Massachusetts Legislature Passes Major Climate Bill That Updates 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act: An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy
On January 4, the Massachusetts legislature adopted a bill that sets some of the most aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets in the country, supports thousands of more megawatts of cleaner offshore wind power, encourages natural gas utilities to explore other services they could provide in the future, and emphasizes helping the most overburdened communities cope with the effects of climate change under a compromise climate policy bill that lawmakers have sent to the governor's desk Monday. Governor Baker is expected to veto some of the bill's language, but is also expected to sign it into law.
Link to Bill: S_2995
Joint Statement of State Sen. Mike Barrett and Rep. Thomas A. Golden, Jr., Senate and House Chairs, respectively, of the Conference Committee on Climate of the Massachusetts General Court, released Jan 3, 2021
Letter from AIA MA and ACEC/MA to Governor Baker with some recommended changes
Excerpts from State House News Service and other sources:
On January 3, 2021, legislative negotiators reached an agreement on a major bill to accelerate the state's pace toward addressing the global problem of climate change. The bill would establish in state law a "net zero" greenhouse gas emissions limit for 2050 and establish statewide emissions limits every five years over the next three decades. Within that plan, the bill creates mandatory emissions sublimits for six sectors of the economy: electric power, transportation, commercial and industrial heating and cooling, residential heating and cooling, industrial processes, and natural gas distribution and service.
And within the 2050 "net zero" target, the bill says gross emissions by 2050 must fall at least 85 percent below 1990 levels. The statewide emissions limit for 2030 shall be at least 50 percent below the 1990 level, according to the bill, and the limit for 2040 must be at least 75 percent below the 1990 level.
The six-member conference committee's report will be put before the House and Senate for up-or-down votes during the final two days of sessions for the current sitting of the General Court. All six conferees - four Democrats and two Republicans - signed off on the deal, which arrives just days before a new Legislature will be sworn in and all bills start from scratch.
The bill's chief negotiators were Rep. Thomas Golden of Lowell and Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington.
From their summary, linked above, this bill:
- Sets statewide emissions limits every five years instead of every ten; compiling "comprehensive, clear, and specific" roadmap plans for reaching each limit; and producing regular reports on how well the plans are doing.
- Drills down from the general to the specific, by mandating emissions sublimits for six high-priority sectors of the economy: electric power, transportation, commercial and industrial heating and cooling, residential heating and cooling, industrial processes, and natural gas distribution and service.
- Writes environmental justice into Massachusetts law, defining environmental justice populations and providing new tools and protections for affected neighborhoods.
- Requires each roadmap plan to improve or mitigate economic, environmental, and public health impacts on environmental justice populations and low- and moderate-income individuals.
- Codifies the statewide greenhouse gas limit for 2050 at "net zero" emissions, provided also that gross emissions must fall at least 85% below 1990 levels. Stipulates that the statewide emissions limit for 2030 shall be at least 50 per cent below the 1990 level, and that the limit for 2040 shall be at least 75 per cent below the 1990 level.
- Raises offshore wind to another level, requiring utilities to purchase an additional 2,400 megawatts of generation. Builds on previous legislation action and increases the state's total authorization to 5,600 megawatts, a substantial portfolio.
- Boosts demand for renewable energy by raising the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) by 3% each year for 2025-2029, ensuring that at least 40% of the state's electric power will be renewable by 2030.
- Directs the Department of Public Utilities (DPU), regulator of the state's electric and natural gas utilities, to balance priorities going forward: system safety, system security, reliability, affordability, equity, and, significantly, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
- Bolsters the finances of the Mass. Clean Energy Center, by providing $12 million in new annual funding for clean energy workforce development for minority-owned and women-owned small businesses, environmental justice communities, and fossil fuel workers.
- Mandates promulgation of a local option "net zero stretch energy code," including a definition of "net zero building." Authorizes cities and towns to adopt such a code.
- To get the net zero stretch energy code written, shifts responsibility for energy code development to the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and away from the Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS).
