Massachusetts lawmakers send climate bill to governor a third (and final) time


The Massachusetts state legislature again passed a sweeping climate change bill, sending it to the governor’s desk for a third time. Solar energy and environmental advocates praised the bill and called on the governor to sign it into law.

The bill, “An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy,” has been bouncing back and forth between the Democrat-controlled legislature and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker over the past few months. Baker “reluctantly” vetoed the bill in January when the legislative session ended.

Determined to push ahead, lawmakers refiled and passed an identical bill shortly after the new session started. Baker then sent that legislation back with a host of proposed changes to address his concerns about financial impacts and what he considered to be misguided, overly ambitious goals.

Massachusetts Senate President Karen E. Spilka and House Speaker Ronald Mariano spearheaded each iteration of the bill.

Image courtesy of Sen. Spilka's office

House and Senate leaders said they accepted some of Baker’s “more technical” amendments, but they ultimately rejected what they said were “efforts to slow the rate of progress.”

The Senate passed the revised bill 39-1 on March 15; the House followed with a 146-13 vote on March 18. Both votes are considered veto-proof majorities.

The final legislation maintains most of the original provisions. In part, it would raise Massachusetts’ renewable portfolio standard by 3% annually for 2025-2029, ensuring that at least 40% of the state’s electric power would be renewable by 2030; mandate more offshore wind energy procurement; set a number of energy efficiency requirements; pump millions of dollars into clean energy workforce development; and, for the first time, codify “environmental justice” into state law.

Although Baker and lawmakers supported the bill’s overall goal to put the state on a path toward net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, they disagreed on near-term targets. Baker took issue with the bill’s mandate to cut state emissions no less than 50% below 1990 levels by 2030. He proposed a lower, more flexible target of 45%. The final version keeps the higher mandate.

Lawmakers welcomed Baker’s proposals to strengthen the bill’s environmental justice provisions. They also agreed to revise sector-specific emissions limits so that they wouldn’t be legally binding so long as the state reaches its broader goals.

Solar and praise

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) applauded the bill’s re-passage and commended the legislature for keeping key solar provisions in the final version.

The bill includes a long-awaited agreement between state tax assessors and developers. SEIA played a role in reaching the compromise, which will provide critical tax certainty for solar projects.

David Gahl, SEIA’s senior director of state policy for the East, said, “Solar developers and customers need to know the rules of the road, and this legislation clears up a loophole that could essentially double-tax renewable energy customers.”

The legislation also contains provisions to encourage the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target program to serve more low- to moderate-income people.

According to Gahl, homeowners and small businesses that install solar systems will not see property tax increases. Larger solar systems that already have an agreement in place for tax payments would also be exempt from additional taxes.

The legislation also contains provisions that would encourage the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program to serve more low- to moderate-income people, and would exempt businesses with on-site installations from the state’s solar net metering caps.

BlueHub Capital, a nonprofit community finance organization, praised the bill’s low-income solar provisions. For example, BlueHub said the bill would lift geographic restrictions for participation in community solar programs. It said this would help take down barriers that have limited access to solar for low-income households and tenants in Boston, nearby communities, and other environmental justice neighborhoods.

Solar and environmental advocates have called on Baker to sign the bill. Despite the governor’s previous objections, local reports said administration officials indicated Baker is happy with the final bill and likely to sign it. If he decides not to, however, the bill cannot be amended. And because it passed the legislature with veto-proof margins, the bill is almost certain to become law.

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