“We’re intent on making sure that working class and poor people have the same opportunities to breathe clean air and transportation as people in the suburbs do,” said state Sen. Mike Barrett, D-Lexington, a co-chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. “We’re being pretty tough about that.”
Where the 2021 law “was and is about laying benchmarks,” the new bill “is about doing what needs to be done to hit those benchmarks,” said Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee Co-chair Sen. Michael Barrett.
The bill would use $100 million to create a Clean Energy Investment Fund, allocate $100 million to incentivize adoption of electric vehicles, and deploy $50 million to build out electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
“We know climate change is relentless, so Massachusetts needs to be relentless, too,” Barrett said. “No one’s going to give us an ‘A’ for effort — what matters are results. An Act Driving Climate Policy Forward pushes back against global warming on multiple fronts, with an emphasis on innovation and smart experimentation.”
The bill would use $100 million to create a Clean Energy Investment Fund, allocate $100 million to incentivize adoption of electric vehicles, and deploy $50 million to build out the state’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Senators hope the bill will empower the steep reductions in carbon emissions required for Massachusetts to become net-zero by 2050 as outlined in a major climate law Gov. Charlie Baker signed last year. The proposal could put the Senate at odds with the House, which last month approved a narrower bill aimed at turbocharging the offshore wind industry without tackling transportation or building issues.
As part of the 2021 Climate Act, Massachusetts committed to getting greenhouse gas emissions 50% lower than they were in 1990 by 2030, and to reach net zero by 2050. The law also sets legally binding emissions limits for certain sectors like buildings, transportation and the electrical grid, and it requires utilities to buy increasing amounts of renewable energy.
“Passage last year of the Climate Act gave grounds for hope in the fight against emissions. But in the 15 months that have since passed, we’ve lost focus,” said state Sen. Mike Barrett, who helped draft the law. The state has “no plan yet to reduce transportation emissions, and no reassuring hints of bold steps in the offing. [The Baker administration is also] backsliding on what municipalities will be able to do under the upcoming net zero stretch energy code.”
Echoing the language in Mondays’ IPCC report, Barrett says the “strategies are available to us, but we need to seize the moment.”
Some state officials and environmental advocates said they were skeptical of Massport’s plan, noting that the quasi-public agency is already obligated under the state’s new climate law to effectively eliminate its emissions by 2050.
“The effort lacks imagination,” said Senator Mike Barrett, a Lexington Democrat and one of the authors of the climate law that took effect last year. “So far, there’s no indication [Massport is] hungry to move into the vanguard, become a role model.”
The goal was to create a legal way for cities and towns to experiment with greener construction, said state Sen. Michael Barrett, one of the bill’s authors. In an email, a spokeswoman for the AG’s office confirmed that a new stretchier code allowing cities to require all-electric construction would be legal.
The entire state, including the building sector, needs to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, Barrett said, “so we need to make sure that new construction over-delivers.”
Sen. Michael Barrett, who co-chairs the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, told leaders of the Baker administration’s transportation secretariat on Friday that he expects a forthcoming Senate bill will make another pass at requiring the T to transition its bus network to full electrification by a specific date.
“I don’t think the Legislature is going to wait 15 to 18 years to green the T fleet because we can’t get to our emissions goals, we can’t get 50 percent below 1990 levels in total statewide emissions, if we operate on those kinds of timeframes. It just doesn’t compute,” Barrett replied. “I can appreciate the complexity here, but that is not going to work.”
Energy and environment workforce issues were top of mind Friday for Sen. Michael Barrett, who chaired the hearing for the Senate and encouraged his colleagues to probe Baker administration officials for more information on their plans to address them.
“How are we going to staff adequately everything from the regional transportation authorities’ bus drivers rosters to important jobs involved in the climate transition at a time when every entity public and private seems to be lacking for adequate person power?” Barrett asked rhetorically.
Senate President Karen Spilka plans to take up a broader climate resiliency bill this session that would pair offshore wind with solar and electric public transit. Michael Barrett, the Senate chair of the Joint Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee, told Playbook he hopes the Senate will “go broad” and spread the love more evenly across the full range of emissions-reducing technologies.
“I’m all for offshore wind. I think everybody in the Senate likes it for the electric power and likes it for the jobs,” Barrett said. “But you do have solar, and you do have energy efficiency, and you do have clean transportation.”
Barrett is a vocal advocate for shifting Massachusetts from fossil fuels to renewables. But he worries that voters will push back if energy prices go too high. He argues that the auctions have worked fine with the rate cap — Mayflower Wind stayed under the cap, even though it didn’t need to in 2019 — and that it should remain in place. He said he fears a “ratepayer rebellion” could break out, not just against higher electric rates, but also broader climate policies, if offshore wind costs start driving up electric bills in a noticeable way.
Barrett also worries that the House bill puts too much emphasis on offshore wind at the expense of other forms of clean energy. And he expects the Senate will also include language to reduce carbon emissions in the transportation and building sectors as well. As a result, it’s hard to know when the Senate will put forward its version. If the Legislature stays true to form on controversial bills, we may not see a compromise until July, at the end of the year’s formal legislative sessions.
