Activist state

Advocates celebrate passage of state climate bill

NORTHAMPTON — As much of the state continues to face critical drought after two punishing heat waves, Governor Charlie Baker last week signed into law the landmark climate bill that lawmakers passed in late last month – the state’s largest effort yet to address the climate crisis.

While some provisions of the bill will be seen at the macro level – boosting offshore wind power, for example – other parts will soon be visible in the lives of people in the region. Big changes to state climate policy include rebates for electric vehicles and charging stations, a fund for green energy companies, and green workforce development for underserved communities , and a change in the law that will make it easier for solar panel owners. receive compensation for the solar energy they produce.

“This is a bold move for the state in the face of the climate emergency,” said Climate Action Now member Susan Theberge of Florence. “It is a recognition that we are in a climate emergency. It’s a good first step, but still a first step.

For many environmental activists in western Massachusetts, the bill also represents the latest victory in the battle against wood-fired power plant construction, which has faced fierce opposition since at least 2008, when plants said to biomass have been proposed in Springfield, Greenfield and Russel. That fight ultimately centered on Springfield, where developer Palmer Renewable Energy planned to build a biomass facility.

As part of the new climate bill, the state has now removed woody biomass from its “Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard,” meaning the state no longer considers it “renewable energy.” in its efforts to switch electricity to renewable sources. Theberge said that decision, and the bill as a whole, is the result of years of grassroots organizing in Springfield and throughout western Massachusetts.

“A lot of people poured their hearts and souls into getting this bill passed,” Théberge said. “Those are years of organization.”

Network reliability

Locally, state lawmakers have played a key role in promoting specific parts of the bill.

State Rep. Natalie Blais, for example, was able to include legislation that would require utility companies to proactively upgrade power transmission lines and the distribution network. These changes, said Mr. Blais, are essential to ensure the reliability and resilience of the network, as more energy comes from renewable forms of energy.

“I just can’t begin to put into words how important it is for us to look at our network and the future of our network,” Blais said. She said the grid, as it currently exists, cannot support the green energy needed for the future.

State. Senator Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, co-sponsored this bill in the Senate. Blais and Comerford, along with state Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, were able to squeeze other provisions into the bill after hearing from voters. The three co-sponsored a bill that will allow multiple entities on a single tax plot to resell excess energy from their solar panels, for example, to the grid. Currently, only one entity on a parcel can engage in this practice, known as “net metering”. That leaves out condo owners, for example, and many others looking to benefit from solar panels.

“There was a disincentive for homeowners to install solar power if they owned a single tax plot with others,” Comerford said. That deterrent has now been corrected, she said, after voters took the issue to lawmakers.

Gregory Garrison, president of Northeast Solar in Hatfield, said the new single-plot rule is a game-changer for condo owners, for example, or farmers who previously could only benefit from net metering on a single building, even though they had solar panels. many on their property. It will increase access to solar power, he said, as will an increase in the amount homeowners can be compensated for net metering, from 10 kilowatts to 25.

Garrison said Blais, Comerford, Domb and State Representative Lindsay Sabadosa have all worked with the solar company on key changes to improve access to clean energy. And the money people will now save on energy costs, he added, will have a secondary benefit at the local level.

“Those dollars go back into your local community,” he said.

School assessments

Domb and Comerford also partnered on a bill requiring an assessment of all K-12 school buildings in the state for energy efficiency and environmental health factors. This will include examining how to move away from fossil fuels, improve ventilation and the availability of drinking water.

“This statewide inventory and assessment is the first step we need to take to understand what we need to do to ensure that every community in the Commonwealth has access to a healthy building and learning environment for its students and teachers,” Domb said in a statement.

The bill will also create a fund for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to use for companies working on new types of clean energy and for underserved communities to receive workforce development programs so residents can access green jobs.

“I’m thrilled, I’m really thrilled,” said Rep. Pat Duffy, D-Holyoke. “We have to set these specific targets because of this monstrous challenge ahead of us.”

Despite the passage of the bill, however, there is still work to be done to bring it to fruition. In particular, the financing of many programs has not yet been adopted; lawmakers intended to include this money in the big economic development bill that was making its way through the legislature, but was not completed by the end of the legislative session because lawmakers rushed to finish many bills that remained until the deadline.

Duffy said it’s now up to lawmakers to advocate for those green jobs and workforce training in communities like Holyoke, and to make sure the economic development bill gives as a result of climate finance.

“Now that the bill has been drafted, signed and accepted, we all need to be vigilant about its implementation,” she said.

Dusty Christensen can be contacted at [email protected]