February 19, 2018

Editorial: Energy legislation shouldn't be a wish list

Climate change is a very real crisis with huge implications, and countries, states, cities, businesses and individuals must do their part to combat mankind's increasingly damaging impact on the world's ecosystem. There are smart ways to combat climate change, but there are ineffective approaches, and the energy bill unveiled last week in the Massachusetts Senate is not a smart approach.

Championed by State Sen. Marc Pacheco, the chair of Senate's Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, the bill reads like an idealistic wish list and lacks a pragmatic perspective.

For example, the bill calls for a complete ban on the construction of new natural gas pipelines, a 10-year moratorium on fracking, expanding wind power goals, and eliminating the reimbursement caps for businesses and residents who produce their own solar, which sounds nice but will result in those who can't construct or afford solar arrays shouldering a greater cost burden of supporting the main power grid infrastructure. If passed, the bill would force Massachusetts businesses and residents to make drastic changes to their energy habits – or face financial penalties through carbon fees – and put the reliability of the electric infrastructure at risk.

Because the Trump Administration is setting back national efforts to combat climate change, it may seem states like Massachusetts must make drastic changes to make up for the federal government's lack of leadership, but this bill is not the best way to get buy-in from businesses and individuals on this important cause. People must understand the end goal and then be instructed on how to get there – gradually. Having reimbursement for solar production will encourage adoption, but the caps should be raised over time – instead of eliminated all at once – to avoid shocking the current electric pricing system. Banning fracking may allay people's fears about a controversial way to harvest oil and natural gas, but creating robust safety regulations is a better way, so the precious resources can still be harvested. The energy cost in New England is already high, and to not effectively tap the boom in natural gas production is foolhardy. Building natural gas pipelines in the state will create more reliability for the New England power plant system and help wean both electric generators and residences off of petroleum, which is a much more harmful fossil fuel. Power grid administrator ISO New England has already warned a lack of fuel reliability for power plants could lead to blackouts. Nothing will kill clean energy acceptance and adoption faster than if a region like New England with a deep commitment to wind and solar power starts experiencing regular blackouts for lack of consistent electricity generation.

Of course, none of this is news to Pacheco and the rest of the bill's advocates. Knowing their legislation must pass through the Senate and House before being signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker – who has proven himself pragmatic when it comes to combating climate change – the bill is meant to provide talking points for the discussion of clean energy in the Massachusetts legislature, rather than providing a realistic guide to how the state can continue to be a national leader. It would be better to start the conversation at a place where the right change can actually happen at the right pace.


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