HOUSE AND SENATE LAWMAKERSÂ approved a compromise energy bill Sunday night that they hope will pave the way for an offshore wind industry and sharply increase imports of electricity from Canada, but they shied away from more aggressive measures to promote renewable energy and reduce carbon emissions.
The compromise bill surfaced shortly after 9:30 p.m. on Sunday night, the final day of the legislative session. It reflected the priorities of House leaders and the Baker administration while including relatively few of the initiatives contained in the Senateâ€™s more sweeping energy proposal. The compromise bill won the backing of five of the six members on the House-Senate conference committee, with Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton refusing to sign.
The legislation, which was approved by the House on a 157-1 vote at 10:37 p.m. and then by the Senate on a voice vote at 11:18Â p.m., calls for the stateâ€™s utilities to negotiate contracts for 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind and roughly 1,200 megawatts of clean energy â€“ primarily hydroelectricity from Canada, possibly in tandem with onshore wind.
The 1,600-megawatt offshore wind procurement is a compromise between the House (1,200 megawatts) and Senate (2,000 megawatts) proposals. The 1,200 megawatt clean energy procurement matches the House number, and is about 300 megawatts less than the Senate proposal.
Most of the Senateâ€™s energy initiatives fell by the wayside during the last-minute negotiations. For example, a proposal that would bar the stateâ€™s electric utilities from tapping their customers for the money to finance a new natural gas pipeline into the region was omitted from the final bill. So was a proposal to double the mandated yearly growth rate for renewable energy.
The compromise bill sides with the House in barring Cape Wind from bidding on the offshore wind procurement and in allowing the stateâ€™s utilities, Eversource and National Grid, to collect hefty fees for negotiating the long-term contracts for offshore wind and clean energy.
Sen. Ben Downing of Pittsfield, the Senateâ€™s lead energy negotiator, had said in June that the utility fees, equal to 2.75 percent of a contractâ€™s value, were unwarranted based on his discussions with utility experts and officials in other states. â€œWe donâ€™t think thereâ€™s a compelling public policy case for it,â€ he said at the time.
On two Senate initiatives, the bill urges the Baker administration to require the stateâ€™s utilities to procure energy storage systems by 2020 and to identify and repair leaks in natural gas lines.
According to sources, the energy conference committee appeared close to a deal on Saturday when Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg surprised House officials by pushing for the Senateâ€™s original 2,000 megawatt procurement for offshore wind. House leaders refused to go beyond 1,600 megawatts, creating a stalemate in the negotiations.
Fearful the stalemate could lead to no bill being approved before the Sunday night deadline, the trade group Offshore Wind Massachusetts urged Pacheco and other senators to go along with the 1,600-megawatt figure even though the group had initially advocated for a 2,000 megawatt commitment.
â€œWe pushed for the most realistic, achievable result this session given all of the energy priorities that the Massachusetts Legislature needed to balance,â€ said Matthew Morrissey, executive director of the group. â€œOf greatest importance to us is that we have a bill at the end of the session to get offshore wind started in Massachusetts, reducing carbon emissions, stabilizing costs, and creating jobs now.â€
During a break in the legislative action as the compromise energy bill was being finalized, Rosenberg said the Senate wanted the bill to include more ambitious goals. â€œWe want to be as aggressive as possible overall,â€ he said. â€œWhatever we donâ€™t get now we will fight for again later.â€
George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, adopted a similar view. â€œThis is a huge victory for offshore wind both for our environment and our economy. Itâ€™s also a victory for diversifying our energy portfolio away from fossil fuels by adding both wind and hydro,â€ he said. â€œThe fight goes on for solar, greater energy efficiency, and to stop more gas pipelines.â€
House Speaker Robert DeLeo issued a statement after the energy billâ€™s approval emphasizing that the initiative promotes clean energy in a cost-effective way. â€œThis proactive effort to ensure the needs of Massachusetts are met with clean, reliable resources while safeguarding our ratepayers demonstrates our stateâ€™s continued leadership in the development and deployment of cost-effective renewable energy,â€ he said.