By Jamie Eldridge and Frank I. Smizik
This week, the Massachusetts House and Senate have an amazing opportunity to build on the Commonwealth’s energy policy foundation so that our energy economy can continue on its path as an emerging world player in the clean-energy industry — and ensure Massachusetts energy consumers a secure, reliable and affordable energy future.
Massachusetts is the number one state in the country for energy efficiency policy, and clean energy is the most rapidly growing sector in the state. The clean energy industry now employs over 64,000 people in jobs ranging from manufacturing and construction to sales and services, and these jobs are local.
Globally, clean energy investment grew 5 percent in 2011 to hit a record $260 billion, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. As a leader in clean energy, Massachusetts is competing in an important international industry, succeeding in attracting clean energy companies and investment. Because of the Commonwealth’s energy policies, companies are coming to Massachusetts, bringing jobs and economic development with them. Massachusetts was also second in the nation in attracting venture capital investment in the clean energy sector.
These economic benefits did not occur by chance. Leadership from the Legislature and the Patrick administration — through the 2008 Green Communities Act — has shortened the payback period for renewable and energy efficiency projects, making it possible for businesses, municipalities, and families to adopt clean energy. Across the state, people are saving energy and money, deploying efficiency and renewables, and keeping the air cleaner. These actions take pressure off the power grid and reduce energy costs.
The energy bill currently in conference in the Legislature would cement and increase these economic benefits. Among other key provisions, it would raise a limit on “net metering” — a practice that is crucial to encouraging more small-scale solar and wind projects.
Under existing law, homeowners with solar panels get credit at the retail price of electricity for the amount of power they put back into the grid. But there’s a cap, which Massachusetts is about to hit, on how much power is eligible. The new law would raise the cap, encouraging these projects by letting more businesses and homeowners who generate power from renewables sell excess energy at a favorable price. (Net metering provides additional customer savings by reducing overall costs during times of peak energy demand.)
The energy bill would also expand long-term contracting for renewable energy projects, reducing financing costs for developers. Consumers would benefit from the decrease as these reduced costs are passed on to them in the form of lower energy prices. Consumers are already saving money on their energy bills because of Massachusetts’ forward-thinking energy policies. The average household has saved $38 per month on its energy bills since the passage of the Green Communities Act. It’s time to take advantage of low natural gas prices and the clean energy programs already in place to make sure those savings continue. The energy bill under consideration will build on the Green Communities Act, allowing Massachusetts to keep its clean-energy economy growing, in turn helping the Commonwealth in reaching its renewable energy goal of 20 percent by 2020.
Beacon Hill has delivered on creating a leading clean energy economy for Massachusetts. This is a critical moment to move it forward, and make Massachusetts not only a leader in New England and in the United States, but in a thriving international marketplace. We urge our colleagues in the House and Senate to pass the energy bill, and Governor Deval Patrick to sign it.
Senator Jamie Eldridge represents the Middlesex and Worcester District. Representative Frank I. Smizik, represents the 15th Norfolk District and is chairman of the House Committee on Climate Change. Eldridge and Smizik chair the Green Economy Caucus in the Massachusetts Legislature.