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Renewable energy could get a big boost from new bill

A spokeswoman for Senate President Karen E. Spilka (above) said she intends to have all formal legislative business taken care of by Tuesday midnight.
A spokeswoman for Senate President Karen E. Spilka (above) said she intends to have all formal legislative business taken care of by Tuesday midnight.Charles Krupa/Associated Press/File 2018

Electricity suppliers would be required to accelerate how much renewable energy they buy over a decadelong period under a compromise bill unveiled by Massachusetts lawmakers Monday, one of several measures that could reach Governor Charlie Baker’s desk before the formal legislative session wraps up on Beacon Hill.

The sweeping bill, if passed by the House and Senate as expected Tuesday, would mark the second major piece of energy legislation enacted in as many sessions.

But it also doesn’t include some closely watched provisions backed by environmentalists and approved by the Senate, most notably a measure that would eliminate state-imposed caps on net metering credits, which was stripped from the final version.

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“It’s a strong bill,” said State Senator Michael Barrett, one of its lead negotiators. “I think a year and a half ago when we started this (legislative) session, the expectation was that you would not see an energy bill at all. We’ve come a long way from there.”

The legislation calls for an acceleration of what’s known as the renewable portfolio standard, a requirement that electricity suppliers buy a certain amount of renewable energy every year.

That amount — currently 13 percent of the suppliers’ total electric loads in the state — grows automatically by 1 percentage point each year. The compromise bill would bump it to 2 percent each year, starting Jan. 1, 2020, through the end of 2029, before returning it to 1 percent annually.

The Senate had also wanted to do away with caps on net metering credits, which reimburse solar panel owners for excess electricity that’s distributed onto the grid. But it was ultimately cut from the compromise bill.

That ranked among the decisions that drew criticism from the Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra Club, which said the compromise measure doesn’t go far enough.

“With this bill, the Massachusetts Legislature took baby steps when what is needed are giant strides,” said Emily Norton, the chapter’s director.

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The House and Senate must each approve the bill before it can be sent to Baker on Tuesday, when a still-lengthy list of legislation awaits lawmakers ahead of a midnight deadline.

The hefty agenda, which includes bills on health care, education funding, and opioid addiction, all but ensures the Senate and the House will work late into Tuesday night.

The Legislature’s rules dictate that “all formal business” must conclude by July 31. And while newly installed Senate president Karen E. Spilka had previously left open the prospect of suspending those rules to take roll call votes after the end of the formal session, on Monday she indicated she would not do so.

“At this point, she has no intention of suspending the rule,” said Sarah Blodgett, a Spilka spokeswoman.

An aide to House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo also signaled he has no plans to extend formal votes. “Formal session concludes tomorrow at midnight,” DeLeo spokeswoman Catherine Williams said.

Lawmakers worked to clear some of their plate Monday, whipping through overrides of Baker’s budget vetoes and restoring millions in spending the Republican had slashed from the $41.7 billion spending plan.

They also approved a bill that would automatically register thousands of new voters when they obtain their driver’s licenses or health insurance through the state, in addition to a $2.4 billion environmental bond bill aimed at strengthening coastal infrastructure and addressing climate change.

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Baker also made the rounds Monday, meeting separately with DeLeo, Spilka, and Republican legislative leaders to make his case for a number of bills.

Baker has pressed lawmakers to pass a housing bill that would ease zoning rules to enable more housing development, but it has remained tied up in a House committee.

He has also urged them to reach a compromise on legislation to address the opioid crisis.

Earlier this month, the Senate backed a plan to begin providing inmates with medications to treat opioid addiction, and endorsed a scaled-back version of Baker’s proposal to hold addicted people against their will for 72 hours if they pose a danger to themselves or others.

The House did not include the latter provision and approved a different plan for prisons.

The House and Senate had also not agreed Monday on how to revamp the state’s school funding formula, nor had they reached consensus on two controversial health care bills.

The House passed legislation that would apply $330 million in new assessments on insurers and large hospitals toward community hospitals. The Senate, meanwhile, would set a “rate floor” for insurance payments to subsidize the hospitals.

Both chambers have also passed, but not reconciled, separate $600 million-plus economic development bills.


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on twitter @mattpstout. Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.