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Lawmakers Debate How To Attract More Renewable Energy In Mass.

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Wind Turbines in Gloucester

Massachusetts lawmakers are debating whether to increase the amount utility companies pay of their annual electricity sales from renewable sources to the state. 

Massachusetts and 29 other states, including the entire Northeast, have a policy on Renewable Portfolio Standards. RPSs are a way for the clean energy market to gauge state interest and support for renewable energy development.

Massachusetts’ RPS is 11 percent, and is expected to increase 1 percent a year – reaching 25 percent by 2030.

Renewable energy proponents, like Williamstown Selectwoman Anne O’Connor, say that’s not high enough.

“It’s is pretty clear that the 1 percent increase was good in the beginning but now we are slowly sliding behind other states with it, which means that this type of renewable energy project with end up being built somewhere else rather than in Massachusetts,” O’Connor says. “Our goal is really to get to 50 percent by 2030.”

O’Connor spoke in support of raising the RPS at a September hearing convened by the state’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture in Boston.

“Massachusetts passed a Global Warming Solutions Act in 2008, and there are many targets in there that we should be trying to meet to reduce our impact on global warming,” O’Connor says. “This legislation is an important piece of that.”

If the RPS was changed to 50 percent, the Northeast Clean Energy Council says residential ratepayers would see an increase of 15 cents to $2 per month.

Seeking cost savings, many municipalities, including Lanesborough, Cheshire and Pittsfield, have undertaken initiatives this year to build renewable energy projects.

“In Williamstown, we have just completed our municipal solar array,” O’Connor says.

That will come online this month, but O’Connor says it almost didn’t happen after a substation upgrade was needed on behalf of the utility company.

House Environmental Committee Chair Smitty Pignatelli says utility companies are the main opposition.

“Well their pushback is always that they think it is going to cost too much money,” Pignatelli says. “I’m of the belief that they’re the utility company. They should be ahead of these things. Sadly, they don’t do that and that’s why I think we have to force it to happen.”

In a 2016 sustainability report, Eversource says it could see Massachusetts reaching 33.4 percent by 2030. Priscilla Ress is a spokeswoman for Eversource.

“We support renewable energy and, at the same time, believe we must be mindful of its costs to customers,” Ress says.

Pignatelli says reaching 50 percent by 2030 is not feasible.

“There is going to be some middle ground,” Pignatelli says. “We have to be aware of the utilities’ concerns and fairness to them.”

Residents in Savoy, Florida and Cape Cod have expressed concerns about renewable energy projects like wind turbines and solar arrays: the carbon footprint of installation, the power they generate, and the impact on nearby property values and health.  

While those issues are being looked at, Pignatelli says the state can attract more energy resources and reduce wholesale electricity prices and greenhouse gas emissions with a higher RPS.

“But we also see an economic development opportunity and job creation,” Pignatelli says. “So I think there is great opportunities to turn our economy around by upping our Renewable Portfolio Standards.”

Clean energy employs more than 105,000 workers in the state. Massachusetts is tied with California as the most energy-efficient state.

“I think there’s a view from business that would look at Massachusetts very different, and I think in a positive way to say ‘Hey, these guys are thinking forward, they are ahead of the game, they are trying to find ways to control the high cost of energy in a state that so heavily relies on natural gas. We can’t have these arguments about, against pipelines if you are not willing to invest in the other areas to try to find Renewable Portfolio energies,” Pignatelli says. “So I think there is a unique balance we need to find.”

Pignatelli says he hopes the committee will have a report sent to the legislature by the Thanksgiving break. But…

“We are doing a lot of catchup, because the committee hasn’t really done much for three or four months,” Pignatelli says.

The Democratic State Representative from the 4th Berkshire District took over the committee after 1st Berkshire District Representative Gailanne Cariddi died in June.

All committee recommendations need to be made to the legislature by February 10th.

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