Net-Zero by 2050? Massachusetts Passes New Climate & Clean Energy Bill

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On August 11, 2022, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed a significant new climate bill, “An Act driving clean energy and offshore wind” into law. This new law enacts several new climate change measures, including those aimed at renewable energy and transportation sector greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Notably, the bill also allows municipalities to ban fossil fuel connections in new construction.

Renewable Energy

On the renewable energy front, the bill provides funding for offshore wind energy and electricity grid improvements and aims to bolster offshore wind industry by removing the price bidding cap. Specifically, the bill allows up to $35,000,000 for an offshore wind tax incentive program; the bill also increases offshore wind procurement to 5,600 MW. The new law authorizes Massachusetts to join with other New England states when bidding for renewable energy projects, such as wind and solar. These changes to procurement processes remove some of the commercial obstacles created by the prior offshore wind procurement system and should enable more robust procurement processes in the future. Additionally—and also aimed at expanding offshore wind development—the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center will administer an industry investment program with the purpose of developing and expanding offshore wind industry-related employment opportunities and promoting renewable energy-related economic development “by supporting and stimulating manufacturing and related supply chain capacity in the offshore wind industry.”

Another big change on the renewable energy front is the removal of wood-burning power plants from Massachusetts’ renewable portfolio standard (RPS), which means that wood-burning power plants will no longer count towards the Commonwealth’s renewable energy goals or qualify for state clean energy subsidies. On solar, the bill more than doubles the number of kilowatts that homeowners can include under the Commonwealth’s residential net metering program.

The law creates new funds to provide money to companies working to develop new clean power technologies, such as nuclear fusion and networked geothermal. It further enables the Clean Energy Center to create a “clean energy equity workforce and market development program” to provide workforce training, professional and education development opportunities, grants, and job placement services to underrepresented and environmental justice communities. This program also has the goal of assisting current and former workers of the fossil fuel industry.  

Transportation Sector Emissions

The transportation sector is the largest source of emissions in Massachusetts; this bill aims to reduce emissions by electrifying transportation, including making electric vehicles more affordable by increasing the Commonwealth’s available rebate for purchasing zero-emission vehicles. There will now be an additional rebate for low-income buyers, and the rebates can be available at the point of sale. Rebates are also applicable to used electric vehicles. Notably, the bill also mandates that all new vehicle sales be zero-emission by 2035. The bill creates an intergovernmental coordinating council to implement an electric vehicle charging infrastructure deployment plan, which will be critical to establishing an equitable and reliable electric vehicle charging network. The “Charging Infrastructure Deployment Fund” is established in the bill to support these goals. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation is directed to complete a comprehensive analysis of issues facing the operation of electric vehicle charging stations at service plazas on the Massachusetts Turnpike. Additionally, the Department is mandated to install and maintain public charging stations at five commuter rail station parking lots, five subway stations, and one ferry terminal. On public transportation, the bill requires the MBTA to exclusively buy or lease zero-emission buses starting in 2030.

Municipal Fossil Fuel Bans

The bill allows some municipalities to ban fossil fuel connections in new construction through their zoning ordinances and bylaws. Specifically, municipalities can require new building construction and major renovation projects to be fossil fuel-free. Municipalities are authorized to withhold or condition building permits on these grounds. Health care facilities and science labs are exempt. This will be done through a pilot program, which will include 10 Massachusetts municipalities. Upon applying, the municipalities can only be selected if they meet the Massachusetts affordable housing requirement. The participating communities will be required to collect data on emissions, building costs, operating costs, the number of building permits issued, and more.

This sweeping legislation includes many aggressive measures aimed at assisting the Commonwealth to meet its ambitious 2050 net-zero goals. Numerous sectors stand to be impacted, including renewable energy, transportation, real estate, and construction, through both mandates and newly available incentives.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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