Massachusetts climate legislation is 'roadmap' to decarbonization, say clean energy groups

Date: January 6, 2021
Author: Robert Walton

Dive Brief:

  • Massachusetts lawmakers on Monday passed sweeping climate legislation that sets a statewide net zero limit on greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, includes new renewable energy targets and efficiency standards, and codifies environmental justice provisions into state law. The bill now heads to Gov. Charlie Baker, R, for his signature.
  • The bill requires development of an additional 2,400 MW of offshore wind, bringing Massachusetts' total target to 5,600 MW, and increases the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to 40% by 2030.
  • The bill also clarifies the tax treatment of solar projects, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), which helped negotiate a legislative compromise with state tax assessors. The package is a "roadmap" to decarbonization, according to David Gahl, senior director of state affairs at SEIA.

Dive Insight:

Lawmakers called the legislation a "historic step" for Massachusets' fight against climate change, and many clean energy groups agreed.

"This legislation represents a major piece of climate legislation that will set the course of the Commonwealth for the next three decades," Democratic House Speaker Ronald Mariano said in a statement.

The bill, S. 2995, takes numerous steps including:

  • setting energy efficiency standards for 17 common appliances;
  • adopting measures to improve gas pipeline safety, including increased fines for safety violations;
  • increasing the state's RPS by 3% annually from 2025 to 2029;
  • prioritizing equitable access to solar programs for disadvantaged communities;
  • establishing $12 million in annual funding for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, to assist environmental justice populations and minority-owned and women-owned businesses in the clean energy industry;
  • setting adoption benchmarks for electric vehicles, charging stations, solar technology, energy storage and heat pumps; and
  • providing solar incentives for businesses by exempting them from the state's net metering cap.

"This legislation is a roadmap that will ultimately help the Commonwealth of Massachusetts decarbonize its economy," Gahl said in a statement. "There are several positive developments for the solar industry. ... After months of negotiations, the bill now includes a provision that clarifies how taxes are assessed by towns and municipalities on wind, solar and energy storage systems."

Gahl said the end result is that homeowners and small businesses will not see their property taxes increase when they install small solar systems.

"Larger solar systems will be exempt from taxes if they already have an agreement in place for other tax payments," Gahl said. "This is a reasonable framework and one that should provide clarity to the tax law and increased certainty for both large and small solar firms."

Solar advocates say the bill will shift power to environmental justice communities, loosen restrictions on local solar power, and give a boost to Massachusetts' green economy.

"This bill is a huge step forward for the Commonwealth," Stephan Roundtree, Jr., Northeast director of Vote Solar, said in a statement. 

Roundtree said the legislation "creates a clear path forward" for solar development, but also called on Gov. Baker to commit to 100% renewable electricity, and take further actions to scale up renewables serving low-income residents.

A coalition of conservation groups said the inclusion of new efficiency standards for residential and commercial products "will grow the clean energy economy and ensure the reliability and affordability of our energy system" while also reducing carbon emissions by thousands of metric tons.

The new standards cover computers, water coolers and commercial cooking equipment.

"Appliance standards are a simple, powerful, and proven tool to reduce needless energy waste," Marianne DiMascio, state policy manager at the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, said in a statement.

The new standards will be a boon to consumers by helping lower energy bills, said advocates, and will help them save over $100 million just in 2025.

 "We know that standards can help homeowners and tenants alike save on their utility bills," Kai Salem, policy coordinator at the Green Energy Consumers Alliance, said in a statement.

"This legislation takes a historic step in the fight against climate change, putting Massachusetts on the path to creating a cleaner, greener and healthier future for the next generation," Senate President Karen Spilka, D, said in a statement.