Sens. Michael Barrett and Cynthia Creem, the chairs of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee and Senate Committee on Global Warming, told Woodcock in a letter released Tuesday that the suite of state code changes the administration hopes will encourage builders to shift from fossil fuel heating in favor of electrification “comes up short” and took issue with the way DOER scheduled the five statutorily required public hearings.
“The straw proposal bars a city or town from mandating all-electric new construction, even after local officials allow for vigorous analysis and debate. For municipalities in Massachusetts and other progressive states, all-electric construction is the favored strategy for decarbonizing new buildings. Barring communities from employing it would be a significant setback,” the senators said. They added, “Bottom line: Despite its unequivocal support of ‘net zero emissions’ by 2050, despite the special challenges of reducing emissions in buildings, and despite having been given a full 18 months by the Legislature to do its work, the Baker administration has proposed a municipal opt-in specialized stretch energy code that comes up short.”
Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, the Senate chair of the Legislature’s Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee, was perhaps the most vocal critic of increasing the cost of electricity with new bill surcharges at a time when the state is trying green its electric grid and use the power to supplant fossil fuels for transportation and heating.
In an email, Barrett said he was pleased to see the electric bill surcharges eliminated but still concerned about the overall direction of the legislation. “I worry about an inadvertent false equivalence, in which one slice of the clean energy pie is treated and funded the way we treat and fund the entire life sciences sector. For climate policy after this, where do solar, geothermal, and energy efficiency fit in? The bill gets the proportions wrong,” he said.
“The bottom line is the impact on the ratepayer’s bottom line. How much will all the subsidies and tax breaks cost? Where’s the cost-benefit analysis? A lot of money is moving around here,” he said.
“The pandemic really dampened economic and physical activities. It helped reduce emissions,” said Sen. Michael Barrett, D-Lexington. “We reached the required limit because of that. We didn’t get there by the virtue of our climate action.”
On Thursday, Assistant Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Katherine Clark (MA-5) celebrated the historic American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding being used to replace Lexington Public School buses with an electric fleet. The 2021 law made available $7 million to replace old diesel school buses with new electric school buses. Assistant Speaker Clark was joined by State Senator Michael Barrett, State Representative Michelle Ciccolo, and local officials. Lexington is receiving $350,000 to purchase new electric buses and fulfill the promise of safe, efficient transportation options for every student in the district.
“I see a real threat here,” said state Senator Michael Barrett, co-chairman of the Legislature’s telecom and energy committee. “For Massachusetts, the new generation of essential workers will be the young person who wants to do hands-on work in clean energy, not in the front office but on the front lines. Massachusetts has not had a focus on being a welcoming place for young blue-collar workers. … We have shortages as far as the eye can see and no plan to do much about it.”
State lawmakers and environmental advocates welcomed the proposal, which was required by the state’s landmark climate law that took effect last year and mandates that the state cut its emissions by 50 percent below 1990 levels by the end of the decade and effectively eliminate them by 2050. But they hoped regulators would make changes to the proposal before the law requires it to be enacted by the end of the year.
“There’s real progress here, and yet I’m disappointed,” said state Senator Michael Barrett, a Lexington Democrat and one of the climate bill’s lead negotiators. “What is missing is significant. This proposal gives permission to put new natural gas infrastructure into the ground, when we know those assets will have to be abandoned to meet our climate goals.”
The administration’s delay, and reports that developers are seeking to weaken the code, prompted the Massachusetts legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy to hold the Jan. 19 hearing to consider a suite of building electrification bills that could backstop the state’s executive branch.
“To reach our climate goals, we need to begin constructing buildings that do not rely on fossil fuels for heating,” committee co-chairs Sen. Mike Barrett and Rep. Jeff Roy said in a Jan. 18 statement. “On the off chance that the stretch energy code either does not emerge soon or emerges but departs from legislative intent, we’re looking at contingency steps the Legislature may want to take.”
The chairmen of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, Sen. Michael Barrett and Rep. Jeffrey Roy, said before the hearing that they were concerned that the Baker administration has not yet produced a draft of the municipal opt-in net-zero stretch energy code that last year’s climate law requires to be in place by the end of this year.
The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs “told the public to expect a draft of the code by last fall. But something’s happened. It’s not seen the light of day, and we hear some developers want it weakened,” Barrett and Roy said in a joint statement.
The law requires the Baker administration produce a draft of this “stretch” energy code by the end of 2022, but legislators said they were expecting one sooner.
“[The Baker administration] told the public to expect a draft of the code by last fall. But something’s happened. It’s not seen the light of day, and we hear some developers want it weakened,” said Sen. Michael Barrett and Rep. Jeffrey Roy, chairmen of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, in a statement. “On the off chance the stretch energy code either does not emerge soon, or emerges but departs from legislative intent, we’re looking at contingency steps the Legislature may want to take.”