(BOSTON) – This week, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a comprehensive clean energy bill, An Act driving clean energy and offshore wind. The legislation bolsters green transportation, green buildings, and clean power production, including offshore wind, solar, storage and networked geothermal, while creating thousands of new jobs and economic benefits in the process. This bill expands upon the Next Generation Climate Roadmap bill (S.2995,) which contained key provisions from An Act creating a roadmap to a clean and thriving commonwealth, originally filed by Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull.) S.2995 was passed earlier this legislative session and overhauled the state’s climate laws by putting Massachusetts on a path to reach net-zero limit on greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
“As a heat wave sweeps across the globe and we continue to see the devastating effects of the climate crisis, it is more critical than ever that we take robust action across all sectors of our economy. This legislation meets the moment by building upon the Next Generation Climate Roadmap and making great strides in promoting clean energy solutions,” said State Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull). “Many thanks to Speaker Mariano, to Chairman Jeffrey Roy, and to the conferees for their hard work to reconcile the House and Senate versions of this legislation and bring this bill to the finish line.”
To incentivize the development of the offshore wind industry in Massachusetts, this legislation establishes a Massachusetts Offshore Wind Industry Investment Program, administered by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), consisting of annual tax incentives, grants, loans, and other investments through the fund, and assistance from MassCEC in accessing other state or federal economic investment programs. It also creates the Massachusetts Offshore Wind Industry Investment Trust Fund, which can be used to promote the manufacture, fabrication, and assembly of domestic supply chain components of the offshore wind industry; stimulate increased financing for permanent manufacturing facilities; advance clean energy research, technology, and innovation; and prepare individuals for offshore wind careers by supporting workforce training at a range of educational institutions and through regional employment boards.
With the goal of making the Massachusetts offshore wind bidding process more competitive, the legislation modifies the price cap to set clear criteria to allow for offshore wind project proposals that are cost-effective and promote economic development in the Commonwealth. Under this legislation, the price cap will be removed if three or more offshore wind developers submit bids, and if less than three companies bid, a modified price cap would remain in place. Preference will be given to bids that invest in local manufacturing, provide employment opportunities for underrepresented populations, and mitigate environmental impacts. Ultimately, a contract would only be approved if it is deemed cost-effective and beneficial to ratepayers.
The legislation also establishes a commercial fisheries commission to provide input on best practices for avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating impacts to wildlife related to offshore energy generation and transmission.
To support the advancement of solar power, the bill permits agricultural and horticultural land to be used to site solar panels as long as they do not impede the continued use of the land for agricultural or horticultural use, eliminates the so-called ‘donut hole’ for on-site solar energy net metering to promote residential solar, and loosens the so-called single parcel rule to help expand solar on sites where it already exists.
In addition to wind and solar power, the bill addresses other innovative sources of clean energy such as fusion energy and geothermal power. Acknowledging the harmful health and environmental impacts of utility-scale biomass power plant facilities, this legislation removes biomass from the list of energy-generating sources that are allowed to receive certain state incentives for generating clean electricity. To ensure that the Commonwealth has adequate storage systems to accommodate increasing amounts of clean energy that Massachusetts will be adding to its energy portfolio, this bill directs a study of how to optimize the deployment of long-term energy storage systems.
The legislation also modernizes Massachusetts’ electrical grid and energy storage infrastructure. It requires utility companies to proactively upgrade the transmission and distribution grid to improve reliability and resilience and accommodate the anticipated significant shift to renewable forms of energy.
As the transportation sector is the largest source of fuel emissions in Massachusetts, the bill takes steps to encourage the use of electric vehicles. One step the bill takes is to call for the cessation of in-state sales of non-zero-emission vehicles by 2035, an element of Rep. Meschino’s zero-emission vehicle mandate bill, H.3541.
These steps also include the expansion and codifying of the state’s MOR-EV electric vehicle incentive program into statute, which provides rebates to individuals who purchase electric vehicles. Another bill filed by Representative Meschino, H.3347, outlined components of the EV incentive programs, rebates, and rebate programs called for in this week’s final legislation.
Under the sweeping climate legislation, the rebate amount will increase by $1,000, to $3,500 for passenger cars and light-duty trucks. Moreover, electric vehicle purchasers who trade in their emission-producing vehicles will be eligible for an additional incentive of $1,000. The program may include a point-of-sale rebate model for individual purchases that offers consumers savings at the point of purchase or lease. The bill also makes used vehicles eligible for rebates. Further, the bill directs the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to conduct an outreach campaign to promote awareness about the MOR-EV program among consumers and businesses in underserved and low-income communities, as well as in communities with high proportions of high-emission vehicles.
To expand access to electric vehicle charging stations, this bill convenes an interagency coordinating council to develop and implement a charging infrastructure deployment plan in an equitable and comprehensive manner. This section of the legislation draws from other elements of H.3347 related to EV infrastructure planning requirements and the inclusion of requirements for EV charging in standards released by the Board of Building Regulations and Standards.
The Department of Public Utilities (DPU) would be required to set vehicle electrification and greenhouse gas emission requirements for electric vehicles for transportation network companies. In addition, to ensure that zero-emission vehicle charging remains affordable for consumers, the bill requires all electricity companies to submit proposals to DPU for how they will offer reduced electricity rates for consumers who charge their zero-emission vehicles at off-peak times.
Finally, the bill takes historic steps to address emissions that come from MBTA bus fleets. Starting in 2030, this bill requires every passenger bus that is purchased or leased by the MBTA to be a zero-emission vehicle. By the end of 2040, the MBTA will be required to operate exclusively zero-emission vehicles. Underserved and low-income communities would be prioritized for the equitable deployment of these zero-emission buses.
The steps the legislation calls for in relation to MBTA bus fleets draw from components of H.3255, a bill sponsored by State Representative Christine Barber (D-Somerville) and State Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) and supported by State Representative Steve Owens (D-Watertown). These components are the report DESE must file on possible zero-emission school bus fleet roll outs by June 15, 2023, plans for regional transit authorities to roll out zero-emission buses, the requirements that the MBTA purchase only zero-emission buses by the end of 2030 and that all buses are zero-emission by 2040, and the inclusion of fleets in the electric vehicle incentive program.
To tackle the difficult issue of emissions from the building sector, the bill creates a 10-municipality demonstration project allowing all-electric building construction by local option. Participating municipalities must receive local approval before applying into the demonstration project. The measure has two important provisions: first, each community must first meet certain affordable housing or multifamily development thresholds; and second, each must exempt life sciences labs and health care facilities from the all-electric requirement.
The bill makes targeted enhancements to the Mass Save program, which provides rebates and incentives for owners and renters related to efficient appliances and other home energy improvements. Under the bill, priority for Mass Save projects will be given to those that maximize net climate, environmental, and equity impacts. Beginning in 2025, Mass Save funds will also be limited in most instances from going to any fossil fuel equipment. Some of these reforms to Mass Save draw from H.3350, filed this session by Representative Meschino. Climate, environmental, and equity goals and standards included in the larger bill passed this week also pull from H.3350.
This bill requires DPU to conduct an adjudicatory proceeding prior to approving any company-specific plan under the DPU’s future of heat proceedings. In addition, the bill requires DPU to convene a stakeholder working group to develop regulatory and legislative recommendations for how Massachusetts can best align the Commonwealth’s gas system enhancement program with the state’s 2050 net-zero goal. The working group must submit its final recommendations to the Legislature by July 31, 2023.
Having been passed by the House and Senate, An Act driving clean energy and offshore wind now goes to Governor Baker for his signature.