State Senate Passes Major Climate Bill

by | Apr 21, 2022

Amid alarming reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Massachusetts Senate on Thursday passed a major bill, S.2819, An Act Driving Climate Policy Forward, or the Drive Act. The bill addresses climate change in three primary areas—clean energy, transportation, and buildings—with the aim of achieving the Commonwealth’s ambitious goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, which the Legislature codified into law in 2021.

“Climate change is a threat to our communities, our ecosystems, and our future. The science is clear: the time for climate action is now,” said Senator Michael Moore. “One year ago, the Massachusetts legislature committed to getting the Commonwealth to net-zero emissions by 2050. With this landmark bill, we are taking another step forward toward the transition to a more sustainable future.”

On his amendment pertaining to the electric vehicle charging network deployment council established by the bill, Senator Moore added, “I’m thankful to my colleagues for their support of my amendment that ensures our forthcoming electric vehicle charging network is built with robust and resilient cybersecurity as one of its cornerstones. Given current world events and the cyber-attacks we have seen in the past, it is critical to be proactive in addressing the safety and sustainability of our power grid and our infrastructure.”

Clean Energy
Around 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts come from the power plants that fuel its energy grid, making support for clean energy alternatives necessary to meet the Commonwealth’s goal of having net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Recognizing this, the Drive Act includes significant provisions to deploy clean energy infrastructure, including those related to offshore wind energy, solar energy, and energy storage. Acknowledging the importance of growing the Commonwealth’s green economy, this bill allocates $100 million to a Clean Energy Investment Fund to support infrastructure development in the clean energy industry.

To assist with the financial viability of offshore wind energy projects, this legislation updates the procurement process for new offshore wind energy investments to ensure that the Commonwealth receives as many competitive bids as possible, that all projects maximize equitable economic development opportunities, that environmental impacts are mitigated, and that ratepayers are protected throughout the process. The bill also provides more flexibility to offshore wind developers by adjusting the existing price cap for offshore wind projects, allowing for price increases of up to 10 per cent of the previous procurement. It also requires that any increase in price must be the result of economic development investments for low- and middle-income populations and diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. This crucial change will give offshore wind developers more flexibility, protect ratepayers from significant price increases, and ensure that offshore wind investments support equitable economic development in the Commonwealth.

To support the advancement of solar power, the bill permits agricultural and horticultural land to be used to site solar panels, eliminates the so-called ‘donut hole’ for on-site solar energy net metering to promote residential solar; and requires the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to make recommendations for the successor program to the current SMART solar incentive program.

In addition to wind and solar power, the bill addresses other innovative sources of clean energy such as fusion and geothermal power, and amends Massachusetts law to ensure that the state can consider potential options for the development of safe, clean energy sources. Acknowledging the harmful health and environmental impacts of biomass facilities, this legislation removes biomass from the list of energy-generating sources that are allowed to receive state incentives for clean energy. To ensure that the Commonwealth has adequate storage systems to accommodate all the clean energy that Massachusetts will be adding to its energy portfolio, this bill directs a study of how to optimize the deployment of long-term energy storage systems.

As the transportation sector is the largest source of fuel emissions in Massachusetts, the bill takes steps to encourage the use of electric vehicles, including codifying into statute, expanding, and allocating $100 million for the state’s MOR-EV electric vehicle incentive program, which provides rebates to individuals who purchase electric vehicles.

Under the Drive Act, the rebate amount will increase by $1,000, to $3,500, for passenger cars and light-duty trucks. Moreover, electric vehicle purchasers who trade in their emission-producing vehicles will be eligible for an additional incentive of $1,000. For the first time, rebates provided through the MOR-EV program will be administered at the point of sale, rather than through a rebate that can take up to 90 days to receive. The bill also makes used vehicles eligible for rebates. Further, the bill directs the department of energy resources to conduct an outreach campaign to promote awareness about the MOR-EV program among consumers and businesses in underserved and low-income communities, as well as in communities with high proportions of high-emission vehicles.

To expand access to electric vehicle charging stations, this bill convenes an interagency coordinating council to develop and implement a charging infrastructure deployment plan, and allocates $50 million to this coordinating council to deploy charging infrastructure in an equitable and comprehensive manner.

The Department of Public Utilities (DPU) would be required to set vehicle electrification and greenhouse gas emission requirements for electric vehicle companies. In addition, to ensure that zero-emission vehicle charging remains affordable for consumers, the bill requires all electricity companies to submit proposals to the department of public utilities for how they will offer reduced electricity rates for consumers who charge their zero-emission vehicles at off-peak times.

Finally, the bill takes historic steps to address emissions that come from MBTA bus fleets. Starting in 2028, this bill would require every passenger bus that is purchased or leased by the MBTA to be a zero-emission vehicle. By the end of 2040, the MBTA would be required to operate exclusively zero-emission vehicles. Underserved and low-income communities would be prioritized for the equitable deployment of these zero-emission buses.

Amendments adopted during the debate include those to:

• Allow the MOR-EV program to offer an additional $1,500 rebate for low-income individuals;
• Require the state to examine historic and present participation of low- and moderate-income households in the MOR-EV program and recommend strategies to reduce disparities in uptake;
• Require the MBTA to develop and implement short-, medium-, and long-term plans for electrifying the commuter rail fleet, with new purchase of diesel locomotives to be phased out in the coming years;
• Require MassDOT to assist Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs) in creating an Electric Bus Rollout Plan for transitioning to zero-emission bus fleets; and
• Direct the state to prepare a report on the estimated cost of converting school buses to zero-emission vehicles, as well as recommendations on how to structure a state incentive program for replacing school buses.

To tackle the difficult issue of emissions from the building sector, the bill creates a 10 municipality demonstration project allowing all-electric building construction by local option. Participating municipalities must receive local approval before applying into the demonstration project.

The Drive Act makes targeted enhancements to the Mass Save program, which provides rebates and incentives for owners and renters related to efficient appliances and other home energy improvements. Under the bill, priority for Mass Save projects will be given to those that maximize net climate, environmental, and equity impacts. Beginning in 2025, Mass Save funds will also be limited in most instances from going to any fossil fuel equipment.

This bill requires the DPU to conduct an adjudicatory proceeding prior to approving any company-specific plan under the DPU’s future of heat proceedings. In addition, the bill requires DPU to convene a stakeholder working group to develop regulatory and legislative recommendations for how Massachusetts can best align the Commonwealth’s gas system enhancement program with the state’s 2050 net zero goal. The working group must submit its final recommendations to the Legislature by July 31, 2023.

Amendments adopted during the debate include those to:

• Require utility companies to report to the state annually the total amount of natural gas and electricity used by large buildings over 25,000 square feet, and for the state to make the data publicly available on a building-by-building basis;
• Require the state to consider the historic and present participation of low- and middle-income households, including renter households, in the Mass Save program, and provide recommendations to promote equitable access and reduce disparities in uptake; and
• Direct electric and gas distribution companies to collect and report on data related to ratepayer bills in communities that are involved in the demonstration project, as well as those who are not.