Solar energy is growing in the Northeast, but the urgency of climate change means that states need to accelerate the transition to clean energy sources.
In Rhode Island, siting challenges that have arisen in the past few years show that the state can’t do this without a plan. In a landscape patchworked with forest, farmland, and open space, policies and incentives must prioritize solar projects in areas with compatible land uses.
On March 14, the House held a hearing for H5789, a solar siting bill that aims to address these challenges. The bill represents months of collaboration between conservation groups, municipal planners, renewable energy developers, farm interests, state agencies and others as part of the Renewable Energy Siting Stakeholder Committee. Acadia Center has worked alongside these groups to generate a range of strategies designed to drive projects to preferred areas, including previously developed and disturbed parcels.
These strategies include:
Prohibiting the largest, most controversial projects by preventing projects from being built across neighboring parcels;
Significantly limiting the size of solar projects in designated areas of environmental concern;
Introducing an incentive through the Public Utilities Commission to reimburse solar projects in preferred areas for interconnection costs;
Directing OER to incorporate smart siting policies in an implementation plan for reaching the state’s emissions reductions goals;
Setting a deadline for municipalities to adopt individually tailored solar siting ordinances that will help local officials review projects and, if desired, establish more streamlined processes for preferred siting.
This bill is not the sole solution to the challenge of solar siting. Small-scale solar capacity in the state’s Renewable Energy Growth (REG) program has been nearly doubled to maximize residential and commercial rooftop arrays, which pose no siting conflicts. Further, just this week, OER and the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation opened a $1 million fund to support projects that propose solar on brownfields.
But make no mistake: legislators must act this session to avoid risking another year without significant protections for the state’s forests and habitats. The economics of siting currently favor large projects in flat, forested tracts, but they don’t have to remain that way.
Jordan Stutt, a policy analyst at the Acadia Center, a Boston-based environmental group, applauded the clean energy provisions of the legislation but said it represents a missed opportunity on transportation.
“This is all happening while the federal government is rolling back clean car standards and potentially challenging the California waiver for zero-emission vehicles,” he said. “In light of that backwards trajectory from Washington D.C., we really need Massachusetts and other states in this region to become leaders on transportation.”
Read the full article from E&E News here (article may be behind paywall).
Further Action Will Be Required to Address New and Unresolved Issues
BOSTON – Yesterday evening, a conference committee of the Massachusetts House and Senate released a compromise clean energy bill, H.4857, which is expected to pass both chambers of the legislature today. The bill enacts several key policies for supporting clean energy in the Commonwealth and represents a significant accomplishment by the legislature, but it falls short in other areas that are equally necessary for swift progress toward clean energy goals.
“The compromise bill takes measured steps forward that will enhance Massachusetts’ ability to meet its climate commitments, but future progress will be necessary to ensure that programs are administered equitably and clean energy resources are prioritized,” said Deborah Donovan, Massachusetts Director for Acadia Center. “This bill continues to advance renewables, offshore wind, and energy storage, and these technologies are poised to revolutionize the Commonwealth’s and the region’s electricity system and eliminate the need for expensive bailouts for aging fossil plants or new fossil fuel infrastructure. However, details of the legislation also raise concerns.”
The bill includes an increase in renewable energy requirements from 25% to 35% by 2030, provides for a ramp up in energy storage, expands the scope of energy efficiency programs to promote strategic electrification and renewable energy technologies, removes unfair charges on new solar customers, allows solicitations of local clean energy resources to replace infrastructure investments, and could double the Commonwealth’s offshore wind procurements to 3,200 megawatts by 2035. However, the bill does not include significant measures previously passed by the Massachusetts Senate to advance solar equity or implement carbon pricing. In addition, the new clean peak standard could potentially incentivize burning trash to generate electricity, which damages public health.
Similarly, other provisions mark steps both forward and sideways. “Today’s bill helps address one major issue for the future of local solar generation in Massachusetts by eliminating the unfair and inefficient solar charges introduced by Eversource earlier this year, but it leaves several important questions unanswered for solar,” said Mark LeBel, staff attorney at Acadia Center. “It risks leaving out low-income residents and other groups requiring additional focus by failing to increase the net metering caps and implement a new requirement to distribute the benefits of solar incentive programs equitably. Acadia Center will closely monitor the types of projects built under the new solar incentive program and work to ensure that the program benefits all communities in the Commonwealth.”
