By Michael Kuser
BOSTON — This year’s legislative sessions in New England produced clean energy developments ranging from Connecticut’s “most important energy bill” in seven years, to Massachusetts taking “baby steps,” to Rhode Island taking what might turn out to be a “regrettable pause.”
Vermont even passed a bill requiring the installation of electric aircraft charging stations at state-owned airports.
One unresolved issue among most of the six states in the region relates to the siting of renewable energy resources, Northeast Clean Energy Council (NECEC) Executive Vice President Janet Gail Besser said Thursday at the group’s annual legislative roundup, hosted by Boston-based law firm Pierce Atwood.
“Should there be different siting standards for renewables than for other kinds of development?” Besser said before the group’s state coordinators provided an overview of new clean energy legislation in New England. “How do you preserve farmland and forestland and how do you have compatible uses of land?”
Connecticut Expands RPS, GHG Targets
Mike Martone, of law firm Murtha Cullina, said one new Connecticut law, SB9, “was hotly contested throughout the year… [and] was the most important bill this session and arguably the most important clean energy bill since Public Act 11-80 was enacted seven years ago,” which established the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
The law revoked net metering guarantees that ensure rooftop solar owners earn retail prices for their excess electricity. (See Connecticut Energy Bill Draws Mixed Reviews.) It calls for the state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to set up a docket by Sept. 1 “to select the netting time between real time, one day or a fraction of a day, which is still going to be very problematic,” Martone said.
But it also increased the state’s renewable portfolio standard to 40% by 2030; extended the low- and zero-emission renewable energy credits program an additional year; and established a new tariff-based program for low- and zero-emissions projects, shared clean energy, and virtual net metering. The legislature also restored $10 million in energy efficiency funding to the 2019 state budget, Martone said.
Another new law (Public Act 18-82) establishes an interim target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 45% below 2001 levels by 2030, and updates Connecticut’s Comprehensive Energy Strategy, the state’s triennial plan to meet its energy needs, to include planning for climate change and a strategy to meet the new GHG target.
It also established the Connecticut Council on Climate Change, which is charged with coordinating the efforts on emissions among businesses, state and municipal agencies, and nonprofits.
Massachusetts on Track
Massachusetts concluded its two-year legislative session July 31 by passing a bill (H. 4756) to increase renewable energy usage and reduce high-cost peak hours. The bill includes a clean-peak standard, the first in the nation to promote the use of renewable resources to shave peak loads.
The bill, one of 175 energy-related ones considered in the session, also allows the Department of Energy Resources to solicit an additional 1,600 MW of offshore wind by 2035 and increases the state’s energy storage target to 1,000 MW by 2025.
“I don’t want to say we had a good two years, but we had a great 48 hours at the end of the session,” said Dan Bosley of NECEC. “A lot of people were disappointed, but the more we looked, the more we realized we got a lot of our initiatives in this bill.”
The legislation mandates that clean energy sources supply an additional 2% of the state’s electricity each year, dropping to 1% in 2030 in order to “bring the business groups on,” he said.
While the bill did not raise the cap on solar net metering, it did modify language related to the monthly minimum reliability contribution charge, which will compel everybody to refile with state regulators, Bosley said.
NECEC President Peter Rothstein called the bill “a step in the right direction,” but the state’s Sierra Club director, Emily Norton, said it represented “baby steps on clean energy legislation when what is needed are giant strides.”
The environmental bond bill (H.4599) authorized $211 million to be spent on climate programs and state hazard mitigation, Bosley said. (See New England Women Talk Climate Change, Resilience.) That includes $10 million for a clearing house “to monitor, project and collate information so that we can do things that we want in an intelligent way,” Bosley said.
The bills have not been signed into law yet.
Rhode Island Pauses
Rhode Island had two landmark years for clean energy legislation in 2016 and 2017, and an exciting time this year in procuring 400 MW of offshore wind, but it was “not a banner year for legislation,” NECEC Policy Analyst Jamie Dickerson said.
“I think it’s going to shape up as a regrettable pause in what has otherwise been a tremendous three or four years of strong and steady growth,” he said.
Legislation that failed to pass would have tweaked the state’s renewable energy growth program to allow additional megawatts to be allocated to the residential solar, Dickerson said. In the 2017 program year, 6.5 MW were allocated for residential solar, and that capacity sold out in six months.
Other bills on the siting of renewables, harmful forest siting, capping energy efficiency program investments, and carbon pricing were either not taken up before the end of the session or referred to committee.
A substitute version of one bill, providing for independent review and verification of ongoing energy efficiency programs, was passed and signed by the governor, Dickerson said.
Northern New England
Kate Epsen, executive director of the New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association, provided an overview of the conclusion of the Granite State’s second year of a biennium session.
SB 321, signed into law in June, removed the requirement that members of a net-metering group use the same default supplier as the group’s host, allowing residents to use both net metering and retail choice. “This is really helpful because it allows a lot of those larger end users who clearly shifted to competitive supply years ago, and don’t want to go back, to also engage in rural renewable energy projects through net metering,” Epsen said.
On the other hand, Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed SB 446, which would have raised the net metering cap to 5 MW from 1 MW and set the price at the default rate, which changes every six months. The Senate already has the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto on Sept. 13, “Override Day,” she said.
“The veto was unfortunate, for the Republican governor had a lot of cover, with many Republicans favoring it, so this veto happened for about five people in one company,” Epsen said. “That’s how local some of these relationships can get.”
In Maine, Gov. Paul LePage in his two terms since 2010 has vetoed more bills, 642, than all other Maine governors in the past century combined, said Melissa Winne, executive director of the Environmental & Energy Technology Council of Maine.
All energy-related bills, save one, either died in committee, died in special session or were vetoed. The exception was a bill, enacted without the governor’s signature, that extends Maine’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative through 2030.
Olivia Campbell Andersen of Renewable Energy Vermont highlighted H.676, a law eliminating state fees for rooftop solar and removing mandatory setbacks for solar parking lot canopies, as well as a law that maintained net metering for up to 500 kW.
“Utilities have made it very clear that they would like to have net metering only go up to 150 kW,” Andersen said.