Far-reaching Massachusetts “green” legislation is signed into law.

On July 2, 2008, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed into law the Green Communities Act (the Act). The Act is a comprehensive bill that encourages energy reform in multiple ways. Some of the most important provisions of the Green Communities Act are set out. For example, the Act

  • Directs the state to purchase new hybrids or alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) to the maximum extent feasible to replace old vehicles. It requires the state to have replaced at least 50 percent of its vehicles with hybrids or AFVs by 2018.
  • Requires the State Board of Building Regulations and Standards to adopt the latest edition of the International Energy Conservation Code as part of the State Building Code, ensuring that Massachusetts buildings conform to the highest international standards of energy efficiency.
  • Elevates and expands the Division of Energy Resources into the Department of Energy Resources. The Department of Energy Resources will now include a Green Communities Division, which will provide technical and financial assistance in the form of grants and loans to municipalities and other local government bodies that undertake renewable energy and energy efficiency efforts. The Green Communities Program will receive $10 million annually to provide this assistance.
  • Requires utility companies to purchase all available energy efficiency improvements that cost less than it does to generate power. This will reduce consumers’ electricity bills. In addition, the utility companies will provide incentives for customers to upgrade to more efficient models of lighting, air conditioning and industrial equipment.
  • Establishes a pilot program where electric companies will be required to enter into 10-to-15-year contracts with renewable energy developers. This program will aid the renewable energy developers in funding their projects.
  • Establishes “net metering” for renewable installations of up to 2 MW. This permits people who own wind turbines or solar power generators to sell their excess energy into the grid. The Act also authorizes utility companies to own solar electric installations to be placed on customers’ roofs. Each company may own solar facilities of up to 25 MW for the first year and up to 50 MW after two years. The Act provides that the Department of Public Utilities must assess the effectiveness of the program by 2011 and recommend whether to continue, expand or eliminate it.
  • Strengthens the Renewable Portfolio Standard by doubling the rate of increase from 0.5 percent to 1 percent per year, with no cap. This results in requiring utilities and other electric suppliers to obtain renewable power equal to 4 percent of sales in 2009, then increasing to 15 percent in 2020 and 25 percent in 2030.
  • Approves Massachusetts’ participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Under the Act, all the permits for emissions issued under the program will be auctioned to ensure that the program reduces greenhouse gas emissions while minimizing costs and maximizing consumer benefit. The proceeds of these auctions will be used in several ways, including to reimburse municipalities that lose property tax receipts because of RGGI mandates, to provide financial assistance for municipal energy efficiency efforts in the form of no-interest loans, to fund Green Communities and to promote energy conservation.
  • Creates the Office of the Ratepayer Advocate under the Attorney General to intervene in proceedings affecting ratepayers. The Act also establishes a new governing board and a five year strategic plan for the Renewable Energy Trust Fund, under the management of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.
  • Requires a percentage of the generation sold by electric suppliers to come from coal gasification, combined heat and power, flywheel energy storage, steam technology and other alternative energy sources.

In addition, the Act establishes commissions to examine the environmental and economic impact of instituting a green building plan for Massachusetts, the siting of energy facilities in the Commonwealth, and the burning of construction and demolition waste as it relates to the renewable energy portfolio standard program. It also requires Mass Turnpike to develop a plan for the availability of AFV stations on the Mass Pike by 2014, and requires the MBTA to study the feasibility of incorporating AFV and hybrids into its fleet.

In expressing his enthusiasm for the Act, Governor Patrick said, “This legislation will reduce electric bills, promote the development of renewable energy, and stimulate the clean energy industry that is taking root here in the Commonwealth.”

House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi also stated, “This new law puts Massachusetts in the lead nationally in crafting bold, comprehensive energy reform. This law will spark a significant increase in the use of renewable energy that will significantly curtail our use of fossil fuels, improve our environment and save us all money in the long run.”