Now more than
ever, it is essential that we develop an effective strategy to address
climate change and transition our economy to sustainable sources of
energy. Like many of you, I have watched with dismay and disbelief at
the federal retreat on climate change policy. These changes, if not
reversed by the courts or the next Administration, will be tremendously
detrimental to our environment on a global scale. Specifically, the
current administration not only denies the existence of climate change,
but has repealed the Clean Power Plan, which was President Obama’s
carefully designed approach to allow the United States to meet the goals
of the Paris Climate Accord. This federal failure of leadership only
makes it more important that we take action on a state level to combat
climate change. And so, this session I prioritized the environment both
in the legislation that I personally filed, as well as in legislation
that I am co-sponsoring. I filed several bills in this area, with goals
ranging from increasing renewable energy, to providing for cleaner
transportations systems, and reducing waste. With the ever-growing
threat of climate change, it is time to move forward in implementing new
and bold policies.
Progress to Date
It is important to note that Massachusetts has already made important progress on environmental issues. In the last few years, the Legislature has increased the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), doubling the rate of increase in the RPS over the next decade. The RPS is a state law that places an affirmative requirement on the suppliers of electricity, such as Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs), to purchase a specific amount of their total energy mix from renewable energy sources. The Legislature also has passed an important law relating to repairing gas leaks, which will require utilities to report the company’s “lost and unaccounted gas” for the last year to the Department of Public Utilities. This, in turn, builds on previous legislation that requires utilities to report (i) how many gas leaks they have, (ii) their level of severity based on risk and environmental damage, and (iii) their plan to repair those leaks. In addition, energy storage, a huge issue for the development of clean energy, also received a boost in recent state law. Last session we passed a bill aiming at increasing energy storage by establishing an energy storage target of 1000 MW to be achieved by December 2025. And the recent energy law passed in 2018 specifically incentivized wind energy, an area in which Massachusetts is poised to take great strides.
An Example of Renewable Energy Spurred by State Law – Vineyard Wind
Let’s take a look at a specific renewable energy project that has been driven in large part by the state law passed last session. The Vineyard Wind Project (VW) will set an exceptional precedent when developing the nation’s first utility-scale offshore wind energy project. To understand just how great of an impact this project will have, it is perhaps most easily understood to think of the project in terms of how many houses it will power. When calculating this number, a series of assumptions are made. First, we need to look at the “nameplate capacity” for the VW project which is 800 megawatts (800MW). Nameplate capacity refers to the theoretical maximum energy the wind turbines are capable of generating at one time. Next, one needs to understand the “net capacity factor” for the project, which is the average percentage of the nameplate capacity that VW actually expects to be able to generate. The net capacity factor for the VW project is 45%. Finally, to get to the total number of households that can be powered by the project, Vineyard Wind is dividing the percentage of the nameplate capacity generated each year (i.e. – the net capacity factor) by the average annual household electricity use in Massachusetts. Using the latest available statistics on average annual household electricity use, it is estimated that the Vineyard Wind project will power about 400,000 homes!
And more good news! Just last week, the Baker Administration released a report recognizing the benefits of pursuing an additional 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power, which was authorized by the Legislature last year. It was announced that the Department of Energy Resources will begin to seek the additional 1,600MW, in groups of 800MW, starting in 2022. This addition of offshore wind power is expected to save Massachusetts ratepayers between $670 million and $1.27 billion over 20 years. So it both good for the environment and for consumers’ pocketbooks!
Legislation I Have Filed
While Vineyard Wind and this new announcement from the Governor are substantial projects, we cannot stop there. I filed, An Act Relative to Multi-State Offshore Wind Procurement. This legislation would require Massachusetts to work with the other New England states to issue a joint procurement for 6000MW of new offshore wind. Between 4000 and 9000 MW of older fossil and nuclear power plants in New England are expected to close in the coming years. They could be replaced by clean, inexpensive, and plentiful offshore wind. I think it is great that the administration agrees we should be procuring more offshore wind. However, we cannot stop at another 1600 megawatts if we are going to one day rely on 100% renewable energy.
While working to create more green energy, we also need to be working to cut the amount of energy we use. The transportation sector contributes to roughly 40% of greenhouse gas emissions. My bill, An Act Transitioning Massachusetts to Electric Buses, will transition all buses owned or leased by the Commonwealth, including school buses, to be fully electric by 2035. This would be accomplished by simply replacing a regular bus with an electric one when it comes to the end of its life, instead of replacing it with another gas or diesel bus. There is a tremendous amount of support for this legislation, including from organizations like Environment Mass, MassPIRG, and other leading environmental groups, and I am proud to have their backing.
As a society, we must also examine our usage of single-use products and the waste we create. I filed An Act Restricting Distribution of Single-Use Plastic Straws, which was modeled on existing law in California. This bill would prevent restaurants and other food establishments from giving straws to customers, unless requested. It is evident that reducing plastic waste has emerged as one of the most critical issues in environmental law. Not only will it help the environment, but eliminating this waste from the ecosystem will also go a long way to prevent harm to animals who encounter our discarded straws. This requires us to “double-down” on the actions we take moving forward, to reverse these practices and adopt those that promote a more sustainable environment. In the same vein, I filed An Act to Prohibit the Use of Polystyrene Foam Food Containers. This bill would ban stores and food distributors from selling or packing food in polystyrene foam (styrofoam). A styrofoam ban is needed and I am pushing to make Massachusetts an early adopter of this policy. There are other containers that can replace styrofoam in our food packaging that are better for the environment, and it is time we started using them. These two bills are part of an entire portfolio of legislation I have filed to reduce waste as part of advancing our environmental agenda and improving the health and quality of life of Massachusetts residents.
And in addition to the bills I filed, there are a wide variety of innovative initiatives pending this session at the State House. It would not be possible to list them all here, but a few of the key initiatives which I am supporting are:
- An Act re-powering Massachusetts with 100 percent renewable energy
- An Act relative to environmental justice and toxics reduction in the Commonwealth
- An Act to Promote Green Infrastructure and Reduce Carbon Emissions
- An Act to Create a 2050 Roadmap to a Clean and Thriving Commonwealth
I had to the pleasure of meeting with constituents of Arlington, Belmont, and Cambridge recently to discuss environmental issues generally, the bills I have filed and other major legislation filed by my colleagues in this area. Climate change is not a problem for the future. This problem is affecting us every day. Time is of the essence. We have to come together, not only as legislators but also as communities, through actively engaging with one another to develop law and policy that ensures a sustainable environment and moves us as quickly as possible to a 100% renewable energy society.