The US-China Climate Summit, to be hosted in Boston in 2017, presents an extraordinary international opportunity for the city and Massachusetts to show the world our leadership on climate. But what will we showcase?
In 2008 the Commonwealth enacted the landmark Global Warming Solutions Act, requiring a dramatic reduction in pollution of 25 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. Eight years later, with time running out, we’re still not on track. The good news is that the Commonwealth leads the nation in energy efficiency. Boston leads with the passage of the Building Energy Reduction Disclosure Ordinance in 2013, tracking energy use and efficiency for all of Boston’s larger commercial and residential buildings. Good work.
The Legislature is now finalizing a significant new energy “omnibus” bill. Both the House and Senate deserve credit for a good start, but much rests on the final result. It will determine whether we move forward into the 21st century and embrace clean energy resources and new technology or fall back onto the old habits of the last century. It will determine whether Boston and Massachusetts can truly showcase our climate leadership at the summit next year.
Will we showcase plans for half an offshore wind farm, or one that maximizes the federal deepwater lease space available to us? Will we fix thousands of gas pipeline leaks, or will utilities still be charging ratepayers for energy they’re not receiving? Will we showcase a solar industry that’s capped, or one that’s robust? If we want to showcase Boston and Massachusetts at the summit next year, we need to rise to the occasion.
The Legislature must pass an energy bill that provides 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind power. If we do, we not only increase our energy supply, but we will build the first offshore wind farm in America. If we build it large enough, we will make Boston the center of a new national industry, with the accompanying jobs, and accelerate a reduction in cost. China and Europe have leapfrogged the United States with hundreds of wind turbines off their coasts. The technology is proven and costs are declining. It could provide 12 percent of our energy needs. We need it all.
The pending energy bill also provides procurement of Canadian hydro. Hydro is important, but procurement must also have strong incentives to include onshore wind from New England. One transmission line can carry energy from both sources. One line is cheaper than two, and onshore wind is cheap, plentiful, and further diversifies our portfolio when added to hydro.
Finally, if we are to maintain our leadership in energy efficiency, House and Senate leaders should also approve a first-in-the-nation consumer protection provision requiring free home energy at the point of sale. This is just like MPG stickers on cars and EnergySTAR ratings on appliances. It tells consumers what they’re buying. Why not an MPG sticker on your biggest purchase, your home? Does the real estate industry really think more consumer information is a bad idea? The audit is free, and nothing more is required. But it helps sellers understand how to insulate their home with an array of rebates and credits. It helps buyers, particularly lower income residents, avoid a “money pit.” It does this simply by providing information.
Next year, we also need to once and for all lift the arbitrary cap on solar net metering which stymies solar development. The legislature slightly lifted the cap recently, but we’ve effectively hit the cap again in vast regions of the Commonwealth. Business investments need certainty; without it, the solar industry will go elsewhere. How can we showcase Boston if we’ve capped solar?
The bottom line is that Massachusetts spends $22 billion per year on energy, and $18 billion of it is sent out of state, creating jobs and profits elsewhere. Why not build local industries and jobs here? We are an innovation economy.
Let’s design and build wind turbines, blades, and engines here, not abroad. Let’s put next-generation solar panels on the rooftop of every school and commercial or residential building that wants it. Let’s show China that if we expect them to fix their smokestacks, we will fix our leaking gas pipelines.
This is the 21st century. New technology may cost a little more, but prices drop quickly. The first computer cost more than a typewriter, the first cellphone cost more than a landline, the first Model T cost more than a horse and buggy. But costs came down, and we’re not going back. Now is the time for the Legislature to step up, show leadership, and show China and the world who we are.George Bachrach is president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, and Louis J. Antonellis is president/trustee of IBEW Local 103.