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Massachusetts Enacts A Climate Law Of Its Own

Massachusetts has enacted a new law that will bring more renewable energy and electric vehicles to its residents.

There is much being written about the Inflation Reduction Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden last week, but many states are also pursuing their own legislative packages that attempt to address the coming climate crisis in responsible ways. Last week, Massachusetts also enacted a package of climate-related policies which was signed by outgoing governor Charlie Baker. Here’s a rundown of the provisions in that bill as provided by local news source WBUR. If you have several hours with nothing better to do, you can read the text of the law here.

Massachusetts Transportation Policies

The first thing of interest to CleanTechnica readers is that the new law bans the sale of gasoline- and diesel-powered cars and trucks after 2035. Used cars with infernal combustion engines may continue to be sold. To help move the transition to electric vehicles along, the state’s current $2500 EV incentive is being raised to $3500 for vehicles that cost less than $55,000. Add the state incentive to the new federal incentive, and buyers in Massachusetts could lop up to $11,000 off the cost of a new battery powered vehicle.

Low income buyers can qualify for an additional $1,500 as well and there are separate incentives for medium and heavy duty trucks.

The new law requires the installation of high power chargers at service areas on the Massachusetts Turnpike, five commuter rail stations, five subway stations, and at least one ferry terminal. It creates a single state council to oversee the deployment of public chargers with an emphasis on building out new charging infrastructure in an equitable and accessible way.

The state’s public transportation agency, the MBTA, will be required to purchase only zero emissions buses after 2030 and must electrify its entire fleet by 2040. It also must start factoring emissions and climate resiliency into its long term planning. All state agencies will be required to assist regional transit authorities to develop electrification plans, study the challenges of electrifying all school buses, and oversee emissions reductions from ride-hailing programs like Uber and Lyft.

The law also permits “time of use” utility rates that will allow EV owners to qualify for lower rates for EV charging during off peak hours.

Clean Energy Policies

The real meat in the new legislation is its support for policies that will bring more clean energy to Massachusetts residents. First and foremost, it gives major new support to offshore wind projects by eliminating the “price cap,” a controversial rule that required every new offshore wind project to deliver cheaper electricity than previous projects. Critics of the cap argued that by prioritizing power prices, Massachusetts was sacrificing important economic development opportunities.

Here’s a crucial change. The investor-owed utilities like National Grid and Eversource will no longer play a role in helping to select winning bids. That power is now solely in the hands of the Department of Energy Resources and an independent evaluator.

Going forward, the state must give more weight to bids that promise manufacturing investments, employment opportunities for low income and minority workers, supply contracts with minority and women-owned small businesses, job training opportunities, project labor agreements and other environmental and socioeconomic benefits. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will now be tasked with helping schools across the state establish pilot programs for offshore wind job training.

Rooftop solar also gets a boost in the new law. Currently, Massachusetts only allows one solar installation of 10 kw or less per property to qualify for net metering. The new law will allow homeowners to be compensated for up to 25 kilowatts of solar power regardless of how many solar systems they may have on their property.

Farmers and ranchers (not all people in Massachusetts live in Boston) will now find it easier to install solar panels in fields where they grow food or raise livestock and there are new incentives for solar projects that are paired with pollinator friendly plants.

Improvements to the electrical grid, including up to 4,800 GWh of energy storage, are part of the new bill, along with measures to increase cooperation with neighboring states to enhance regional clean energy usage.The law also authorizes the Department of Energy Resources to start soliciting bids from companies that want to build an offshore transmission system to help bring power from offshore wind projects to shore.

Wood-burning biomass facilities will no longer qualify as clean energy producers, although two small pilot projects will be allowed to continue operating. Research and investments in nuclear fusion, networked geothermal, and deep geothermal energy will also be encouraged.

Built Environment

The most controversial provision of the new legislation is one that allows cities and towns in which 10% of the available housing is subsidized or reserved for low income families to ban new heating and cooking equipment powered by methane — commonly referred to as “natural gas.” Governor Baker opposed that provision and went several rounds with the legislature, which refused to delete it. The governor ultimately signed the bill because he said it contained so many provisions that were beneficial to the state .

Beginning in 2025, Mass Save, a state program that offers rebates on certain appliances, will no longer offer them for fossil fuel heating and cooling systems unless they are a backup to an electric heat pump, or are being installed in low income housing or large commercial and industrial spaces that are difficult to electrify. The law directs the Department of Public Utilities to find ways to make it easier for residents and communities to install geothermal heating and cooling systems.

Buildings larger than 20,000 square feet will now be required to report their total emissions annually. The state will prioritize making K-12 school buildings all electric and more energy efficient while improving indoor air quality.

In the past, the Department of Public Utilities has been criticized for letting the utility companies write their own plans for the expansion of natural gas infrastructure in Massachusetts. Now environmental groups and the public will be given a larger voice in the planning process. The law also enables utilities to invest in large geothermal heat projects.

The Takeaway

With this new legislation, Massachusetts has established itself as leader in the effort to minimize and mitigate the effects of a warming planet. The key is to stop burning fossil fuels and start using clean renewable energy as quickly as possible. Policies have consequences. One may quibble about the ban on gas furnaces and stoves, as Governor Baker did, but the focus on improvements to the electrical grid and support for offshore wind will pay dividends for the citizens of Massachusetts and the entire New England region in the years to come.

 
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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.

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