The Massachusetts State Senate on Thursday, January 30, 2020 advanced three bills that boldly tackle the contributing factors of climate change, chart one of the most aggressive courses of action against global warming in the country, and pave the way for a clean energy future for all of its residents.

Senate Bill 2477, An Act Setting Next Generation Climate Policy and two companion bills — one dealing with electrifying fleets (Senate Bill 2476) and another updating energy efficiency standards for appliances (Senate Bill 2478)  —  passed overwhelmingly and with bi-partisan support.

“I am proud of the Senate for acting quickly on this legislation which takes a historic step in our fight to reduce harmful emissions that hurt our planet and our residents,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “I commend Senator Barrett for his diligence in crafting a thorough legislative package that takes concrete steps to combat climate change by providing a plan to create a greener, healthier and more sustainable future. I would like to thank Senator Barrett and Senator Michael Rodrigues for their contributions to this next generation climate leadership.”

“The Next Generation Climate package that the Senate passed today will allow the Commonwealth to reduce our carbon footprint and boldly confront the impacts of climate change,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues, Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means (D-Westport). “These bills will help us achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and transform our energy delivery system to benefit our climate and future generations. I applaud Senate President Spilka and Senator Barrett for their leadership on this issue, and I thank my colleagues in the Senate for their collaboration in confronting perhaps the most important issue of our time.”

“We’ve written the strongest climate statute in the nation,” said Senator Mike Barrett (D-Lexington), Senate Chair of the Utilities and Energy Committee and the bill’s chief author.  “The bills started out strong. Then they got better as debate went on.  More protection for low and moderate income families.  Special sensitivity to the climate challenges facing small towns and rural areas.  Retraining for people who may need to change jobs as we green the economy. In the fight against climate change, this lifts Massachusetts to the next level. My thanks to President Spilka and Chairman Rodrigues for conducting a model of the lawmaking process.”

“For Cape Codders and Islanders, climate change isn’t some hypothetical threat, it’s very much real and existential to our way of life,” said State Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro). “Yesterday, the Senate met the moment and overwhelmingly passed generational legislation that gets Massachusetts to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. I am also pleased that an amendment I filed was also adopted to expand access to clean energy technology for low income families on Cape Cod and the Islands.”

Amendment #26 to Senate Bill 2477 was filed by Senator Cyr and adopted by the Senate.  This amendment is the same text as House Bill 4261 (filed by Rep. Sarah Peake) and was drafted in partnership with the Cape Light Compact (CLC) and the Association to Preserve Cape Cod.  It will give more residents on the Cape and Islands access to clean energy technology; especially solar panels, battery technology, and cold climate heat pumps for new housing developments on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard that are served by the CLC. This amendment would allow CLC to offer increased incentives for more low income families - higher than the current 60% of state median income threshold - which would be especially beneficial to many on the Cape and Islands where the cost of living, utilities, and housing costs are profoundly high.

“The high upfront cost of rooftop solar and battery storage has meant that many Cape and Vineyard residents have not had the ability to take advantage of these technologies,” said Maggie Downey, Administrator, Cape Light Compact. “Cape Light Compact is excited and encouraged by this legislation as it looks to lower these barriers for low and moderate income residents and reaffirms that these technologies should be affordable and accessible to all our residents.”

“The Senate, with Senator Cyr in the lead, exhibited bold leadership yesterday by taking on the issue of climate change head on,” said Andrew Gottlieb, Executive Director, Association to Preserve Cape Cod. “Cape Cod is on the front line of the climate crisis and requires the type of bold action taken last night to have a fighting chance to remain the place we all call home.

Additionally, Senator Cyr filed amendment #48 to Senate Bill 2477, which was adopted.  The bill outlines a plan to get to net-zero emissions from buildings, which will be a particular challenge for those who own or manage historic buildings, or commercial or residential properties in a historic district.  The bill provides a process through which the Department of Public Utilities will establish energy usage standards for various categories of buildings, including by region, size, utilization, and others. 

Amendment 48 adds a "Historic District" classification to this list, ensuring that DPU appropriately take into account how to assess historic buildings or buildings within historic districts that may be difficult to retrofit with clean energy infrastructure.

Key provisions of the climate policy package include:

  • Setting a statewide greenhouse gas limit for the year 2050 of “net zero” emissions.  To achieve this, An Act Setting Next-Generation Climate Policy requires the state to hit near-term limits in 2025, 2030, and every five years thereafter; set sub-limits for transportation, buildings, solid waste, natural gas distribution, and other major sectors; and make implementation plans that are “clear, comprehensive, and specific.”
  • Establishing the Massachusetts Climate Policy Commission.  The commission would be a new, independent public watchdog to oversee government’s handling of the unfolding crisis of climate change.  Commissioners will be charged with offering a nonpartisan, science-based view of the problem as it plays out in Massachusetts with its attendant natural, economic, and demographic impacts and risks.

