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House Overwhelmingly Approves Hydro, Wind Bill

June 14, 2016

In a near unanimous vote last Wednesday, the House backed a bill that would require utilities to enter into long-term contracts (15-20 years) for large-scale (1,200 megawatts) hydroelectric and offshore wind power in an effort to reduce the state’s reliance on natural gas and reduce carbon emissions.

According to Rep. Thomas Golden of Lowell, the implementation of the bill would reportedly help Massachusetts procure 20 percent of its electric load from renewable energy and achieve the highest level of offshore wind procurement in the country. Gov. Charlie Baker has also stressed that importing large-scale hydropower from Canada would be an efficient way to account for the imminent retirement of more than 10,000 megawatts of fossil fuel and nuclear power generation in the state.

The New England Power Generators Association feared that such a bill would undermine the competitive electricity market. It could lead to higher electricity prices for customers and negate billions of dollars in energy investments in the state. Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) also worried about the potentially negative economic impact the directive would have.

With a 154-1 vote in favor of the proposal, the House clearly views the bill differently. The measure will now advance to the Senate, where leaders have discussed ways to extend the original bill to include energy efficiency improvements. Environmental groups also back the law. Environment Massachusetts, for example, hopes that the Senate will move quickly on offshore wind and increase the mandate to 2,000 megawatts. In addition, it supports the issue of solar incentives.

After seven hours of deliberation, 49 of the 61 suggested amendments that had originally been filed were withdrawn. For example, Rep. Frank Smizik proposed an amendment that would have made Cape Wind, currently excluded by the bill’s restrictions, eligible to bid on the aforementioned offshore wind contracts, but the amendment was dropped. Rep. James Lyons was the only dissenter. His amendment to forbid companies from charging electric customers to cover the cost of construction of new natural gas pipelines was ruled out due to irrelevance. Overall, however, lawmakers were optimistic about what the legislation might mean for the future of renewable energy in Massachusetts and for the state’s place as a leader in energy in the country.