“Acadia Center has long called for expanded use of clean technologies such as electric heat pumps in Massachusetts’ energy efficiency programs to give residents greater ability to move away from expensive oil, and with the Legislature’s action on this bill, it advances strategic electrification and renewable resources,” said Amy Boyd, senior attorney at Acadia Center and member of the Energy Efficiency Advisory Council. “Acadia Center is also very pleased to see the full legislature pass the House’s provision requiring the electric companies to identify reliability issues and solicit local, clean energy resources to fill those needs, rather than spending more and more on infrastructure.”
“Massachusetts’ continued progress in the electric sector provides a blueprint for success in the transportation sector, where we are falling behind,” said Jordan Stutt, carbon programs director at Acadia Center. “Our outdated transportation system now accounts for twice as much CO2 as any other sector, and we are in desperate need of new investments to modernize and decarbonize how we get around. A price signal to reduce transportation sector carbon emissions, as called for in a bill that the Senate passed, would set us on the right track to a cleaner, modern and more accessible network of transportation options.”
“I’m willing to say it’s OK if you get out in front of it a little bit. It’s not the end of the world,” said Mark LeBel, a staff attorney with the regional environmental advocacy group Acadia Center. But self-consumption of electricity — owning, storing and using your own generation — needs to be protected. “That’s the future,” LeBel said.
“As the legislative session draws to an end, state lawmakers are considering bills that would increase the annual growth rate of the Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). As these proposals move ahead, it is important that decision-makers not be deterred by unsubstantiated claims made by opponents that an RPS increase is incompatible with procurements of hydroelectricity required by statute (Section 83D) or will undermine compliance with the state’s Clean Energy Standard (CES). This argument against an increase is a red herring based on a mischaracterization of the relationship between clean energy policies designed to fulfill different, but complementary objectives.”
Read the full article from CommonWealth Magazine here.
Last week, the Northeast Clean Energy Council and the Acadia Center — organizations that co-chair the Alliance for Clean Energy Solutions — sent a letter to Golden, Sanchez and other members of House leadership, calling it “essential” that the House approve four bills: H 4575 to increase renewable energy and reduce high-cost peak hours; H 4576 to increase grid resiliency through energy storage; H 4577 relative to net metering; and H 1724 relative to energy efficiency.
“These four bills would greatly advance Massachusetts’ clean energy leadership and deliver economic, energy, environmental, and health benefits to residents, businesses and industries across the Commonwealth,” the coalition’s letter said. “Prompt action by the House is needed to ensure final passage of legislation on these topics this session.”
Read the full article from the Taunton Gazette here.
Jordan Stutt, director of the carbon program at the Acadia Center, a Boston nonprofit that promotes clean energy solutions, is glad to see the discussion focusing on ways to invest carbon pricing revenue to needed projects. Even a charge of $10 per ton on transportation-related carbon emissions would generate close to $300 million, much of which could be used for much-needed improvements in the state’s transit system, he said.
“It’s not enough to completely replace the need for other funding, but it’s enough to make some real progress,” he said.
But environmental groups that include the Conservation Law Foundation and the Acadia Center counter that burning wood waste will produce carbon emissions and nitrous oxides. They also say that if the plant were to burn other construction or demolition debris, it would release potential contaminants from lead paint and arsenic.
“Expanding use of biomass will increase conventional air pollution by subsidizing a technology — wood burning — that is one of the largest sources of air pollution in the U.S. per megawatt hour of energy produced,” James Bryan McCaffrey, of the Partnership for Policy Integrity, wrote in testimony to the General Assembly.
Read the full article form the Providence Journal here.
Legislation also has bee filed at the Statehouse to address the issue. The Rhode Island Energy Resources Acthas the support of OER, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the Rhode Island Farm Bureau, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Rhode Island Builders Association, the Northeast Clean Energy Council, the Conservation Law Foundation, The Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society of Rhode Island.
Another bill was recently introduced that would severely hinder the construction of solar facilities and other renewable-energy projects on forestland. Environmental groups, such as the Audubon Society and the Conservation Law Foundation, have pushed back against this bill, saying it has several drawbacks, including paving the way for real-estate development and fossil-fuel power plants.