April 11, 2012

Mass. Senate to tackle energy bill

A multi-faceted energy bill aimed at reining in electricity costs in Massachusetts while also continuing to promote growth in renewable power sources is set for debate at the Statehouse.

Senate President Therese Murray has scheduled the bill for a vote on Thursday.

The measure, endorsed last week by a legislative committee, requires competitive bidding for long-term renewable energy contracts and would require that utilities purchase at least 7 percent of their total power supply from renewable sources, up from the current 3 percent.

Attorney General Martha Coakley said Monday that the proposal would also put an end to "sweetheart" deals, by reducing from 4 percent to 1 percent the guaranteed investment return that utilities receive from renewable energy contracts.

"We believe these are common sense updates, they will continue to allow Massachusetts to be a leader in the clean energy industry while providing for increased competition accountability and transparency for ratepayers," Coakley said at a news conference called by Senate leaders.

Supporters of the bill have called it a needed update to the 2008 Green Communities law, which they say has been successful in boosting energy conservation and renewable power use in Massachusetts, but has also proven expensive. Coakley has warned that without changes in the law it could increase delivery costs for electricity by $4 billion in the next four years.

The legislation also calls for more frequent review of utility rate requests and would give state regulators 10 months, rather than the current six months, to review rate filings. Regulators would be allowed to spread rate increases exceeding 10 percent over a two-year period.

Murray said employers have repeatedly cited high energy costs as one of their major concerns about doing business in Massachusetts.

State Sen. Benjamin Downing, one of the principal authors of the bill, said it seeks both short-term and long-term solutions to the state’s energy problems, but includes no guarantees that costs will go down.

"It would be wrong of us to try to predict where rates may or may not go," said Downing, a Pittsfield Democrat. "I do think we put more pressure on making sure that if rates do go up, they are justified, and if they are not justified that they do not go up."

A redraft of the bill presented Monday added a provision that raises the cap on net metering — a process by which consumers and businesses who own renewable energy sources — such as solar panels — can receive credit for unused power generation that is returned to the electric grid.

Another new provision would also allow for the state to make a central procurement in the event of a significant shortfall in renewable power generation.


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