April 9, 2019

Millennial legislators bond around push for renewables

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Sen. Patrick O'Connor urged supporters of 100 percent renewable energy to let Beacon Hill decision-makers know "that this is something that's incredibly important to us as a generation."

With seawall breaches, beach erosion and other weather-driven emergencies, Scituate "has become the poster child of climate change" over the last few years, according to Sen. Patrick O'Connor, who represents that town and seven other coastal communities.

"We need to act as quickly as we possibly can to stop the effects of climate change that are going on inside all of our communities," O'Connor, a 34-year-old Weymouth Republican, said at a Millennials for 100% Renewable Energy lobby day Monday.

O'Connor said moving the state away from fossil fuels is "not just a policy idea, but it's our responsibility."

The millennials group supports bills filed by Reps. Marjorie Decker and Sean Garballey and Sen. Jamie Eldridge that call for Massachusetts to get all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2035, and fully transition to renewable energy economy-wide, including heating and transportation, by 2045.

More than 100 lawmakers have signed on to co-sponsor the 100 percent renewable energy bills, said Garballey, who is also 34.

"Our statement as millennials is climate change is real, the threat to our planet is real, and that the only way we're going to be able to deal with it is if we come together and move towards a greener economy," the Arlington Democrat said.

Last session, the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee killed both the House and Senate versions of the 100 percent renewable bill by including them orders for further study.

O'Connor encouraged supporters of the bills to "let our legislators know, those who have not signed on and those who are the decision-makers up on Beacon Hill, as far as the ones who put the bills forward ... that this is something that's important to us as a generation."

Rep. Tommy Vitolo said he's grown "tired of everybody saying 'those kids' -- and they're pointing to like, seventh graders -- 'are going to solve our problems,' because I'm like, wait a minute, what about the millennials?"

"You guys are going to solve our problems, right?" asked Vitolo, who, at 40 years old, said his status as a member of the millennial generation is "up for debate."

Vitolo, a Brookline Democrat, is the House sponsor of another bill backed by the Millennials for 100% Renewable Energy Network, which would require clean, renewable heating systems in new state buildings. Similarly, O'Connor and fellow millennial legislator Rep. Paul Mark filed bills that would require solar panels be installed on new state buildings.

"At the very least, the state can lead with its values and make good decisions on its own infrastructure," Vitolo said.

Rep. Maria Robinson, whose first job after graduating college in 2009 was at the state Department of Energy Resources, said she has seen a "groundswell" building on energy issues.

"What is heartening to me is at least over the past 12, 15 years I've been doing this, I think we finally have the public conversation moving in the right direction," the Framingham Democrat said. "There are people who haven't been engaged in this conversation before who are active."

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