Columnist Stanley Rosenberg: Building our green, clean energy future

  • A crew from All Energy Solar in Chicopee prepares to install solar panels on a new home in Hadley on March 9. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 3/15/2018 8:04:16 PM

For the second time this year, a storm has come to Massachusetts and produced high tides that surpassed the Blizzard of ‘78, with widespread coastal damage as the result of what should have been a once-in-a-century storm.

Climate change isn’t an abstract concept any more. We can see it with our own eyes in the form of widespread power outages, closed subway stations, downed trees and power lines and flooded streets. Though the threat of climate change is global, the impact is local. It’s time to do more here in Massachusetts.

To be fair, we’re doing a lot of things right already. Massachusetts leads the country in energy efficiency, and it’s no accident. We have been named the top state in the country for energy efficiency in eight of the last nine years in the national State Energy Efficiency Scorecard.

We have also led in advancing green technology, most especially solar, by putting in place policies and programs that have resulted in Massachusetts consistently being a leading solar state in spite of our long, cold winters.

We didn’t stop there. We also started an innovative program in 2010 to help our communities become greener. More than half our communities now receive state grants to support investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy as a result of the Green Communities Act. Since its inception, green communities have received over $65 million in grants to help them reduce their energy consumption.

Last year, Massachusetts put in place an omnibus energy bill to make our energy supply even greener by increasing our use of offshore wind and hydro power. Though we have reduced our carbon pollution from the power sector by 52 percent since 1990, according to the Georgetown Climate Center, we need to do much more.

Our goals are ambitious but they are what our times require. In 2008, the Global Warming Solutions Act set a benchmark of reducing emissions by between 10 and 25 percent below statewide 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, and by 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. We are making progress in those goals, but we must do more.

The Massachusetts Senate created the first legislative committee on global warming and climate change 11 years ago! Our House of Representatives soon followed suit.

Last year, the Senate committee undertook a statewide conversation on climate change, “The Clean Energy Futures Tour,” to listen to people in every part of the state. The message was loud and clear, and consistent. Increasing our use of renewable energy, stopping the buildup of fossil fuel-related infrastructure that will soon be obsolete, developing a market-driven carbon policy, environmental justice, and transportation electrification for both public and private transportation were among the top priorities across the commonwealth.

Following the tour, the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change released an omnibus Clean Energy Bill. The provisions are too numerous to detail here, but a few highlights will have to do.

First, it calls for an increase in our renewable portfolio standard (RPS). The Massachusetts RPS was established in 2003 and requires electricity suppliers to obtain 1 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, such as wind, solar, and hydro. In 2009, the amount was scheduled to increase by 1 percent each year, putting us on pace to be at 15 percent by 2020. But we can do much better than that, and 19 other states already do. Under the Clean Energy Bill, we would increase the RPS by 3 percent each year.

Next, we add incremental emissions limits to the Global Warming Solutions benchmark set in 2008 to help us get to an 80 percent reduction by 2050. Under the new bill, we would be at least 43 percent below our 1990 level by 2030, and by 2040 we would be at least 62 percent below.

It’s time for a state-based, market-driven approach to reduce the use of carbon. The Clean Energy Bill requires the administration to implement a market-based compliance mechanism to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Some possibilities include requiring the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to develop and implement a price on carbon; implementing a specific carbon price with an annual increase and revenue neutrality; or implementing a specific fee with 80 percent of the revenue being returned to taxpayers and the other 20 percent being put into a fund dedicated to transportation and clean energy upgrades.

To make our transportation sector green, electric cars and public transportation must be given more support. In 2014, the commonwealth entered into an agreement to have 300,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2025, and rebates were provided to purchasers. By giving certain privileges to zero emissions vehicles, including travel in high-occupancy lanes and designated parking spots in cities and towns, we will help literally “electrify our roads.”

To help individuals, families, and businesses, the Clean Energy Bill removes net metering caps. Under the current law, net metering capacity of private users is capped. By removing the cap, we’ll make it easier for homeowners and businesses to switch to renewable energy and lower their energy costs.

We must ensure that ratepayers and utilities are investing in solar, wind, hydropower, and other forms of renewable energy like ocean wave energy, instead of putting resources into large centralized plants and pipelines. That also means that consumers should not have to pay for expanding traditional utility infrastructure that should soon be obsolete in the green energy future we all seek.

We started our journey to this next chapter in building our clean energy future by going to you, the people, to listen to what you want and expect. Now that we have a bold, updated plan for fighting climate change and achieving the clean energy future you want, we return to you.

For this bill to become law, I ask you to continue to speak up and to contact your state representatives and Gov. Charlie Baker urging that we join together to think globally, and to act locally and boldly. Please join in the fight to save our planet by helping us build a truly green energy future.

Stanley Rosenberg is a state senator from Amherst.

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