental justice populations or electrifying the commuter rail system.