“We want this commission to be an independent guardian of the future, notably the future of younger generations, insulated from political pressure and consisting of the most authoritative and credible Massachusetts voices we can find,” stated Senator Barrett.  “Job one for the Commission is to tell us if we're on track in bringing down emissions.  Job two is to advise us on what to do next.  The commission will give us objective information about the performance of both government and the private sector and will pay special attention to the impact on low-income and other disadvantaged communities.  If the commission works as intended, it will be a new voice, standing apart from politics as usual and committed to shedding light on a very hard problem.”

  • Reflecting the price of carbon.  Under the bill, the Administration would be free to choose among various market based forms of pricing carbon—including a revenue-neutral fee or a regional “cap and trade” system similar to the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI)—but he or she would have to do so by Jan. 1, 2022, for transportation; Jan. 1, 2025, for commercial, industrial and institutional buildings; and Jan. 1, 2030, for residential buildings.  Any mechanism would be implemented so as to minimize the impact on low-income households, disadvantaged communities, and vulnerable manufacturing sectors.
  • Providing legislative direction to the Department of Public Utilities (DPU), the state’s primary energy oversight agency, for the first time.  Compensating for a decades-long omission, the bill assigns the DPU a mission statement.  It requires the agency to balance six priorities: reliability of supply, affordability, public safety, physical and cyber security, equity, and, significantly, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Jumpstarting efforts to supply low-cost solar electricity to low-income communities.  To reverse the failure of state programs to incentivize solar energy projects in low-income neighborhoods, as well as spur job creation, the bill requires the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to set aside future solar allocations for such neighborhoods.
  • Letting cities and towns adopt a “net zero” stretch energy code.  The bill allows the state to support communities that choose on their own to move away from fossil fuels as the source of heating for new buildings.  The state’s contribution is to promulgate a “net zero” energy code, so that localities have the option available if they want to use it.  The bill shifts responsibility for the code’s development from the Board of Building Regulations and Standards to the DOER.

“When it comes to bringing down emissions, buildings are the toughest nut to crack,” Barrett says.  “We need to move on multiple fronts.”

  • Nudging natural gas utilities to adapt.  The bill authorizes utilities to test technology and pipelines that generate and transport “renewable thermal energy,” an emissions-free way to heat buildings that draws on the relative warmth of temperatures below ground.
  • Strengthening executive branch oversight of MassSave.  The bill directs the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) to set emissions reduction goals, in advance, for each three-year plan the utilities formulate for MassSave.  It requires the DPU, at the conclusion of each three-year plan, to certify how much the plan actually contributed to meeting the Commonwealth’s greenhouse gas emission limits.
  • Tightening the alignment between MassSave and emissions limits.  The bill requires electric utilities to include an explicit value for emissions reductions whenever they calculate the cost-effectiveness of a MassSave offering.
  • Setting a deadline for converting MTBA buses to all-electric power.  An Act to Accelerate the Transition of Cars, Trucks, and Buses to Carbon Free Power directs the MBTA to limit bus purchases and leases to zero-emissions vehicles beginning in 2030, and to aim for an all-zero-emissions fleet by 2040, to reduce transportation-related emissions in city neighborhoods.
  • Offsetting the Trump Administration’s efforts to slow progress on efficient appliances.  An Act Relative to Energy Savings Efficiency updates Massachusetts appliance standards to improve energy and water efficiency standards for common household and commercial appliances, helping to conserve energy and save consumers and businesses money.

Other provisions include:

  • Assembling the state’s first-ever database of energy use in large buildings.
  • Adding two building efficiency experts and an expert in advanced building technology to the membership of the Board of Building Regulations and Standards, which will retain responsibility for the base energy building code. 
  • Authorizing the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) to fund energy innovation pilots, and to take actions addressing health effects associated with the distribution and consumption of fossil fuels such as natural gas.
  • Directing the DPU to consider the impact on emissions when it reviews electric and natural gas rates, prices, charges, and contracts.
  • Directing state government to limit purchases and leases of vehicles to zero emissions vehicles only, beginning in 2024, if affordable replacements are available.
  • Conducting a study of the opportunities to electrify vehicles owned or leased by municipalities, regional school districts, and regional transit authorities, taking into account costs and possible sources of financial help from state and federal government.
  • Providing permanent statutory authorization for the “MOR-EV” program, the Commonwealth’s system of financial incentives for purchasers of zero emission vehicles.

During debate on the Senate floor, the bill was strengthened through amendments that, among others, requires regional equity in carbon pricing and ensures equity is a component of The Department of Public Utilities mission statement. 

The bills now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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