The easy passage of a House bill expanding the state's procurement of hydropower and offshore wind was greeted with criticism from a range of advocacy groups, who said the bill would raise energy costs and would not do enough to increase the use of renewable energy. "Why are we so timid?" asked George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts. Some groups did, however, cheer an amendment that would accelerate the repair of gas leaks. As The Republican/MassLive.com reported Wednesday, the bill sailed through the House on a 154 to one vote on Wednesday evening after lawmakers dispensed with 61 amendments during seven hours of mostly closed-door discussions. The bill, H.4377, would require the state's energy distribution companies to solicit 15- to 20-year contracts to purchase 1,200 megawatts of offshore wind power and 1,200 megawatts of hydropower by 2027. The distributors would be required to run a competitive bidding process and enter into the contracts as long as the bids go through an evaluation process and are found to be reasonable and cost-effective.
The bill would allow utilities to charge ratepayers a fee to recoup some of the costs of getting the renewable energy, such as building a new transmission line. The total a utility can recoup is capped at 2.75 percent of the company's annual payments for the new infrastructure. Supporters of the bill called it a "historical step" to move away from the use of coal plants, several of which have recently closed or are scheduled to close, to the use of cleaner types of fuel. But numerous interest groups are challenging the bill, and there is likely to be more debate and revision as it moves on to the Senate.
The New England Power Generators Association said the legislation "has the potential to dramatically increase costs for consumers and derail billions of dollars in energy investments here in Massachusetts."
NEPGA President Dan Dolan said the bill would undermine a competitive market by locking much of the market up in long-term contracts. "In response to retiring power plants, thousands of megawatts of new local plants are under development today to preserve reliability and continue Massachusetts' leadership in driving lower emissions," Dolan said in a statement. "Locking consumers into decades-long contracts would also freeze out innovation at a time when tremendous growth and promise is evident from more efficient power generation, lower renewable energy costs and burgeoning distributed electricity supplies."
Environmental groups were also unhappy. Bachrach argued the bill should do more to promote offshore wind, onshore wind and solar development. "Limiting offshore wind capacity to 1,200 megawatts, far less than the 2,000 megawatts we need, holding back solar development by not permanently lifting the arbitrary cap and failing to include on-shore wind as part of our hydro procurement from Canada are missed opportunities that shortchange local ratepayers," Bachrach said. Caitlin Peale Sloan, staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, said the bill "falls far short of what the people of Massachusetts need and deserve for a clean energy future." She said the bill relies too much on Canadian imported hydropower and not enough on onshore and offshore wind.
Mass Power Forward, a coalition of environmental and social justice groups, also urged a larger commitment to wind energy and to solar projects for low-income individuals. It called for a ban on new ratepayer fees to cover the cost of building natural gas pipelines. Amendments to ban these fees were introduced in the House but ruled to be outside the scope of the existing bill. The environmental groups did cheer an amendment meant to accelerate the repair of gas leaks. The amendment requires that gas leaks be repaired whenever roads are opened up for work. It would require the Department of Public Utilities to identify the environmental impact of gas leaks and establish a five-year plan to fix them, and would encourage the repair of leaks based on their environmental impact and require annual reporting about methane emissions from gas leaks.
Environmental groups have said the gas distribution system today leaks an enormous amount of gas into the environment. The major question now is whether the state Senate can develop its own version of the bill and whether the two versions can be reconciled by House-Senate negotiators before the legislative session ends at the end of July.