February 15, 2017

Editorial: Bill would help ensure energy, and economy, are renewable

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A bill recently introduced in the state Legislature holds the promise of helping to combat climate change while transforming the Massachusetts economy.

An Act transitioning Massachusetts to 100 percent renewable energy, filed by Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, calls for  “100 percent renewable electricity by 2035 and 100 percent renewable energy economy-wide — including electricity, heating, transportation and other sectors — by 2050,” according to an article by State House News Service.

“Massachusetts has a proud history of clean energy leadership. Now, more than ever, it’s critical for us to lead the way,” Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts, said in a release.

In August, Hellerstein’s organization published “Renewable Communities: Massachusetts cities and towns leading the way [toward] 100 percent renewable energy” in which it highlighted 17 cities, towns and counties in Massachusetts that it said are driving the push for 100 percent renewable energy. The paper showcased efforts in Worcester, Auburn and Sutton, among other municipalities.

“We can have cleaner air and water, healthier communities, and a safer planet for our children, but only if leaders on Beacon Hill step up and act,” Hellerstein said.

It appears lawmakers are ready. Hellerstein said more than one-quarter of all legislators have signed on to support the bill. Among the 53 legislators showing support for the bill are Reps. James J. O’Day and Daniel M. Donahue.

If passed, the bill would make the commonwealth the first state to commit to 100 percent renewable energy throughout its economy.

According to State House News Service:

“The state took steps toward adding more renewable power to its energy portfolio in August, when Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law directing utilities to procure 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind and about 1,200 megawatts of hydroelectric power. The Global Warming Solutions Act, passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Deval Patrick in 2008, set economy-wide goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 25 percent below 1990 statewide levels by 2020, and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

“The new legislation seeks to ‘complement and strengthen’ the Global Warming Solutions Act, according to Environment Massachusetts. It would require the Department of Energy Resources to set binding targets for renewable energy growth and would gradually increase the renewable portfolio standard, a state policy requiring utilities to purchase a minimum amount of their electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind.”

To enable the state to reach its goals, the bill also creates a Clean Energy Workforce Development Fund to support job training, placement assistance and education for Massachusetts residents hoping to work in the clean energy industry.

This news builds on the encouraging data from the Mass. Clean Energy Center, which reported late last year that for the first time more than 100,000 people in the Bay State were employed in the clean energy industry.

The impetus behind the bill is primarily to fight climate change, supporters say. This is a fight we endorse.

At the same time, we believe the economic opportunity that comes with driving toward those goals is immense. The innovation and capacity built in Massachusetts can make the state a worldwide leader in renewable energy systems.

“We have the brains, private capital and innovation economy to create 100 percent of our healthy and renewable energy right here as we lead the world towards greater sustainability,” Jim Boyle, chairman and CEO of Sustainability Roundtable, told Environment Massachusetts. “Tens of thousands of hard-hat jobs with a brilliant future hang in the balance. Massachusetts’ public officials need to wake up and align with the world’s fastest growing companies to make our state the global hub of this technology-based revolution.”

“One of the things that is important in this piece of legislation is that it’s giving us some time to figure this out,” O’Day told the Sun on Tuesday. “It’s important to get rid of the size of our carbon footprint but also do it in a way that makes it affordable. … We all need to be aware of the ratepayer, and that’s extremely important, and we’re hopeful the cost is not prohibitive and may even be less expensive.”

In praising the state’s past and current efforts, O’Day said, “This didn’t happen yesterday. We’ve been moving pretty well, I believe, forward in the realm of clean energy, renewable energy and really being able to get some strong footholds in regards to all the pluses.

“I think this particular bill continues to keep the conversation going, hopefully in a forward direction,” O’Day added. “We’re looking at renewable energy as a potential for adding jobs, but how does it impact jobs presently in place? Is it going to be a net gain or a net loss? I don’t know the answer, but those are the things we need to find out.”

Joe Bush, executive director of the Worcester Clean Tech Incubator and supporter of the bill, told the Sun on Tuesday, “It’s the type of thing, especially now more than ever, where the state of Massachusetts can provide some much-needed long-term guidance for investment in our future.

“From a business perspective, you need certainty in terms of markets and guidance,” and the bill would provide that, he said.

“It only makes sense that for us to build a secure and stable society we want to have true energy independence, and that comes from being able to produce energy on our own.  The wave of renewables is coming. … I think with this we want to be leading the way not following behind.”

O’Day and Donahue should be lauded for being among the first to recognize the environmental and economic ramifications of signing on as co-sponsors of the bill.

Furthermore, we urge the Legislature to rise to the challenge of sustaining the leadership position Massachusetts has already staked in the clean energy economy.

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