By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
Utilities would be required to solicit and purchase a combined 2,400 megawatts of renewable hydro and offshore wind power through long-term contracts under a House energy bill that began moving through committee on Monday.
The bill, which is being voted on by members of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, would direct utilities by next January to solicit contracts of between 15 to 20 years for the purchase of 1,200 megawatts of delivered hydropower.
By July of next year, utilities would be required to solicit similar long-term contracts for an additional 1,200 megawatts of “nameplate capacity” offshore wind, according to a copy of the bill obtained by the News Service. Projects eligible for the contracts would be restricted to those operating in a “competitively solicited federal lease area,” according to the bill.
“I personally think what we’re doing obviously is diversifying our energy portfolio. This is, no question, a very aggressive energy and environmental bill that will reduce carbon and meet our (Global Warming Solutions Act) goals and focuses on trying to jump-start offshore wind and create a viable opportunity for a potential supply chain and other economic growth across the Commonwealth,” said Rep. Thomas Golden, co-chair of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee.
Baker has been pushing since last year for the Legislature to authorize the solicitation of hydropower that could be imported from Canada as a means to address the retirements of multiple fossil fuel plants and Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in the coming years.
The governor has pitched hydropower as a clean energy source that could help meet the state’s baseload energy capacity needs without jeopardizing its carbon emissions reduction goals, or subjecting the state to volatile prices on the spot energy market.
Committee members have until Tuesday at 11 a.m. to vote on the bill, and Golden said he expects it to be debated sometime in June.
One of the major differences between the House proposal and the bill filed by Baker last summer is the requirement for utilities to purchase the renewable energy. Baker has said repeatedly that one of the strengths of his bill is that if the proposals turn out to be too expensive, utilities wouldn’t have to buy the energy.
Golden said that under the bill the Department of Public Utilities and the Department of Energy Resources would still have a role to play in reviewing rates.
“I think we’re going to be OK on price. I think it will work itself out, and DPU and DOER are going to be up to the task to figure this out,” Golden said.
According to Golden, while the bill does not include a requirement for any land-based wind purchasing, utilities would be allowed under their procurement of hydropower to include onshore wind in the mix to get to 1,200 megawatts if they choose.
The bill also does not speak to the future of solar energy after lawmakers spent the better part of the past six months negotiating a lift in the cap on solar net metering. Solar advocates have now started to report that the new caps are already close to being reached in the National Grid service territory.
Golden said there will be time and opportunity for members to propose additions to the bill, whether related to energy efficiency, solar, energy storage or other measures.
“There’s still plenty of opportunity in the future, either on the floor and through Ways and Means,” Golden said.[Further SHNS coverage developing]