Senate, House will have to resolve differences in Mass. energy legislation
Negotiators for the House and Senate will have much to debate when they meet this month to hash out their differences over what could be the state’s biggest energy bill in two decades.
The House version is simple, essentially requiring utilities to buy up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower and a similar amount from proposed offshore wind farms to make the region’s energy mix more environmentally friendly.
In contrast, the bill the Senate passed Thursday is far broader, involving many forms of energy.
The two sides face a July 31 deadline. That’s not much time to reconcile the differences. The goals include ensuring the reliable transmission of electricity as older plants close and meeting the state’s aggressive greenhouse gas emissions standards.
Here are the highlights of the Senate’s plan, which could make for a hot July in the conference committee.
■ Natural gas: The Senate unanimously passed a measure to protect electricity customers from being charged for natural gas pipeline construction. The reason? The bill would counter the Baker administration’s review of tariff proposals aimed at eventually curbing electric costs by getting more gas here to feed power plants. (This effort is already the subject of a legal fight before the state Supreme Judicial Court.) Gas opponents put on the full-court press, flooding lawmakers’ offices with calls and media outlets with anti-pipeline ads. The industry, meanwhile, will look to House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s team to keep this from becoming law.
■ Energy efficiency: The new bill requires the results of a home energy audit to be made available when houses are listed for sale. Real estate agents fiercely fought this, but failed to get it knocked out of the bill. Supporters portray it is a consumer-friendly measure, much like miles-per-gallon stickers on cars.
The Senate would also impose a charge of 2.5 cents per gallon on home heating oil sales, to help pay for energy-efficiency measures. Heating oil dealers are telling House leaders they’re unhappy, saying the fee would be tough to collect and duplicate a national charge.
■ Canadian hydropower: The Senate would prompt utilities to buy more electricity generated at big Canadian dams — such as those owned by Hydro-Quebec — than the House bill would, an estimated 200 to 500 megawatts more. But that’s still less than what Baker wants.
■ Offshore wind: The amount of energy obtained through offshore wind contracts would increase significantly, from the 1,200 proposed by the House to 2,000 megawatts. Together with the Senate’s hydro mandate, this could mean nearly half of the state’s power would come from these contracts by 2030. Attorney General Maura Healey says these contracts could become too pricey for consumers; she wants the offshore wind and hydro procurements to be closer to 2,400 megawatts, the amount sought by the House.
Controversial Cape Wind would be allowed to bid on these contracts for its long-stalled Nantucket Sound project. The House bill, by comparison, would freeze out Cape Wind in favor of more ambitious wind farms proposed for further offshore.
■ On-shore wind: Like the House, the Senate wouldn’t mandate contracts specifically for land-based wind farms. But the Senate would allow certain wind-farm developers to compete for the hydro contracts. And the Senate would also double the pace of growth in the amount of renewable energy that utilities need to buy, a requirement that already escalates every year. This would help wind farms on the ground and in the water, as well as solar panel developers.
■ Solar: Lawmakers recently wrestled with how to raise the state-set limits on net metering, the way that solar panel owners are reimbursed for excess electricity. Many solar advocates say the industry badly needs additional help. But the Senate, like the House, opted not to touch the issue this time around. They’ve got enough on their plates.