Massachusetts draws closer to 100 percent renewable commitment

In February, Massachusetts took a big step toward 100 percent renewable energy when a Senate committee approved an ambitious clean energy bill.

Ben Hellerstein

Former State Director, Environment Massachusetts

In February, Massachusetts took a big step toward 100 percent renewable energy when a Senate committee approved an ambitious clean energy bill.

The Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, led by Chairman Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton) and Vice Chairman Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), released legislation that would put Massachusetts on a path to achieve 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035 and power other sectors of the economy, like heating and transportation, with 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

The bill, entitled An Act to promote a clean energy future (S.2302), is the first major piece of clean energy legislation to move forward in the 2017-2018 legislation session.

Keep reading for an explanation of what’s in the legislation. You can support this bill, including a commitment to power Massachusetts with 100 percent renewable energy, by signing on to our letter.

The lack of action on clean energy has frustrated many legislators and advocates. This winter, Massachusetts’ coastal communities experienced record high tides and unprecedented flooding, underscoring the ways that climate change is already affecting our communities and the impacts we can expect to see in the future unless we move quickly to reduce carbon pollution. According to a recent report, sea levels could rise by 7–10 feet in the Boston area by the end of the century if global warming continues on its current trajectory.

The Senate global warming committee’s bill aims to address obstacles to clean energy development and accelerate the growth of solar, wind, and energy efficiency. The bill includes most of the provisions of the 100% Renewable Energy Act (S.1849, H.3395), filed by Senator Eldridge, Representative Sean Garballey (D-Arlington), and Representative Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge) last January. The global warming committee’s bill would: 

  • Set a goal of 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035 and 100 percent renewable energy economy-wide (including heating and transportation) by 2050.
  • Require the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to set interim clean energy targets for 2030 and 2040.
  • Require DOER and other state agencies to issue binding regulations to achieve the 2030, 2040, and 2050 targets across all sectors.
  • Create an Administrative Council for the Clean Energy Transition to identify opportunities to accelerate clean energy growth across all state agencies.
  • Create a Clean Energy Center of Excellence to develop new ideas and technologies.
  • Direct state agencies to study the pathways to 100 percent renewable energy for heating and transportation.
  • Create a dedicated source of funding for training and job placement assistance for residents hoping to work in the clean energy industry.

Additionally, the global warming committee’s bill includes several other provisions to accelerate Massachusetts’ progress toward 100 percent renewable energy:

Solar: The bill would eliminate the caps on solar net metering, addressing once and for all a major obstacle that has hobbled the growth of solar in Massachusetts.

The legislation also includes a proposal by Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and Representative Russell Holmes to make the benefits of solar energy more widely available. The full value of net metering credits would be restored for solar projects serving low-income and environmental justice communities, and state agencies would be required to set aside a portion of any future solar incentive program for low-income people and renters. Additionally, the bill would delay the implementation of the controversial demand charge for new solar customers created by the Department of Public Utilities (DPU).

Offshore wind: In July 2016, the Legislature passed a bill calling for 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind by 2027 — enough to meet approximately 10-15 percent of Massachusetts’ annual electricity consumption, and the largest offshore wind commitment in the nation at the time.

Massachusetts’ offshore wind commitment sparked a race to the top. Since July 2016, New York has set a target of 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind. And just last month, New Jersey’s new governor, Phil Murphy, announced a 3,500-megawatt offshore wind commitment.

The global warming committee’s bill would put Massachusetts back in the lead, with a goal of 5,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2035. It would also accelerate the timeline for developing the first 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind, and require DOER to conduct additional procurements for offshore wind beyond 1,600 megawatts if those procurements will help meet Massachusetts’ emission reduction targets.

Renewable portfolio standard (RPS): Massachusetts’ RPS sets a requirement for the minimum percentage of the state’s electricity that comes from renewable sources like solar and wind. The RPS is currently at 12 percent renewable electricity, and is set to increase by 1 percentage point per year under current law. Advocates have warned that the current rate of increase is insufficient to meet our carbon pollution reduction goals.

The global warming committee’s bill would increase the RPS by 3 percent per year, reaching 50 percent renewable electricity by 2030. While this rate is slower than the RPS increase proposed in the 100% Renewable Energy Act, it still represents a significant improvement over the current RPS and a big step toward an electric grid powered entirely by renewable energy.

The bill would also include municipally owned utility companies in the RPS, although with a lower requirement than the investor-owned utility companies that serve most of the state. Currently, municipal utilities are exempt from the RPS.

Energy storage: The global warming committee’s bill would set an energy storage target of 1,766 megawatts by 2025, and require DOER to set a 2030 target for energy storage by the end of 2020. Last July, DOER set an energy storage goal of 200 megawatt-hours by 2020. Many advocates and industry leaders criticized this target as lacking ambition.

Electric vehicles: The bill would provide additional funding for rebates to offset the cost of electric vehicles and charging stations. It would also require DOER and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to identify key locations for electric vehicle charging stations, allow zero-emission vehicles to travel in high-occupancy lanes, and create incentives for charging electric vehicles during off-peak hours.

Energy efficiency: The bill would establish energy efficiency standards for products that are not covered under existing standards — such as computer monitors and certain types of lamps — and require Massachusetts to continue to use federal appliance efficiency standards even if they are repealed by federal agencies. Additionally, realtors would be required to provide the results of an energy audit to potential homebuyers so that they can compare the energy efficiency of different houses prior to purchase.

Community empowerment: Under this provision, municipalities would be authorized to enter into long-term contracts for renewable energy on behalf of their residents and businesses.

In addition to these clean energy provisions, the bill also contains important language establishing a price on carbon emissions, prohibiting the use of ratepayer dollars to pay for gas pipeline expansion, allowing for more public input at the DPU, establishing 2030 and 2040 limits on carbon pollution, and divesting public pensions from fossil fuels.

The next step for the legislation is the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, followed by a vote of the full Senate.

And after that, the House of Representatives. While the House has been slower to act on clean energy than the Senate in recent years, there is reason for optimism. So far, 47 House members have endorsed a statewide commitment to 100 percent renewable energy.

The best way to ensure legislative action on clean energy this year is for thousands of people across the state to raise their voices. Please add your name to our letter in support of 100 percent renewable energy today!


Ben Hellerstein

Former State Director, Environment Massachusetts