New law will increase Massachusetts' reliance on renewable energy

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BOSTON >> The state will ramp up its reliance on renewable and alternative sources of energy under a bill signed into law by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.

The new law requires utilities to solicit long-term contracts with offshore wind farm developers to bring at least 1,600 megawatts of wind energy, enough to power about 240,000 homes, to Massachusetts in the next decade. It also encourages the delivery of larger supplies of Canadian hydropower and other renewables, provides incentives for utilities to develop energy storage technology and sets new requirements for the repair of natural gas leaks.

Baker signed the bill Monday on the lawn of the Statehouse, saying it represents one of the largest commitments of any state to renewable energy.

Supporters called the law a critical step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which are blamed for contributing to climate change, but they said it doesn't go far enough.

Baker and others also have pointed to the need to replace energy sources that are leaving the New England electrical grid, including the Pilgrim nuclear plant in Plymouth, scheduled to shut down in 2019.

Baker described the new law as a "very important and very big milestone for not just the Commonwealth of Massachusetts but for New England," by helping ensure that the state's future energy needs are met while also reducing its carbon footprint.

Part of that goal is met by the law's requirement that utilities contract for about 1,200 megawatts of renewable energy including hydropower, onshore wind and solar power besides the 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind.

Baker said the new energy sources will help Massachusetts meet the requirements of the state's 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act, which required state officials to issue regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent below 1990 levels over the next four years.

Another critical element of the bill is the encouragement of energy storage technologies.

Those energy storage technologies include batteries, flywheels and thermal and compressed air technologies that can help businesses, utilities and electricity customers store energy and use it when they need to instead of buying more expensive energy during peak demand.

Under the law, the state Department of Energy Resources must determine if setting energy storage goals is a good idea for the state and, if so, set a target for 2020.

Environmental groups said the bill is a step in the right direction but leaves many key issues unaddressed.

"Any day we can help bring offshore wind energy to Massachusetts is a good day. But when it comes to clean energy, there's a lot that state leaders have left undone," said Ben Hellerstein, of the advocacy group Environment Massachusetts.

Hellerstein said a version of the bill passed by the Senate would have doubled the rate of growth of renewable energy and prohibited the use of public money to pay for the construction of new gas pipelines. He said those were left out of the final bill.

The group also has argued for a statewide goal of 100 percent renewable energy.

The law establishes a new program designed to help commercial and industrial property owners finance energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades that are repaid through a property tax assessment on their building.


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