The administration of Governor Maura Healey on Tuesday named another veteran of the attorney general’s office to fill a key climate post.
Elizabeth Mahony, who was senior policy adviser for energy under Healey when she was attorney general, will now lead the state Department of Energy Resources, a role with responsibility for Healey’s effort to drive a massive transition to clean energy. The job will include decisions about rapidly increasing the amount of solar and wind power in the state and upgrading the state’s electricity transmission.
Mahony was appointed by Rebecca Tepper, secretary of the Energy and Environment Administration, who also came to the Healey administration from the attorney general’s office. “I’ve seen her in action, thinking up creative solutions to complex problems and delivering real results for the Commonwealth,” Tepper said in a statement. “Elizabeth will be at the epicenter of our clean energy transition, and I know she will prioritize ratepayers and advance equity in everything she does.”
Mahony is taking the reins of the energy department at a crucial moment. The state has less than seven years to slash emissions to 50 percent of 1990 levels in accordance with state law, and a central part of that requires a transition away from a reliance on natural gas for home heating and electricity.
As a candidate, Healey promised to aggressively tackle the climate crisis while keeping environmental and social justice at the forefront. Now that she’s in office, climate advocates and activists will be expecting her to follow through.
Illustrating how thorny decisions about expanded electrification could be, a planned electricity substation in East Boston has become a focal point of controversy, with community members vehemently opposing it. While the utility proposing the substation, Eversource, has said the facility is needed to meet the demands of the area, community members say it will largely benefit Logan Airport, while saddling an already overburdened community with additional energy infrastructure.
In an interview, Mahony said the Healey administration is looking at the contracts and decisions to see “what else can be done.” But the administration is also considering it a cautionary tale. “No community should go through that experience again in the way they did,” Mahony said.
Going forward, as the state works to update the electrical grid, Mahony said she’ll be expecting the utilities to engage with communities much earlier in the process. “I’m constantly amazed or disappointed in how the utilities can be stuck in the ways of how they’ve always done things,” she said, noting that energy infrastructure planning has typically started with utilities picking a project and then going to the community several months later to discuss it. “We need to be out there talking about it in advance. Let’s talk about where it makes sense and what we can do and how we can all participate in this,” she said.
Mahony said she’ll be leaning on her experience helping the city of Lawrence navigate the aftermath of the 2018 gas explosions. In the wake of that accident, Mahony represented the attorney general’s office to advocate for ratepayers in the area. Ana Javier, a Lawrence resident who worked with several community groups at the time, said she appreciated how Mahony showed up at community meeting after community meeting and was a good listener throughout. “I’m really happy to know that someone like her will be in this position,” Javier said.
Clean energy advocates also voiced their support for Mahony’s appointment. Sean Garren, chief programs officer of Vote Solar, a solar advocacy organization, said that in the attorney general’s office, Mahony pushed the state Department of Public Utilities to move faster to develop solar-friendly programs in the state, something he hopes she does more of in her new position.
Susannah Hatch, director of clean energy at the Environmental League of Massachusetts, said she was thrilled because she feels it will be up to Mahony to take the state’s clean energy transition from the planning stage to implementation.
“She has a lot of the knowledge and experience that we really need a DOER commissioner to have to hit the ground running,” Hatch said.