The Energy Bill Becomes Law

By Cynthia A. Arcate 3 August, 2012

As the two-year legislative session drew to a close this week, there has been a rash of headlines about things state leaders were battling over. Yes, there have been disagreements which have almost derailed important legislation, but we think there is something significant worth noting in where they do agree around reforms to the state’s energy marketplace, the cost of energy and the best ways to encourage more utilization of renewable energy across Massachusetts.

Legislators did come together in the final hours of session to pass the energy bill which we have discussed here in recent entries. While the new law, signed today by Governor Deval Patrick, isn’t perfect, there are many praise-worthy things in it.

First, the new law doubles the amount of renewable energy generated which can be sold back to the electric grid, increasing it to 3 percent each for private and public institutions (for a total of 6 percent). This lifting of the cap on net-metering will free up space in the crowded queue for projects and have a definite impact in the number of entities willing to generate clean energy.

As we have previously articulated here, the bill also includes a provision which will benefit cities, towns and state entities by streamlining the procurement process for renewable energy projects. This provision, first proposed in the House of Representatives and supported by groups including PowerOptions, clarifies the process for municipalities and state agencies to procure renewable power on public land by allowing them, if they choose, to enter into an open solicitation to purchase power through consortiums like PowerOptions.

The provision would remove for public agencies and municipalities the heavy burden of a costly procurement process and complex contracting language while doing what they have been doing with more traditional means of power generation for more than a decade.

One provision of the bill which bears close watching is how cities and towns will act on property tax issues around solar and wind projects. The final bill to come out of conference committee removed provisions included in the House and Senate versions which would have brought consistency and predictability to companies willing to invest in local renewable projects – a key component in financing such projects.

Overall, the bill signed into law by Governor Patrick is a step forward for the state’s energy marketplace. While challenges remain and much to accomplish in the next legislative session, the House and Senate leaders on this issue, Senator Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield) and Representative John Keenan (D-Salem), along with the Governor and their staffs, deserve immense credit for their hard work and thoughtful leadership.

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