The Senate voted unanimously April 5 to pass legislation aimed at bolstering the state’s renewable energy supply and getting a better handle on electricity prices. The bill’s passage followed about two hours of debate on often highly technical amendments. While some critics of the bill worried that efforts to move more deeply into renewable energy might have a negative effect on prices, supporters said investments in the renewable energy sector will pay off in jobs created and less reliance on dirtier imported fuels.
Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said the bill included important provisions aimed at fostering competition and transparency in the industry, giving hydropower a role in the renewable energy mix, and reducing risks associated with long-term renewable energy contracts. Sen. Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield) led the push for the bill’s passage.
After the session, his aides said analysts were still reviewing amendments attached to the bill and that no summary of the legislation was available. Under a Republican-sponsored amendment that was approved, consumers would see on their monthly bills a line item detailing energy costs related to renewable energy. “I think the customer has a right to know what we do here and what it means to their pocketbook,” said Sen. Michael Knapik (R-Westfield), the amendment’s sponsor.
The state set a goal of reaching 250 megawatts of solar energy by 2017 and 2,000 megawatts of wind power by 2020. Reaching those goals will cost money, Knapik said. “Make no mistake this large source of renewables is going to come at a cost, some of which we know, some of which we perceive, and some of which we fear, quite frankly,” he said. In earlier comments, Downing said the state can’t afford to sacrifice its long-term renewable energy goals for immediate cost reductions, calling for a “right balance” even as questions remain about how increased renewable energy requirements will affect electricity prices.
The Senate also adopted an amendment that would look at the process to reactivate hydro-powered dams. Sen. Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge), who filed the amendment, said there was a mill owned by a nonprofit organization in his district that spent 10 years seeking approvals from 32 different agencies before it finally was able to reopen an old hydro-powered dam.