Governor signs renewable energy law that sets path away from coal, nuclear power


By Colin A. Young and Katie Lannan
State House News Service

Gov. Charlie Baker sat in the sun on the State House lawn Monday afternoon, relishing a victory for his administration and some in the Legislature.

With the stroke of his pen, Baker signed into law an energy bill that aims to diversify the state’s energy portfolio, spur the development of an offshore wind industry and protect customer wallets.

The bill consumed much of the political attention on Beacon Hill this year and was a priority for the governor, legislative leaders, and rank and file lawmakers, as evidenced by the large bipartisan contingent applauding as Baker signed the bill (H 4568).

Passed by the Legislature right at the July 31 deadline after months of work, the bill directs utilities to procure 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind and about 1,200 megawatts of hydroelectric power likely to be imported from Canada or upstate New York. Those new power sources are eyed as replacements for coal and nuclear generation, and will complement the state’s existing natural gas power sources.

The bill also promotes the development of energy storage technology and authorizes the Baker administration to establish a carbon reduction research center at the University of Massachusetts.

Baker said the law “will set Massachusetts’ course for the future in a proper and appropriate way to ensure that we continue to reduce our carbon footprint and at the same time deliver reliable and competitively priced energy for the people of this region.”

After the House and Senate passed conflicting renewable energy bills in June, around three weeks of closed-door negotiations culminated in the final hours of formal sessions on Sunday, July 31, when a compromise bill was agreed to by a conference committee. A final vote in the Senate after midnight sent it to Baker’s desk.

The final legislation is “a product that Massachusetts can be proud of,” said Sen. Benjamin Downing, the Senate chair of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee.

WATCH: Remarks from Bill Signing

Sen. Marc Pacheco, the only member of the six-person committee not to sign off on the accord, is in Quebec this week to moderate a climate change panel at the Council on State Government Eastern Regional Conference annual meeting, and did not attend the bill signing.

Matthew Beaton, Baker’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, said the new law represents “a monumental step forward in getting our economy that much closer to a renewable, clean energy economy that is mindful of the ratepayer, that helps us achieve our targets under the Global Warming Solutions Act.”

The Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA), passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Deval Patrick in 2008, set economy-wide goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 25 percent below 1990 statewide levels by 2020, and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Baker also announced Monday at the bill signing that he will issue an executive order “in the coming weeks” focused on climate adaptation mitigation and planning with the goal of working towards the GWSA requirements.

“Our administration will begin to take strong and coordinated action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, safeguard our residents from the impacts of climate change and build a more resilient commonwealth,” Baker said.

Though the governor, legislators and activists wanted to celebrate Monday, it will likely be years before hydropower and offshore wind energy begins flowing into Massachusetts homes and businesses. Now that the bill is law, the state must begin the work of implementation.

“It depends to some extent on how this all unfolds. The goal here is to try to have procurements out in 2017 and then, the answer on that one, it could be anywhere from 18 months to two or three or four years depending on how that procurement goes,” Baker said. “The Legislature set some legitimate and appropriate standards around cost effectiveness and reasonableness in this and if the bids don’t meet that test, then the answer is going to be to go back out and re-procure. Which means the process…it depends a lot on how the suppliers respond.”

After responses to a request for proposals come in and state officials give the green light to a proposal, it can then take two to four years for a supplier to have everything up and running, said Anbaric Transmission founder Edward Krapels, whose company specializes in early stage development of large-scale electric transmission systems. “At the minimum, we’re looking at 2021,” he said.

“The offshore wind is very, very promising, but we really haven’t done it before, so it’s going to take that industry a longer period of time to mobilize…so my guess is that looks more like 2025, whereas the terrestrial stuff, if we start today, we can be in service in 2020,” Krapels said. “But we’ve got to start, and that’s what the procurements are all about.”

Rep. Thomas Golden, a Lowell Democrat and the House chair of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, said he would love to see the new wind energy and hydropower available to Massachusetts consumers “as soon as tomorrow.” He said the task now facing Beaton, the Department of Energy Resources and the Department of Public Utilities is how to iron out the details of bringing new energy sources into the state, including the timeline.

“We’ve looked at reports and studies and how this is all going to play itself out, but truthfully, I don’t think we’ll ever really know until we start putting the oar in the water,” Golden told the News Service. “Everything that we’ve been talking about so far is on a hypothetical — how are we going to do this, how do we hit this — but DOER, DPU, under the leadership of Secretary Beaton, I think is going to do a good job.”

Joking that she’s earned the nickname “The Witch of Wind,” House Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad said the law provides a foundation for the development of a new offshore wind industry in Massachusetts, supplying jobs in port communities and elsewhere.

“This was also, for me, a jobs bill for southeastern Mass.,” Haddad, a Somerset Democrat said. “It was also about jobs and there isn’t enough to emphasize how important that is going to be for the South Coast.”

Haddad, whose district once had two coal-fired power plants but soon will have none, said the bill signed Monday by the governor began with three three-inch binders full of briefs, fact sheets, articles and other information on a variety of renewable energy sources that she prepared and circulated.

“If we really want to get anything done, you’ve got to dive into it, you’ve got to do the work, you’ve got to meet with the people, you just really have to bring a lot of people to the table. We stopped counting, I think, at 150 people who came in and I don’t know how many organizations,” she said. “The people I was asking to believe me, I wanted them to understand that I didn’t just pull this out of — no pun intended — the air. I really did work on this.”

Though the atmosphere at Monday’s bill signing was festive — including a themed playlist that featured the Apples in Stereo’s “Energy” and John Denver’s “Sunshine on my Shoulders” — legislators and advocates acknowledged the work that remains.

“For today, we’ll celebrate a major step towards tapping into Massachusetts’ tremendous offshore wind resources,” Environment Massachusetts state Director Ben Hellerstein said in a statement. “But tomorrow, we’ll renew the fight for 100 percent renewable energy for Massachusetts. We’ve certainly got a lot of work ahead of us.”

Alluding to the complexity of the new law, House Speaker Robert DeLeo quipped, “I can’t wait until the next energy bill. This was so much fun. Very clear and concise issue, I just can’t wait.”

DeLeo said legislators built in “numerous protections” for ratepayers, pointing specifically to a requirement that the energy contracts must be “cost-effective” to be approved.

“This bill reflects a smart strategy that will result in cost stability while growing opportunities for offshore wind and hydro,” he said.