• Cynthia Stone Creem

An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy Deadlines

BOSTON (6/09/2021) – Effective June 25, 2021, 90 days after bill signing:

· The Department of Public Utilities has to align its policymaking with the ambitious new mission given the agency. In the Climate Act, the Legislature directs the DPU to give equal weight to six factors as it decides electric power and natural gas rates, reviews contracts with electric and gas companies, and makes energy policy. System reliability and affordability, the DPU's two longstanding priorities, remain crucial, but as of the 25th they're on a par with four new criteria -- safety, system security (from both physical sabotage and cyberattacks), equity, and, importantly, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. [See section 15 of the Climate Act.]


· Gov. Baker has to appoint three new members of the Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS), an agency criticized for its reluctance to make emissions-related improvements to state building codes. One new member is to be an "expert in commercial building energy efficiency;" one, an "expert in residential building energy efficiency;" and one, an "expert in advanced building technology." The Governor's Commissioner of Energy Resources becomes a fourth new member. [See sections 64-67 of the Climate Act.]


· All parties involved in running Mass Save, the state's high-profile energy efficiency program, must factor a new element, the “social value of greenhouse gas emission reductions,” into the design, evaluation, and approval of program services. [See sections 16-18 and 20-30 of the Climate Act.]


The statutory mandate covers the DPU, the Department of Energy Resources (DOER), the Energy Efficiency Advisory Council (EEAC), and, of course, the electric and natural gas companies regulated under state law as public utilities. It applies to the activities already underway with respect to formulating Mass Save plans and programs for the three-year period 2022-2022.


On April 30 of this year, the utilities, called Program Administrators, submitted preliminary Mass Save proposals for 2022-2024 for review by the EEAC, chaired by the Commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources. The EEAC must communicate its “approval or comments” back to the utilities within three months of receipt -- in this case, on or about July 31, 2021. As the first party required to act on Mass Save proposals after the June 25 effective date of the new law, the EEAC will need to demonstrate that it's taken the "social value of greenhouse gas emissions" into account in its comments and approval decisions.


The utilities must then submit proposed final plans, “together with the council's approval or comments and a statement of any unresolved issues,” to the DPU, by a deadline of October 31. Given the mandate to apply the principle of social value, and the EEAC's responsibility to make sure this happens, the utilities' October 31 filing will need to credibly reflect the new calculations and demonstrate they make a difference in program offerings.


The DPU, in turn, must “issue a decision on the plan” within 90 days (on or about January 31, 2022), approving it, approving it with modifications, or rejecting it outright and requiring resubmission. Like the EEAC and like the utilities, the DPU will need to factor the "social value of greenhouse gas emission reductions" into its decision.


· Subject to minimums prescribed in the Climate Act, each municipal lighting plant in Massachusetts must establish a "greenhouse gas emissions standard" for itself, one that commits the plant to selling customers increasing percentages of "non-carbon emitting" energy. (The Climate Act sets boundaries on municipal discretion; by 2030, for instance, each plant must sell its customers electricity generated by sources that are at least "50 per cent non-carbon emitting"). To demonstrate compliance with its standard, a plant will have to file an annual report with the department "using a form specified by the department…." If the plant fails to comply, it has to make an alternative compliance payment "for the year of non-compliance, and on the anniversary of each year that non-compliance continues thereafter." Moreover, the plant must use any monies so accumulated "to fund greenhouse gas emissions reduction and related programs in its service territory." By the terms of already-existing law, DOER is the supervising state agency. [See section 33 of the Climate Act.]


On a related matter, effective January 1, 2026, biomass energy will qualify as "non-carbon emitting" for the purposes of enabling a municipal lighting plant to comply with an emissions standard. Compared to the regular effective date of June 25, 2021, according to which section 33 of the Climate Act defines wind, solar, and nuclear power as non-carbon emitting, this is tantamount to the imposition of a moratorium of just over four and a half years on biomass having a similar status. [See the related entry on sections 34 and 112, near the bottom of this document.]


