Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges faced by the commonwealth, the country, and the world. Massachusetts has committed to combating it by setting ambitious goals for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. In order to achieve those goals, we need to generate more of our electricity through renewable sources, increase our energy efficiency, and embrace cleaner forms of transportation.

At the same time, soaring energy costs are hampering the commonwealth’s businesses and burdening working families. Lowering them is an economic imperative. I believe that we can address climate change and high energy costs simultaneously. I support strategies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a responsible manner, without unduly burdening ratepayers who are already struggling to pay their energy bills.

2016 omnibus energy bill

In 2016 the legislature passed an omnibus energy bill that will substantially increase the diversity of the commonwealth’s clean energy portfolio. The legislation requires utilities to contract for 1,200 megawatts of renewable energy from sources including hydropower, onshore wind, and solar. It also requires utilities to procure 1,600 megawatts from offshore wind farms, a significant commitment that will create jobs and spur the growth of a new industry in Massachusetts.

Building on Massachusetts’ reputation as the national leader in energy efficiency, the legislation makes it easier for commercial property owners to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades. It also encourages the use of energy storage, a technology that will help us make more efficient use of renewable energy sources. Energy storage could save consumers hundreds of millions of dollars if it’s brought to scale. On the whole, the bill brings us closer to achieving an energy portfolio that is both affordable and sustainable.

Net metering

In April of 2016, after carefully weighing the interests of utilities, ratepayers, and the solar industry, the legislature passed a compromise bill that met an urgent need: expanding a program that reimburses solar generators for power they return to the grid. Solar companies have grown rapidly in the last few years, creating thousands of jobs and reducing our carbon emissions. When the state approached the caps on this program, however, the industry’s growth stalled.

Our compromise legislation wasn’t perfect, but here’s the bottom line: It will allow a young, environmentally-friendly industry to continue to grow, and it will help prevent energy costs from rising uncontrollably. The state will approach the new caps soon, so the legislature will revisit net metering again. I hope we can ensure that solar generators are fairly compensated for the value they bring to the electric system, and that we can broaden access to net metering in low-income communities.

Pipelines

In 2015, the Department of Public Utilities proposed allowing electric utilities to finance the construction of natural gas pipelines by charging their customers a tariff. I voted to block the proposal because I believe that it was unfair to the citizens of Massachusetts. Investors who stand to profit from the construction of new pipelines, not ratepayers, should bear the financial risks associated with those projects.

I also had questions about the legality of DPU’s proposal. The Supreme Judicial Court answered them in August when it ruled that the department is not authorized to approve long-term contracts between electric utilities and natural gas suppliers, and that the department’s proposal violates a 1997 law that sought to protect ratepayers from the risks of financing electricity generation. As a result, DPU and the utilities will not be able to move forward with their plan.

In the wake of the court’s decision, the legislature needs to redouble its efforts to create an energy portfolio that not only reduces carbon emissions, but also reduces costs for ratepayers. The omnibus energy bill signed into law in early August was a momentous step in the right direction, but there’s still work to be done.

Transportation and climate

The transportation sector is the largest producer of greenhouse gases in Massachusetts, accounting for roughly 40 percent of our emissions each year. And while we’ve significantly reduced the emissions that come from producing electricity, we’ve hardly made a dent in transportation emissions. That’s our next big challenge in the fight against climate change.

Improving our public transit system is the best way to reduce the commonwealth’s transportation emissions. If our buses, light rail, and commuter rail provided fast and reliable service, then we could take thousands of cars off the road each day. Other strategies we should pursue include encouraging the adoption of zero-emissions vehicles and reducing the carbon intensity of fuels. Read more about my transportation positions here.

Energy