Massachusetts bill would boost state's reliance on renewable energy

massachusetts hydro dam elp

BOSTON (AP) — Leaders in the Massachusetts Senate have unveiled legislation designed to ramp up the state's reliance on renewable energy sources, including offshore wind and hydropower.

The plan, detailed Friday, establishes more aggressive renewable energy targets than a similar bill approved by the House this month.

The Senate bill would set a goal for utilities to sign long-term contracts for 2,000 MW of offshore wind energy, compared to 1,200 MW in the House bill. It also would set a goal of 1,500 MW from other sources of renewable energy, including hydropower, compared to 1,200 MW set in the House proposal.

Under the Senate bill, utilities would be encouraged to buy energy storage systems to help stockpile solar and wind energy. The bill would also look at ways to promote energy efficiency in homes.

The bill got mixed reviews from energy producers and environmental groups Friday.

Dan Dolan, president of the New England Power Generators Association — a trade association representing competitive electric generating companies in New England — said the Senate legislation could lead to "a dramatic increase in electricity prices for Massachusetts businesses and consumers."

Dolan said that by setting ambitious goals for hydropower and offshore wind, the bill could freeze out other, lower-cost sources of electricity production in the state.

"Proposals like this are a dramatic step backwards," Dolan said in a statement.

Cathy Buckley, chair of the Massachusetts Sierra Club, hailed the bill, saying it aligns with a recent Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling that sided with environmental groups that sued the state for failing to meet the requirements of a 2008 state law by not setting strict limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

"Our senators have also listened to their constituents, who are eager to transition quickly to our clean, local, renewable energy future," Buckley said in a press release.

Democratic leaders in both chambers and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker have called the push for a comprehensive energy bill a top priority of the legislative session that ends July 31.

Massachusetts, which already has some of the highest energy costs in the nation, is facing a number of power challenges including replacing energy that has left or will be leaving the New England energy grid in the coming years. That includes the scheduled 2019 shutdown of the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth.

In April, Baker signed a bill raising caps on the state's net metering program. Net metering allows homeowners, solar developers and municipal governments to sell excess power they generate back to the electricity grid in exchange for credit.

Baker has also been a vocal supporter of tapping into Canadian hydropower.

The Senate is expected to debate the bill next week.

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