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Mass. AG wants more power in rate cases; lawmakers propose 100% renewables

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Mass. AG wants more power in rate cases; lawmakers propose 100% renewables

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is seeking to strengthen her office's authority in energy rate cases as two state representatives proposed legislation to commit the Commonwealth to 100% renewable energy.

Democratic state lawmakers, Sen. Joseph Boncore of Winthrop and Rep. Paul Brodeur of Melrose, recently introduced S.D. 1330 and H.D. 3186, which seek to shore up the attorney general's role as ratepayer advocate. The legislation specifically seeks to clarify that the attorney general has the authority to intervene and retain experts in all electricity and gas cases before the Department of Public Utilities on behalf of ratepayers.

In a news release announcing the bill and other legislative agenda for the 2017-2018 session, the Attorney General Office cited a $4 million settlement in 2015 with competitive supplier Just Energy Group Inc. The state agency accused the company of engaging in "unfair and deceptive marketing and sales practices," and the Attorney General Office said it as an example of where the office's authority to present information on behalf of ratepayers should have been made clear.

In a separate move, Democratic state Reps. Sean Garballey of Arlington and Marjorie Decker of Cambridge, filed H.D.3357, which seeks to mandate a statewide transition to 100% renewable generation from sources like wind and solar by 2035. The bill also seeks to phase out fossil fuel use within the state across all energy sectors, including heating and transportation by 2050, and require the Department of Energy Resources to set binding targets and regulations to keep track of progress.

Rep. Decker said in a news release that the ambitious renewable mandate and fossil fuel phase-out "signifies a tremendous opportunity to put the environment at the forefront of our public policy discussion."

As well as encouraging job creation and reducing the state's "carbon footprint," Rep. Garballey added that the bill "signals to the country our commitment to long-term solutions in meeting the very real challenges of climate change, and lights the way for similar efforts across the nation."

The representatives were joined by the Environment Massachusetts advocacy group. The director of the group, Ben Hellerstein, said a 100% commitment to renewables would send a "clear message" to Trump-administered federal government that "Massachusetts is determined to keep moving forward on clean energy."

The bill would also direct the state departments of transportation and energy resources to study how to achieve 100% renewable energy use in the transportation and building sectors, as well create a "clean energy workforce development fund," with half of its funds going towards residents of struggling midsize cities and transitioning fossil fuel worker to other industries.

Massachusetts' existing renewable portfolio standard requires 15% of electricity sales to Massachusetts ratepayers come from new "Class I" renewable sources by 2020 and increases an additional 1% each year thereafter with no set limit. As intermittent renewable sources require backup generation, it remains to be seen how the bill's 100% renewable target can be achieved.

Massachusetts is currently preparing to contract for 2,800 MW of offshore wind, hydropower and other renewables by August 2027 to help meet mandated reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of 25% from 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050.

A clean energy standard recently proposed by the state Department of Environmental Protection would add onto the renewable portfolio standard by requiring private electric distribution utilities to procure generation from large-scale hydro, wind and solar plants, as well as other low- and zero-emission energy sources, starting at 16% of their sales load in 2018 and increasing 2% each year until the proportion reaches 80% in 2050.