· The DPU must begin investigating "all written complaints" regarding gas providers. It must also establish a "publicly accessible database" of complaints and the steps taken to address them. [See section 78 of the Climate Act.]


· The DPU must also establish requirements "for the maintenance, timely updating, accuracy, and security of gas company maps and records." [Section 86 of the Climate Act.]


· "Contractors who wish to be eligible to receive contracts with a gas company" must register with the DPU and provide "all required documentation to meet certification requirements," which are to be set by the agency. [See section 103 of the Climate Act.]


· Both the DPU and the DOER are to amend "any relevant rules, regulations, and tariffs" to allow owners of certain new solar facilities to receive net metering credits and transfer such credits to certain low-income customers to apply against their electric bills, and, as well, to require the relevant electric company to purchase such credits. [Section 96 of the Climate Act.]


· Owners of solar and wind systems begin accruing local property tax liability -- unless they produce 125% or less of the energy needs of the real property on which they're located, are 25kW or smaller, or are subject to a PILOT agreement. [See sections 61 and 63 of the Climate Act.]


· The Massachusetts Clean Energy Technology Center (MassCEC) must design and launch an initiative to provide workforce training, professional development, job placement, and startup opportunities in the state’s energy efficiency, clean energy, and clean heating and cooling industries. Priority is to go to minority-owned and women-owned small businesses. For program financing, the DPU is to order companies participating in Mass Save to "jointly transfer" $12 million every year to MassCEC. The first $12 million is to transfer by December 31, 2021. [See sections 14 and 19 of the Climate Act.]


· MassCEC is tasked with designing and running a heat pump market development program, specifically to include training for heating oil dealers, "for the purpose of expanding markets for space and water heating using efficient heat pump technology.” To finance the program, the Center is authorized to draw upon the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust Fund "if sufficient funds are available" and if doing so does not "reduce the amount expended on low-income programs" by Mass Save. [See section 100 of the Climate Act.]


· The Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) is to set up a "low-income services solar program." This entails establishing a trust to provide grants to fund solar energy projects for organizations that help low-income people in areas such as food insecurity, homelessness, and emergency shelter. On December 31 of each operating year, EEA is to report to the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy on implementation and operation of the program, including "grant awardees and amounts awarded." [See section 54 of the Climate Act.]

Another imminent deadline:

· On or before July 15, 2021, to focus the new emissions reduction efforts of Mass Save, the Secretary of EEA must set a goal for the 2022-2024 Mass Save program's "necessary contribution" to the state's meeting its 2025 emissions limit and sublimits. [See sections 9 and 106 of the Climate Act.]


This exercise in goalsetting is distinct from the actions the various participants in Mass Save must take to factor the “social value of greenhouse gas emissions reductions” into the design, evaluation, and operation of Mass Save plans and programs. The Legislature's intent in setting this separate requirement is to prompt EEA secretaries to think of Mass Save strategically, as an instrument for achieving the state's overall emissions limits.

Coming soon:

· By October 25, 2021, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue is to issue guidance to municipal governments and solar, wind, and energy storage system owners with respect to various tax-related issues concerning such facilities. [See section 105 of the Climate Act.]


· Effective January 1, 2022, the energy efficiency of new electrical appliances sold within Massachusetts must comply with California precedents and any federal standards adopted after January 2021. These provisions allow Massachusetts to move past the Trump administration’s less demanding standards. By the terms of already-existing law (section 8 of chapter 25B), DOER is the supervising agency. [See sections 35-53, especially section 52, and 113 of the Climate Act.]


· By July 1, 2022, the Secretary of EEA is to adopt emissions limits and sublimits for 2025 and 2030 and publish "comprehensive, clear and specific" plans to achieve them. Specifically with regard to 2030, the overall emissions limit must be "at least" 50 percent below the 1990 level. [See sections 8-10 and 107 of the Climate Act.]


· Also by July 1, 2022, the Secretary must issue a written statement indicating the state’s compliance or noncompliance with the emissions limit set for calendar year 2020. If emissions have exceeded the limit, she is to describe "remedial steps that might be taken to offset the excess emissions and ensure compliance with the next upcoming limit…." [See section 10 of the Climate Act.]


