Despite opposition from some business groups, the state Legislature is inching closer to adopting new rules aimed at increasing wind power and making it easier for solar farm operators to be reimbursed for their electricity.
After passing several bills earlier this week, the House of Representatives is expected to reconcile its approach to energy with the Senate in a conference committee before formal sessions end July 31.
Employer groups such as Associated Industries of Massachusetts had argued against passing any major clean energy bills this year, saying they tend to increase electric costs that already are among the highest in the country. Two years ago, lawmakers required utilities to make big purchases of offshore wind electricity and hydropower, and the critics say the state needs more time to let that legislation take effect.
But environmentalists and executives at clean energy companies say any additional costs for renewables would be minimal and that the long-term environmental benefits outweigh any costs; moreover, they say Massachusetts risks falling behind other states with more aggressive goals.
In this go-round, both the House and Senate have called for accelerating the state’s mandates of utilities for renewable energy purchases, with the Senate adopting the more aggressive targets.
Here’s a rundown of other major issues the Legislature is trying to settle:
Solar: The Senate wants to eliminate state-imposed caps on net metering credits, which reimburse solar panel owners for excess electricity that’s distributed onto the grid. These caps have been raised before, but they have been reached in many parts of the state. The House hasn’t passed legislation on solar issues yet, but its leaders have indicated a willingness to modestly raise the caps again.
Lawmakers are also considering ways to lessen the impact of new minimum monthly charges to solar users.
Offshore wind: Two years ago, lawmakers required utilities to buy up to 1,600 megawatts of power from proposed offshore wind farms. House leaders just declined a proposal by Representative Patricia Haddad to double the offshore wind purchases. But the Senate has already approved a much larger addition to what’s already required.
Natural gas: With the backing of utilities Eversource and National Grid, some business groups lobbied for legislation that would help the utilities expand the state’s natural gas pipeline capacity. But natural gas is a third rail of Massachusetts politics, and House leaders steered clear. The Senate, meanwhile, approved legislation that would make it harder, not easier, for utilities to expand gas pipelines.
Motor fuels: A big priority for Senator Michael Barrett, the lead senator on energy issues, is a pricing system for transportation fuels that takes into account their greenhouse gas emissions. Barrett proposed this in the Senate bill, but he left the wording open-ended. One option: imposing a “carbon tax” on fossil fuels, to change behavior and not raise revenue, and then distributing the money back to consumers in the form of rebates. This is a controversial concept, one that House leaders deliberately avoided. But Barrett remains hopeful about striking a deal before time runs out.
Jon Chesto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.