June 22, 2016

Downing Encourages Storage as Part of Massachusetts Energy Bill

On the heels of House passage of comprehensive energy legislation — and criticism of it by environmental groups — state Sen. Benjamin Downing, the Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications and Energy, said he wants the Senate’s version to include an increase of the state’s renewable energy portfolio and to spur energy storage technology.

“We’ve been leaders in solar, we’ve been leaders in efficiency,” said the Pittsfield Democrat who represents many Franklin County towns. “Making sure you get the most out of both of those would be by expanding the role that storage can play in the grid. I think requiring the utilities to go out and procure storage ... are strategies we’re considering now and ought to be part of our clean-energy strategy moving forward.”

After getting comments from Senate members, said Downing, he expects a measure will be taken up at the end of the month or early July.

Downing has filed legislation, which he said he would like to see incorporated into the energy package, that would double from 1 to 2 percent the annual increase in the renewable porfolio standard that electricity suppliers have to get from renewable sources. Under law, the percentage is now expected to reach 15 percent by 2020.

In its version, the House voted nearly unanimously Wednesday to diversify the state’s energy mix by requiring utilities to enter into long-term contracts for large-scale hydroelectric and offshore wind power to help cut the state’s reliance on natural gas and meet its carbon emission reduction mandates.

The House bill would require utilities to solicit proposals spanning 15 to 20 years for roughly 1,200 megawatts of hydropower and 1,200 megawatts of offshore wind energy, subject to state approval.

A coalition of environmental groups said they hope the Senate will move faster on offshore wind by requiring purchase of up to 2,000 megawatts — “still only a fraction of what is readily available far off the coast of Massachusetts — in order to secure the lower costs and greater environmental benefits.”

The Alliance for Clean Energy Solutions, including National Wildlife Federation, Environmental League of Massachusetts, Mass. Audubon and Massachusetts Sierra Club, also called on the Senate to develop a plan to implement an energy storage program, which it said would be “a game-changer,” and to increase the renewable energy portfolio standard.

It said it would like to see the issue of solar incentives revisited after a short-term expansion was signed into law earlier this year.

No Fracked Gas in Mass. was among the environmental groups that spoke out about the House version of the bill for failing to include an amendment that would have banned any new tariff on electric bills to fund pipeline capacity.

Gov. Charlie Baker has pushed the importation of large-scale hydropower from Canada as a reliable and cost-effective way to respond to the impending retirement of more than 10,000 megawatts of fossil fuel and nuclear power generation in the region.

In the House, seven amendments were adopted, including one by Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, to help homeowners finance energy efficiency projects and a Ways and Means amendment aimed at making sure gas companies survey and repair any leaks when pipes are exposed as part of a local infrastructure improvement project.

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