DiDomenico Votes to Take Bold Action to Supercharge Clean Energy Adoption

Special to the Patriot-Bridge

Senator Sal DiDomenico recently voted to pass comprehensive climate legislation to make systemic changes to the state’s clean energy infrastructure that will help the state achieve its net zero emissions by 2050 goals, expand electric vehicle (EV) use and infrastructure, and protect residents and ratepayers. The bill included key priorities from Senator DiDomenico’s energy facilities siting bill which will accelerate clean energy deployment across our state and work to better include equity and input from impacted communities in our siting procedures.

During debate, DiDomenico successfully advocated for an amendment that will expand access to the data within the clean energy infrastructure dashboard so that municipalities can construct their own analysis to inform local decision making. The Senate also voted to adopt an amendment modernizing the ‘bottle bill’, adding noncarbonated beverages, wine, and spirits to the list of containers eligible for a bottle deposit, and increasing the deposit amount from 5 cents to 10 cents. This language included DiDomenico’s proposal to make small alcohol bottles, known as ‘nips,’ eligible for the bottle return.

“I am proud to pass this transformational climate bill that will move our state closer towards a cleaner, cheaper, and safer electric grid all while supporting our goals of fighting the climate crisis,” said State Senator Sal DiDomenico. “I want to thank Senate President Spilka, Chair Michael Rodrigues, and Senator Mike Barrett for all their work on this much-needed bill and including several of my priorities in the final legislation. ”

The climate bill will allow Massachusetts to develop infrastructure essential for the fight against climate change, including new solar, wind, and storage facilities. It will also enhance the electric grid to support getting clean energy to residents efficiently and in the needed capacities to power homes, businesses, and vehicles. 

Enhancements to the clean energy grid will be paired with measures to keep costs down for ratepayers across the state.

“We are in a climate crisis. The Senate has heard loud and clear from residents, advocates, and clean energy leaders that we need systemic infrastructure changes to deliver on our net zero by 2050 emissions goals,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “Today we are taking action to make it easier and more efficient to build clean energy infrastructure so that Massachusetts can deliver on our climate commitments and leave our kids with the green state and planet that they deserve. This bold action is the direct result of the work of Majority Leader Creem, Chair Rodrigues, Senator Barrett, and each senator who has contributed to this bill. I am grateful to each of them.”

The comprehensive climate legislation modernizes laws related to cost control for ratepayers; siting and permitting; decarbonization; electric transportation incentives; clean tech innovation; emissions reduction in state operations; and natural gas infrastructure.

Protecting Ratepayers from High Costs

To save residents’ money and protect residents from unfair and deceptive practices, the bill would ban competitive energy suppliers from enrolling new individual residential customers. According to the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Public Utilities (DPU), data analyses show that consumers lost more than $577 million to competitive electric suppliers between July 2015 and June 2023. The Senate previously adopted this policy in April.

Consumers will see relief in a number of other ways as well. The bill would lower utility rates for consumers with low- and middle-incomes by directing utility providers to offer lower rates to eligible consumers. Utility companies would also gain more flexibility to negotiate the lengths of basic service contracts with electricity providers. By negotiating longer-term contracts, residents are less likely to see cost spikes.

Partnering with Communities to Expedite Siting and Permitting

The siting and permitting provisions, modeled on the work of a commission of diverse stakeholders established by the Healey-Driscoll administration, will consolidate the review of clean energy siting and permitting and expedite the timeline of projects. Large projects that require state, regional, and local permits will be consolidated into a single permit that must be decided upon in 15 months. Small projects with multiple local permits will also be consolidated into a single permit and must be decided upon in one year.

Robust community review processes will be paired with new permitting. The legislation formally establishes the Office of Environmental Justice and Equity (EJE), the Office of Public Participation at the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB), and the Division of Siting and Permitting at the Department of Energy Resources (DSPDER). Each office would be charged with engaging with communities and applicants in their respective areas to ensure a thorough and community-centered review.

To protect ratepayers from bearing the cost of new construction, the state will require the EFSB to first consider enhancing current technologies before looking to new construction. An online clean energy infrastructure dashboard would also be created to promote public accountability in real time.

Making EVs Accessible and Expanding Infrastructure

Gas-powered vehicles are one of the highest emitters of carbon, and incentivizing EV usage is critical to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

The legislation would expand the state’s MOR-EV program through 2027, which gives residents $3,500-$6,000 for the purchase of new or used electric vehicles. It would allow residents who own parcels within condominiums, homeowner associations, and historic districts to install EV chargers, and authorize condo boards to install EV chargers on community parcels.

It will bring coordination to EV infrastructure expansion, by centralizing the deployment of resources with the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Coordinating Council (EVICC), and directing DPU to make it easier to install pole-mounted chargers that often are used in parking spots and on streets.

The bill would also make it easier for cities and towns to procure electric school buses and EV charging equipment for their municipalities.

Decarbonizing Buildings

An Act Upgrading the Grid and Protecting Ratepayers makes it easier to decarbonize buildings across the state, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. It would authorize condo association boards to install energy efficiency devices and EV chargers in common areas and make heat pumps more efficient by allowing installers to use the most up-to-date refrigerants.

Leading the Way on Clean Technology and Innovation

Already leaders in clean technology, the state’s innovators will receive even more support from this legislation to make sure that the next generation of technology is built in Massachusetts.

The legislation would boost the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) by expanding their mission to include carbon removal, embodied carbon reduction, and nuclear power. MassCEC would also be directed to promote carbon removal and embodied carbon activities, and study opportunities for future carbon removal.

Leading by Example

The Commonwealth will take an in-depth look at its own operational climate impact under this legislation.

It would revise Massport’s enabling statute to prioritize reductions in greenhouse gas emissions alongside the promotion of commerce and growth. It would direct the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM) to evaluate the energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions of state buildings, as well as seek options for reducing future emissions. The mission of the Board of Building Regulations and Standards would also be expanded to include the pursuit of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Curbing Over-reliance on Natural Gas

Ensuring the electrical grid is on an equal playing field as the natural gas system is crucial to reducing dependency on fossil fuels and reaching the state’s net zero carbon emissions goals.

The bill reins in a statutory provision that for decades has given gas companies a preferential ratemaking advantage over providers of other heating sources.

Under An Act Upgrading the Grid and Protecting Ratepayers, the DPU will be directed to consider greenhouse gas impacts when it weighs a petition by a gas company to expand its territory. Gas companies will be allowed to pursue geothermal projects and networked heat pump systems, new opportunities that are undergoing successful testing in communities in Framingham and Lowell.

As the gas system needs continued upgrades, the legislation will shift the system from automatically replacing leak-prone pipes, to instead considering more targeted repairs, or decommissioning the line altogether if a more climate friendly alternative exists. Payments for new gas lines are often financed over 30 years, beyond the 2050 goal of reducing fossil fuels. By repairing or decommissioning pipes instead of replacing them, costs shifted to ratepayers are reduced, and the clean energy transition is accelerated.  

During debate, the Senate voted to adopt an amendment modernizing the ‘bottle bill’, adding noncarbonated beverages, wine, and spirits to the list of containers eligible for a bottle deposit, and increasing the deposit amount from 5 cents to 10 cents.

Having passed the Senate by a vote of 38-2, the legislation now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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