What will it take for blue Mass. to go green?

Legislature has a chance to play the hero

MASSACHUSETTS FINDS itself at a moment of choosing when it comes to embracing clean energy. The state boasts the best wind corridor in the nation and has the potential to unleash a nearly sevenfold increase in the amount of solar energy it generates. The Bay State has an enviable bounty of clean energy resources, which are essential for successful climate action and represent a jobs driver in the coming decades. Gov. Charlie Baker has requested $1.2 billion in Recovery Act  funds be put toward climate resiliency and growing out the state’s clean energy industry. He’s hoping to make Massachusetts a national and world leader in renewable energy, following the same path it took more than a decade ago in capturing the life sciences industry.

However, the Massachusetts Legislature has yet to embrace the governor’s urgency on dedicating these funds. Both the House and Senate are filled with members who have run and been elected on climate action platforms. This is the kind of issue that often goes unaddressed due to a lack of funding, but thanks to a budget surplus and billions in ARPA funds the state actually has the money to support its climate aspirations. We could go another decade before Massachusetts again occupies such an opportune spot to make these crucial investments, and our climate doesn’t have that kind of time to waste. It begs the question: what will it take for a blue state to go green?

In June, city and town leaders from all around the state, including Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller and New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, made it abundantly clear to the Legislature that this money can have far more impact if it’s spent sooner rather than later. At their core, clean energy investments are a massive jobs program. The effort to decarbonize every sector of our society is giving rise to a diverse climate economy, which will require significant workforce training for projects taking place all over the Commonwealth.

Offshore wind gets the bulk of the attention because Massachusetts is a potential titan in that industry, but solar energy, energy storage, a wholesale upgrade of our electric grid, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, clean transit, and zero-carbon construction are important elements in building out the climate economy. If we play it right, this could  be the next wave of blue and white collar jobs in the state.

And the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center exists for the purpose of making the targeted investments that build out the entire ecosystem needed for this new economy. Every part of the state can prosper from this as every part of the state must be involved in the overall decarbonization effort. If it doesn’t reach the street you live on, the job will remain undone. Full participation is required. Local officials understand that, and they want the state to invest this money so they can get busy participating. We have the money and the mechanism to distribute it.

On top of that, New England just got a real-time lesson from New Hampshire and Maine on how energy prices are affected by global markets, inflation, and the volatility of fossil fuel prices. Electric rates in New Hampshire have doubled due to a steep increase in the price of fossil gas while Maine is reducing its electric prices 2.7 percent  thanks to lower generation costs associated with renewable energy. This is what happens when we leverage the natural resources around us rather than rely on fossil fuels that are inextricably tied to volatile global markets. We’re also seeing reports out of Texas, where they produce tons of gas and oil, about how wind and solar power have saved them during their brutal June heatwave. We need to produce enough clean energy to stabilize prices, provide needed resiliency, and put us on the track to true energy independence.

Finally, clean energy investment would be a proactive response to other pressing issues taking place in our society. Our nation is currently battling high inflation and there is a well-documented history of inflation creating a drag on the economy even after it goes down. Massachusetts has the opportunity to bolster itself against that by embracing an industry that can deliver tens of thousands of good paying jobs during a time where much of the rest of the country may be facing a recession economy.

Additionally, the Supreme Court just disabled the Environment Protection Agency’s ability to halt climate change and to ensure clean air and water.

Help is not coming from above. States have to move swiftly to fill that vacuum. This only underscores the absolute need to move away from fossil fuel-fired energy facilities altogether. We should be focused on making clean energy investments so we can close down our polluting and climate-ravaging infrastructure rather than worrying about how we regulate it.

The Legislature has a chance to play the hero here. It has the money to make generational climate investments and put the Commonwealth on track for a thriving economic future. This is the moment it can turn the vision of being a sustainable state into a reality. The only regret we’ll have later is if we don’t act decisively in this moment.

Joseph Curtatone is the president of the Northeast Clean Energy Council and the former mayor of Somerville.