Energy legislation makes it out of conference

Sierra Club official complains bill represents only 'baby steps'


.Just like two years ago, the Legislature is poised to consider a substantial piece of clean energy legislation on the final day of formal sessions.

The conference committee that since July 17 has been working to reconcile a Senate bill and four House bills related to clean energy filed its report with the House clerk’s office shortly before 8 p.m. Monday.

The compromise bill (H 4857) calls for the renewable portfolio standard to be increased by one percentage point until the end of 2019, then by two percentage points each year until the end of 2029, and then one-percentage point increases each year thereafter. The standard governs the amount of clean energy that utilities must purchase and integrate into the state’s energy system.

The bill also establishes an energy storage target of 1,000-megawatt hours to be achieved by Dec. 31, 2025, and requires electric distribution companies to start submitting reports next year to alert the state to energy storage installations in their service territory.

“Batteries are key to extending the life of clean energy and we want to see that battery sector really grow,” Sen. Michael Barrett, who led the negotiations for the Senate, said Monday night. “So this is a major job-creation piece.”

The negotiators also agreed to direct the Department of Energy Resources to investigate “the necessity, benefits, and costs of requiring distribution companies … to jointly and competitively conduct additional offshore wind generation solicitations and procurements of up to approximately 1,600 megawatts of aggregate nameplate capacity” in addition to the procurements authorized under a 2016 law.

“It’s a strong signal to the wind community that Massachusetts is open for business,” Rep. Tom Golden said.

The conference report also calls for a “clean peak standard” for utilities. Golden, the lead House negotiator, said Massachusetts will become the first state in the country to put such a standard into statute and that the clean peak standard would incentivize energy storage so the state is not relying on dirty sources of energy at times of peak usage.

The Sierra Club Massachusetts chapter said Monday night that it is disappointed with the energy bill because it is closer to what the House passed than the Senate’s omnibus approach.

“With this bill the Massachusetts Legislature took baby steps on clean energy legislation when what is needed are giant strides. The world needs Massachusetts to be leading the transition to a clean energy economy, and instead we are offering half measures and timidity,” Sierra Club Massachusetts Chapter Director Emily Norton said in a statement. “We had an opportunity to be bold and grow jobs, improve public health, stabilize energy costs, and reduce the fossil fuel pollution that is warming the planet, and instead Beacon Hill has sided with the status quo of fossil fuel and utility companies, over the innovation clean energy and high tech economies.”

In June, the Senate passed a bill (S 2545) with a raft of proposals prized by environmentalists, including mandating a carbon pricing system, increasing the renewable portfolio standard, removing the solar net metering cap, creating an energy storage target, and authorizing additional procurements of offshore wind and hydropower. The Senate’s carbon pricing and net metering provisions were not included in the conference committee bill.

The House responded by sending the Senate four discrete proposals to bump up utilities renewable purchases (H 4575), promote energy storage (H 4576), and take two tacks to promote energy efficiency (H 3404 and H 4749).

The conference bill also struck down what Barrett called “a truly gnarly charge that Eversource had hoped to layer on all homeowners with solar on the roof.” Barrett said the conference committee rejected the form of the charge.

The charge was to be levied on homeowners who generate energy from solar panels and would require them to pay a minimum monthly reliability charge, an additional demand fee based on the hour when they use the most electricity from the grid in a month, and the usual kilowatt hour charged levied on all electricity customers. The charge had been approved by the Department of Public Utilities, Barrett said.

“The form of it was unprecedented, it surprised the House chair Tom Golden, it took me aback, I think it surprised the Baker Administration,” Barrett said. “They did something we could find no analog for nationwide and we sent them — the DPU and the utility — back to the drawing board.”

Barrett said he hopes the Legislature will turn its attention next session to carbon emissions from the transportation sector and the built environment.

“The state, having passed this bill, needs to pivot and we’re going to have to go after the more challenging areas of emissions from transportation and emissions from buildings. That’s 81 percent of our greenhouse gases,” he said. “The 600-pound elephant in the room is the transportation sector and the pollution it causes. I think next session we’re going to try to redirect attention at that important frontier.”

With the clean energy conference committee having reached a resolution, the House and Senate are still waiting for compromise bills from negotiators hashing out compromise legislation on health care, education funding and animal welfare.

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Lawmakers are also working to strike agreements on opioid legislation and an economic development bill before formal sessions end after Tuesday.

Matt Murphy contributed to this report.