By Matt Murphy
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STATE HOUSE — The Massachusetts Senate plans an aggressive approach to bolstering the state’s power supplies with renewable resources like hydropower and offshore wind, proposing legislation on Friday that would go further than the House to require the purchase of 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind and roughly 1,500 megawatts of other clean energy resources.
The bill, which has been scheduled for debate in the Senate thisThursday, would also encourage utilities to purchase energy storage systems to maximize the value of the new clean energy generation, and includes provisions to support improved energy efficiency in homes.
Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka and Sen. Benjamin Downing, the co-chair of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, held a briefing on the bill on Friday, June 24 as it was being polled through committee.
The bill (S 2372) would require utilities to solicit long-term contracts of between 15 years and 20 years for 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030, well beyond the 1,200 megawatts proposed in the House bill.
Spilka said the bill would also encourage the offshore wind industry to make Massachusetts a base of operation, fostering job growth and economic development in parts of the state and creating new advanced manufacturing opportunities for energy storage systems. “It’s written to really foster open competitive bidding and especially in the case of offshore wind to encourage economic development,” Spilka said.
In addition to offshore wind, Senate leaders are proposing a separate procurement of roughly 1,500 megawatts of clean energy generation from other sources, including hydropower, onshore wind, energy storage, anaerobic digestion, solar and others.
The push on Beacon Hill to diversify the state’s energy portfolio comes at time when policymakers are trying to prepare for the loss in coming years of 10,000 megawatts of power generation from the closure of fossil fuel plants and Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station.
With the state heavily reliant on natural gas for its energy, lawmakers are trying to shift the market towards clean energy to help meet pollution reduction mandates under the Global Warming Solutions Act without driving up already high New England energy prices.
“I think if we do not act, prices will continue to be incredibly volatile in Massachusetts. We’ve seen this over time that prices are very weather-dependent and our over-reliance on natural gas leaves us exposed to that,” Downing said. The Pittsfield Democrat said the bill should “stabilize” costs in the short-term.
Environmental League of Massachusetts President George Bachrach, who has been promoting a bill that would embody what Gov. Charlie Baker refers to as a “combo platter” of energy options, offered his support Friday morning.
“New reports show Boston will be drowning as temperatures and sea levels rise. We urgently need more energy, but it must be clean energy. The Senate bill will increase energy from offshore wind with sufficient scale to reduce costs for customers while creating manufacturing and high-tech jobs in our state. It ensures onshore wind, hydro and local renewables will make up a big part of our energy portfolio,” Bachrach said.
It will likely be challenging for House and Senate leaders to agree on a consensus energy bill prior to the July 31 end of formal sessions since there are already many differences with between the House and Senate bills, with the Senate likely to tack on more differences during floor debate next week. Branch leaders sparred for months this session over solar energy policy, but leaders have also identified this larger energy bill as a priority for passage this year.