· No later than July 31, 2022, and every fifth year thereafter, the state's new Environmental Justice Council (EJC) must conduct a comprehensive analysis to ensure that "the definition of environmental justice population achieves the objectives of the environmental justice principles" defined in section 56 of the new climate law. Among other things, the analysis must include "an evaluation of this definition as compared to the demographics of environmental justice populations in the commonwealth." [See section 60 of the Climate Act.]


· No later than December 25, 2022 ("not later than 18 months after the effective date of this act"), DOER must promulgate a new "municipal opt-in specialized stretch energy code" that includes “net-zero building performance standards” and a definition of a “net-zero building.” Before then, DOER must have held at least 5 public hearings in diverse locations, including at least one underserved or low-income community. Immediately following promulgation of the new code, forward-looking cities and towns will, at their option, be free to implement it. [See sections 31 and 101 of the Climate Act.]


· No later than December 25, 2022 ("not later than 180 days after the effective date of this act"), the EEA Secretary must promulgate regulations to implement sections 57 and 58 of the Climate Act. These require developers to produce analyses of public health impacts in every environmental impact report (EIR) they compile. When projects are located either in environmental justice areas or within one mile of them (or, if there are air qualify implications, within five miles), EEA must see to it that developers expand EIRs even further, beyond the public health implications, to include even more content. [See sections 55-60, 102A, and 102B of the Climate Act.]


· No later than December 25, 2022, the DEP must "propose" regulations to "include cumulative impact analyses for defined categories of air quality permits…." Prior to doing this, the agency must "evaluate and seek public comment on the incorporation of cumulative impact analysis in the assessment and identification of certain categories of permits and approvals." [See section 102C of the Climate Act.]


· No later than January 1, 2023, the EEA Secretary must publish "the 2050 sector-based emissions sublimits required by section 3A of chapter 21N of the General Laws and [an] emissions reduction planto realize the 2050 limit and sublimits." Section 8 of the climate act limits Secretarial discretion with respect to the overall limit for 2050, directing her to order "at least net zero statewide greenhouse gas emissions." By the start of 2023, she must also have adopted an accompanying set of sublimits as well as a plan to realize both the limit and the sublimits. [See section 111 of the Climate Act.]


· No later than June 25, 2023 ("within 2 years of the effective date of this act"), the Executive Office of EEA and its divisions and departments are to have conducted a study of emissions generated and projected to be generated by the combustion within Massachusetts of biomass fuels, together with the public health consequences. "To inform the design and conduct" of the study, EOEEA is to hold three or more public hearings. [See section 102 of the Climate Act.]


· Effective January 1, 2026, biomass is to join the list of energy sources deemed, as a matter of statute, to be “non-carbon emitting" for the purposes of enabling a municipal lighting plant to comply with its greenhouse gas emissions standard. Compared to the regular effective date of June 25, 2021, according to which section 33 of the Climate Act defines wind, solar, and nuclear power as non-carbon emitting, this is tantamount to the imposition of a moratorium of just over four and a half years on giving biomass a similar status. By the terms of already-existing law, DOER is the supervising state agency. [See sections 34 and 112 of the Climate Act.]


· Effective January 1, 2025 (and extending through December 31, 2029), Massachusetts raises its Renewable Portfolio Standard: Each retail electricity supplier must increase the total percent of its customer sales derived from renewable energy by an additional 3 per cent (rather than 2 per cent) each year, and keep it there. If all goes according to plan, by 2030 electricity for Massachusetts consumers will be at least 40 per cent "renewable." DOER is the supervising state agency. [See section 32 of the Climate Act.]


· No later than March 31, 2026 ("not later than 15 months after the conclusion of the final year of each plan"), the DPU must issue a "statement in writing" indicating "the degree to which the activities undertaken pursuant to the performance" of the 2022-2024 energy efficiency investment (Mass Save) plan met the emissions reduction goal set for it by the Secretary. [See section 28 of the Climate Act.]

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