June 11, 2018

Senate to take up clean energy acceleration

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The Senate wants to speed up development of clean energy.

Utilities would need to ramp up renewable energy purchases, the state could dramatically expand its support of offshore wind, and commercial solar endeavors would be freed from existing restrictions, under legislation the Senate plans to take up.

The bill is sure to please the renewable energy industry and will likely raise concerns among other business interests in the electricity sector.

The 32-section legislation would also require the state to create "market-based compliance mechanisms" to achieve greenhouse gas emission reductions for the transportation sector and the construction industry, according to a bill summary.

New England and other states participate in a market-based cap and trade system for power generators called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which has been credited with reducing emissions and spurring economic growth.

"We are extremely excited about what we see as the future in this area," said Taunton Sen. Marc Pacheco, the Senate president pro tempore who originally sponsored the bill that will likely be voted on next week. Amendments are due by the end of the day Monday.

The bill also "clarifies" that municipal electrical departments are subject to the state's Global Warming Solutions Act while allowing the secretary of energy and environmental affairs to exempt those entities, according to the summary.

Less than two months remain before the July 31 end of formal sessions and the House and Senate have yet to finish work on legislation addressing health care, opioids and zoning/housing production among other priorities.

Rep. Tom Golden, the House chairman of the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, said he anticipates the House will take action on energy bills this session and "come to some type of agreement" with the Senate.

"I'm eager to look through it and find ways that the House and the Senate would agree," Golden told the News Service, when asked about the bill that was given a favorable report by the Senate Committee on Ways and Means on Thursday.

The panel's three Republicans - Sens. Vinny deMacedo, Richard Ross and Don Humason - reserved their rights, essentially declining to take a position on the bill, which received the endorsement of all the Democrats who voted. Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, the assistant vice chairwoman of the committee, and Sen. Patricia Jehlen, did not participate in the poll, according to the committee.

The Senate in recent years has advanced more liberal policies than the House and the latest clean energy legislation is no exception.

Under the Ways and Means bill (S 2545), the amount of new Class 1 green power that utilities would need to buy under the renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS) would triple, reaching an additional 3 percent annually, according to the summary.

The bill would also remove the cap on net-metering for non-governmental solar facilities. Net-metering allows solar generators to obtain favorable rates for the electricity they sell to the grid, and it is capped by state law.

Late last month, the committee led by Golden and Sen. Michael Barrett endorsed legislation (H 2712) that would lift the net-metering cap, allowing non-municipal entities to sell up to 9 percent of a utilities' peak load and allowing government solar generators to supply up to 10 percent.

The bill also addresses a Department of Public Utilities decision that allows the utility Eversource to start charging new solar customers a new demand charge that would be based on the hour-long period when a customer draws the most electricity from the grid.

Under the bill, utilities could only levy a demand charge on net-metering solar generators during pre-determined peak hours of system demand and only when the customer can have real-time access to electrical usage, according to the bill summary. Any previously approved minimum monthly charges would need to be refiled for approval by the Department of Public Utilities, under the bill.

The way Eversource plans to institute minimum monthly demand charges raised the hackles of both Barrett and Golden when utility officials testified before the energy committee early this year.

"The frustration that you're causing is irritating to no end," Golden said at the time.

A spokesman for Eversource on Thursday said the company is still reviewing the legislation.

"We know that we need to increase the RPS. We know that we need to fix the minimum monthly required contribution process," Sen. Pacheco told the News Service. Asked about how the House might view the bill, Pacheco said, "There's a lot of areas here where there's agreement."

The bill would also require the Department of Energy Resources to establish an energy storage deployment target of 2,000 megawatts by 2025, and allow the energy resources department to recommend procurements of 5,000 megawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2035.

Utilities and the state recently selected Vineyard Wind to to build an 800-megawatt offshore wind farm south of Martha's Vineyard. The Department of Energy Resources would also be empowered to recommend procurements for more than 9.4 million megawatt hours of clean energy generation. The state also recently selected Central Maine Power to supply Massachusetts ratepayers with hydropower imported from Canada.

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