- Adds four new seats to the BBRS, to help with its other important duties. New seats go to an expert in commercial building energy efficiency, an expert in residential building energy efficiency, an expert in advanced building technology, and the Commissioner of DOER or her designee.
- Instructs EEA to set explicit emissions reduction goals for each three-year plan formulated by MassSave, the state’s energy efficiency program. At the conclusion of each plan, requires the DPU to report on reductions actually achieved.
- To further align MassSave with climate policy, requires utilities to include an explicit value for greenhouse gas reductions when they calculate the cost-effectiveness of a MassSave offering.
- To aid in achieving limits and sublimits, sets numerical benchmarks for adoption of electric vehicles, charging stations, solar technology, energy storage, heat pumps, anaerobic digestors, and other breakthrough solutions.
- Updates solar policy and advances solar equity:
- Loosens net metering caps by ending "load zone" restrictions, allowing an owner of a new solar facility to award duly-earned solar credits to customers of a given utility "regardless of which ISO-NE load zone the customers are located in….";
- Mandates the DOER to prioritize low-income communities in the SMART solar program and in the design and operation of any other "new solar incentive program” created under the same legislative authorization;
- Further increases opportunities for low-income individuals to participate in SMART and other future solar initiatives by allowing them to enroll without signing complicated contracts;
- Establishes a new solar energy grant program for nonprofits that address food insecurity, homelessness, the need for emergency shelter, and other needs;
- Writes into law a long-awaited compromise between local tax assessors and developers on the tax status of clean energy installations;
- Closes a gap in the net metering law to enable small municipal buildings to host rooftop solar;
- Exempts businesses and other large customers from the solar net metering cap to allow them to install solar systems larger than 25 kilowatts on their premises, to help them offset their electricity use and save money; and
- Allows utilities to own solar projects if they're located on utility-owned land within a municipality that gives its approval and is at high risk from the effects of climate change. Gives preference to municipalities with environmental justice populations. Requires utilities to conduct outreach efforts in municipalities with such populations.
- Gives a boost to hydrogen power by exempting fuel cell systems from local property taxes.
- Enriches state climate policy by promoting and protecting "natural and working lands," sources of carbon sequestration.
- Creates a first-time greenhouse gas emissions standard for municipal lighting plants, requiring them to purchase 50% non-emitting electricity by 2030 and get to “net zero” emissions by 2050. Imposes a moratorium on wood-to-energy facilities of the kind contemplated in Springfield, MA, preventing them from qualifying as “non-carbon emitting” resources for five years. Directs EEA to conduct a new study of the impact of biomass on greenhouse gas emissions and public health.
- Nudges natural gas utilities to get into new lines of work, by authorizing them to pilot "renewable thermal energy sources, systems or technologies capable of substituting for fossil-fueled natural gas" -- geothermal heating and cooling on a district-wide scale.
- To help drive down emissions from common household and commercial appliances, sets Massachusetts appliance efficiency standards according to California precedents and future federal standards.
- Addresses natural gas safety:
- Requires the DPU to issue new regulations relative to training and certifying utility contractors;
- Instructs the DPU to set standards for maintaining gas distribution maps and records;
- Directs gas companies to report "disruptions in the provision of electronic data" as a service quality metric;
- Extends whistleblower protection to utility employees who report violations of law by their employers;
- Increases the penalties for failure to restore service after emergencies;
- Raises the cap on civil penalties for gas pipeline safety violations, allowing for fines in excess of those set by federal law;
- Requires all written complaints regarding gas service to be investigated and responded to in a timely manner, and directs the DPU to establish a publicly-accessible database of such complaints; and
- Strengthens gas company plans to address aging and leaking infrastructure, by setting interim targets for reducing gas leak rates and authorizing the DPU to levy fines for non-compliance.
- Mandates transparency with respect to the inputs, outputs, assumptions, and modeling involved in the formulation of state climate policy.