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Mass. Senate unveils bill aimed at curbing energy costs

The Massachusetts Senate is proposing to cap rate increases and require utilities to buy more power from small-scale producers as part of an effort to control the high cost of electricity in the state.

The bill, which was unveiled today, would also allow hydroelectric power to count towards the Commonwealth’s renewable and alternative energy generation goals as measured by the Green Communities Act of 2008.

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The legislation, which has over 25 provisions, contains both short- and long-term proposals.

Short term, backers are hoping to improve accountability and transparency on the part of state utilities.

Rate increases will also be capped to avoid sharp spikes in hikes. Utilities will not be able to raise rates more than 10 percent, unless authorized by the Department of Public Utilities. If the DPU does approve a rate increase of more than 10 percent, under the proposed legislation the increase would have to be spread out over the first two years. Utilities would also be required to put long term contracts out to bid.

The state’s net metering program, which encourages small-scale local generation of power, would be expanded under the bill, to encourage local distribution of power.

The average electric rate in Massachusetts is 14.24 cents per kilowatt hour, ranking the seventh-highest in the United States and well above the national average of 10 cents.

“We want to continue to advance the progress we’ve made around clean energy and energy efficiency in the most cost effective way,” said Senator Benjamin B. Downing, a Pittsfield Democrat, one of the sponsors of the bill. Downing represents Berkshire, Hampshire, and Franklin counties and serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy.

D.C. Denison can be reached at denison@globe.com.

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