House Speaker Robert DeLeo sought to reassure business leaders on Friday that the energy bill his leadership team is crafting will aim to curb the high costs that companies and consumers face in the state.
Addressing the Associated Industries of Massachusetts in Boston at the employer group’s annual meeting, DeLeo didn’t give away any secrets in terms of how the highly anticipated bill will be written. He said the bill, expected to emerge within the next few weeks, would include a competitive procurement process to allow hydroelectricity, offshore wind, and other renewable sources to play a greater role in the region’s energy mix. Those energy sources still tend to be more expensive than the region’s primary source of fuel: natural gas.
In remarks prepared for the speech, DeLeo promised that the legislation will have several goals: promoting cleaner energy and more diversity in the region’s fuel supply, containing costs, and ensuring the electricity grid’s reliability.
Competition among renewable project developers for long-term contracts, DeLeo said, will help keep costs low. Bringing new sources online also will help take the place of coal-fired or nuclear plants that have been closed or are scheduled to close.
DeLeo’s comments come as environmental advocates are fiercely lobbying to ensure their priorities are considered in the bill. The Environmental League of Massachusetts teamed up with the Conservation Law Foundation to take out an ad in the Globe on Friday, calling for a bill that encourages offshore wind, Canadian hydropower, on-shore wind, and solar.
In particular, they want the Legislature to lift caps again on a financial incentive for solar panel owners known as net metering, a process that reimburses them for the excess power that’s sold back into the grid. And the two environmental groups said they don’t want to see language that would divert electric ratepayer funds to help finance natural gas pipeline contracts. Utilities, they said, should fix existing leaks in the pipelines before building new ones.
Their stance echoed similar concerns raised in a letter sent to state Representative Thomas Golden, DeLeo’s point person on energy issues, this week, signed by more than 50 of his colleagues in the House. The letter-signing effort was led by Representatives Lori Ehrlich and Tricia Farley-Bouvier.
There’s been widespread speculation about whether the so-called omnibus energy bill will address natural gas or solar power. DeLeo didn’t help solve that mystery on Friday: He didn’t mention either natural gas or solar in his speech.