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1st Franklin candidates debate energy, climate policy

  • Nathaniel Waring, candidate for 1st Franklin Seat, at Meet and Greet at First Congregational Church in Sunderland, April 13, 2018. Recorder Staff/Dan Desrochers

  • Kate Albright-Hanna, candidate for 1st Franklin Seat, at Meet and Greet at First Congregational Church in Sunderland, April 13, 2018. Recorder Staff/Dan Desrochers

  • Francia Wisnewski Matthew Cavanaugh

  • Natalie Blais, candidate for 1st Franklin Seat, at Meet and Greet at First Congregational Church in Sunderland, April 13, 2018. Recorder Staff/Dan Desrochers

  • Christine Doktor, candidate for 1st Franklin Seat, at Meet and Greet at First Congregational Church in Sunderland, April 13, 2018. Recorder Staff/Dan Desrochers

  • Jonathan Edwards Contributed photo

  • Andrew Baker, candidate for 1st Franklin Seat, at Meet and Greet at First Congregational Church in Sunderland, April 13, 2018. Recorder Staff/Dan Desrochers

  • Candidates for the 1st Franklin District House seat chat during a forum Wednesday in South Deerfield. RECORDER STAFF/Richie Davis



For the Gazette
Thursday, May 24, 2018

SOUTH DEERFIELD — No one said a candidate forum would be easy with eight hopefuls for a single vacant state House seat — especially when the topic was what virtually everyone agreed is the most urgent issue of our time, climate change.

The eight Democrats running for the 1st Franklin District post being vacated by 25-year incumbent Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, agreed virtually all of the time on a range of environmental and energy questions in a two-hour session Wednesday night sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Franklin County and Climate Action Now.

The candidates — Kate Albright-Hanna of Huntington, Andrew Baker of Shelburne, Natalie Blais of Sunderland, Christine Doktor of Cummington, Jonathan Edwards of Whately, Casey Pease of Worthington, Nathaniel Waring of Sunderland and Francia Wisnewski of Montague — will compete in the Sept. 4 Democratic primary. There is no Republican running for the position, which represents 10 Franklin County towns as well as eight in Hampshire County and one in Hampden County.

“Net metering caps limit our ability to fight climate change,” Edwards said. He said having the Legislature increase them should be a top priority in boosting renewable energy. He also said the state’s renewable portfolio standards, requiring utilities to boost their generation using renewable sources by 1 percent a year, should be increased to at least 2 or 2.5 percent, and that the state needs to “absolutely move toward a carbon tax,” which could pay for needed battery storage.

Baker immediately responded that the portfolio standard should be boosted to 3 percent.

“That is the only way we’re going to get to the climate change 2050 goal we’ve set for ourselves, for 80 percent reduction in our overall energy use,” Baker said.

He also called for allowing virtual net metering, which would provide for community solar to be acceptable to low-income residents, renters and other people who can’t afford their own solar projects.

Baker cited a need to roll back the demand charge that Eversource was able to place on solar customers.

Responding to a question about mandating that the Department of Public Utilities allow full interventions by towns and legislators in rate cases, Doktor — the only lawyer seeking the seat — said, “It’s incredibly important that citizens have legal standing to intervene when large issues that affect our lives are happening, and when corporations have all the power. … Otherwise, we have no voice.”

The candidates also said they would support legislation to create a Green Energy Development Bank to support energy projects.

“We have to be working with individual homeowners” to install renewable technologies, Blais said, citing the Wisdom Way Solar Village affordable housing project in Greenfield, which she worked on as an aide to former U.S. Rep. John Olver.

“Massachusetts can lead the way,” Blais said. “If Massachusetts is building affordable housing, it should be zero-net energy. We cannot be saddling people who are already struggling with additional debt.”

Asked about biomass as a renewable resource, the candidates spoke against large-scale projects like the wood-burning project that had been considered for Greenfield.

“If we’re going to be investing in renewable energy, I think that biomass is at the very bottom of that list,” Pease said.

But Baker, mentioning wood-burning projects at Cooley Dickinson Hospital and Mount Wachusett Community College, said there is a role for small-scale biomass.

“I believe that working farms and working forests are some of the best ways we can preserve land and preserve wildlife corridors,” he said. “There is a role for a forest industry,” and with hemlock and ash trees threatened, there will need to be a forest management program that can also supply heat and energy.

The candidates also said they would fight for improved public transportation, especially in rural communities, not only as an environmental issue but as an economic justice issue.

Suggesting the proposed Fair Share amendment as a source of funding, Albright-Hanna said, “Public transportation is a human right. I fully support public transportation.”

Asked about their commitment to defending Article 97 to protect preserved lands from development for fossil fuels, Pease said, “A big part of this conversation is, if we don’t want more pipelines, we have to find alternatives to fracked gas and other forms of fossil fuel. That means carbon pricing. That means investing in offshore wind and solar power.”

He also called for boosting tax credits for dairy farmers and funding for farmland.

“I think that is absolutely crucial to the conversation,” he said.

The candidates agreed that as freshmen legislators, the key will be to work as a bloc to advance the interests of rural western Massachusetts — especially given the vacuum created by the loss of four veteran legislators from the region.

But Waring, who called himself “a different kind of a candidate” with the experience of being “the working poor,” said, “The bottom line is we probably won’t get anything done,” because freshmen are “prevented from doing anything but voting.”

The greatest difficulty in running the forum, attended by about 75, seemed to be in trying to keep track of which of the candidates was in which of two groups of four responding to each question.

The forum was recorded Montague Community Television and by Frontier Community Access TV.

The district includes the Hampshire County towns of Plainfield, Cummington, Worthington, Middlefield, Chesterfield, Huntington, Williamsburg and Goshen, as well as Deerfield, Leverett, Shutesbury, Sunderland and Whately in Franklin County.