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Beacon Hill Energy Bill Won't Lower Electric Bills

Posted by Bob Rio on May 31, 2016 7:30:00 AM

Those expecting the long-awaited Beacon Hill omnibus energy bill to lower the state’s highest-in-the-nation electricity costs will be disappointed.

Electriclinessmall.jpgIn fact, the bill will likely increase energy costs for employers and consumers.

The Legislature’s Joint committee on Telecommunications, Energy and Utilities released H.4336 on May 23.  The measure now goes to the House Ways and Means Committee for review.

The bill contains only two provisions – a requirement for utilities to solicit contracts for hydroelectric power combined with onshore wind; and a similar requirement to purchase offshore wind.

AIM supports the concept of soliciting for clean energy resources, provided the following guidelines are included:

  • Any contract must be cost-effective for Massachusetts ratepayers (i.e. the benefits of any contract to the ratepayer must be greater than its costs);
  • The procurement process must be competitive and decision-makers must have an ability to refuse any bids that do not meet standards (i.e. no carve outs for favored technologies);
  • Any above-market or below-markets costs of the contract must be allocated fairly among  all customers; and
  • The clean energy procured must qualify to be used for compliance with the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA), which requires a 25 percent reduction in statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

The last guideline is important in light of a May 17 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruling that the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has not acted aggressively enough to enforce regulations to meet the GWSA emission-reduction targets. DEP must now develop new regulations that reduce emissions in Massachusetts, especially in the transportation and energy generation sectors.

The court decision complicates the omnibus energy bill because virtually all of the clean energy envisioned in the omnibus bill would be purchased from out of state and would thus not directly reduce emissions in Massachusetts.

AIM is seeking to add language in the energy bill to ensure that any emission credits received from procuring clean energy under the bill are properly credited in accordance with the SJC decision. If clarification language is not included, and further interpretation of the decision finds that greenhouse gas reduction from all this clean energy cannot be used as a compliance tool with the GWSA, billions of dollars will be wasted to “comply” with the law and policymakers will no doubt impose more Draconian limits and costs on ratepayers.

The House has the opportunity to improve this legislation.    

While the bill sets up a process to solicit hydro and offshore wind, there is no definition of “cost-effective” or “reasonable,” two standards that appear numerous times in the procurement language of the bill. A definition of those terms is sorely needed because current law classifies even expensive projects like Cape Wind as “cost-effective” even though the energy they produce is several times more expensive than other clean power.  

Legislators should also change what appears to a special status created for offshore wind at the expense of large hydro and onshore wind. The bill establishes a ceiling on the amount on amount of large hydro/on shore wind that can be procured at about 20 percent of the of the states total electric load, while establishing a minimum amount of procurement for offshore wind at about 10 percent of the state electricity load.

The language is puzzling. It puts a limit on what may be the cheapest sources of power (large hydro/wind), while encouraging virtually unlimited amounts of the highest-cost power (offshore wind). The inevitable result will make Massachusetts dependent upon high-cost energy sources at multiple times the cost of conventional power.  

A recent analysis performed through the AIM Foundation found that Massachusetts employers and consumers already pay more than $800 million in additional costs on their electric bills to support renewable energy. Add carbon taxes for power plants (passed on to the ratepayer) and energy efficiency surcharges and the cost balloons to $1.5 billion, not including the cost of the actual electricity.

Businesses pay nearly 55 percent of these costs. More importantly, business that have used the AIM Energy Calculator have found that these hidden costs can add up to 25 percent of a total electric bill.

AIM is working with the House Ways and Means Committee to ensure that these items are addressed.

Topics: Electricity, Massachusetts Legislature, Energy

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