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Mass. regulators unveil proposed clean energy standard to cut emissions

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker's administration proposed a clean energy standard for the state seven months after its highest court ruled that current greenhouse gas policies were not cutting it.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection recently issued a new set of clean air regulations that aim to help the state meet a mandated 25% reduction in emissions from 1990 levels by 2020. Those regulations require utilities to procure a regularly increasing proportion of electricity from low- and zero-emissions generation, impose volumetric annual limits on emissions from multiple sources and aggregate limits on individual sources that decline each year.

The proposal responds to a May 17 decision by the state Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled that Massachusetts' 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act requires a mass-based greenhouse gas cap and that current "aspirational" emissions-reduction goals were falling short of meeting targets of 25% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. An executive order from Baker in September directed the DEP to satisfy the court ruling by crafting new regulations.

As outlined in the draft regulations, the DEP said reduction strategies already have resulted in emissions declining to 19.7% below 1990 levels from 2010 through 2013 but an additional 5.3% reduction is needed to meet the state's 2020 target. The new proposal sets a steeper reduction target of 7.2% to offset any increased emissions from higher energy usage and extreme weather.

As part of the new 7.2% reduction goal, the DEP proposal seeks to reduce power sector emissions by 4% by implementing a new clean energy standard for retail sellers and by imposing mass-based annually declining limits on emissions from power plants in Massachusetts. Under the technology-neutral, performance-driven mandate for "clean energy," utilities will be required to procure electricity from hydro, nuclear and renewable energy sources starting at 16% of their sales load in 2018 and increasing 2% each year until the proportion reaches 80% in 2050.

The DEP said in the proposal that the clean energy standard "appears appropriate and achievable" given that the existing renewable portfolio standard, or RPS, is to increase from 13% in 2018 to 15% in 2020. In addition, the state Department of Energy Resources has identified additional RPS-eligible renewable energy credits available in the 2018 to 2020 time frame that would correspond to an additional 3% to 5% of sales, the DEP noted. The proposal also said the clean energy standard would complement the renewable energy mandate "by supporting the acquisition of clean energy that cannot be counted" as renewable or are "surplus" renewable sources that are RPS-eligible but exceed the renewable mandate.

In addition, the DEP is seeking to impose mass-based, annually declining limits on methane and sulfur hexafluoride emissions from natural gas utilities and distribution services, as well as emissions reduction programs for state government-operated vehicles and heating fuels for government facilities.