Green Energy Bill to be Debated by House

This morning, the House of Representatives gave initial approval to An Act Relative to Competitively Priced Electricity, a bill that aims to increase the amount of electricity that is produced through renewable means in Massachusetts.

One of the ways in which this piece of legislation would accomplish this goal is by encouraging more homeowners and businesses in the Commonwealth to generate their own electricity through solar, wind, or other renewable means. In order to create a greater incentive for home and business owners to start producing their own green electricity, this bill will raise the cap on the number of “net-metering” facilities that can be connected to the grid.

Net-metering is a system in which the owners of solar panels, wind turbines, or other intermittent generation facilities are connected to the grid and provide power to the grid when they use less electricity than they generate. With wind and solar, there are times when the customer will also draw from the grid to power their home or business. At the end of the month, the electricity produced and the electricity consumed are totaled and the net-consumption is what is billed by the utility. In cases where production exceeds consumption, the customer is considered a “net-exporter” of electricity and will be billed for 0 kW hours of electricity and receive a credit to their account.

Once the statewide cap on net-metering facilities is reached, net-metering credits will no longer be available and customers with their own electric production facilities will be required to pay for all of the energy that they use in the course of a month, regardless of how much they are able to put back into the grid. Once the cap is reached, the incentive for those considering purchasing renewable generators is severely diminished. Without net-metering, it will take someone who buys solar panels or a wind turbine for their home or business much longer to see a return on their investment.

And now, Massachusetts is dangerously close to the cap on net-metering. The cap is set for private customers at 1% of the electric grid’s historical peak output. That translates to about 51.3 megawatts. According to National Grid, the total capacity of all private net-metering facilities in Massachusetts is at 43.6 MW as of June 12.

While there is a cushion of more than seven megawatts of capacity before the cap is reached, the total capacity of all of the systems that are in the application process for connection to the grid under this cap is more than 300 MW. Competition for the last space under the cap makes renewable energy a risky investment for homeowners and businesses at a time when we should be encouraging it the most.

The bill that was released by the House Ways and Means Committee this morning takes a proactive step to correct this problem. It completely removes the net-metering cap on private customers that use their generators to offset the amount of load their property adds to the grid. This means that if a business or homeowner is considering adding solar or wind power equipment to their property, their risk is lowered and their opportunity for a return on their investment is substantially increased. This preserves net-metering as the financial incentive that it is meant to be.

This bill will also increase caps on net-metering for publicly-owned generation facilities and facilities that do not offset on-site load (solar and wind farms). The primary goal of these changes is to maximize the use of clean methods of producing electricity and minimize the use of oil and natural gas. The secondary goal is to create a sustainable industry that provides good jobs to workers in Massachusetts. Our state is uniquely positioned to become a global player in the fields of solar and wind power, and net-metering not only supports that industry financially, but generates interest and support for it among the general public.

I will be casting my vote in favor of this bill when it is considered by the full House of Representatives later this week. The impact of climate change will be one of the biggest challenges that we will face as Americans in this century. Updating our net-metering laws might be a small step forward for renewable energy, but it is a step in the right direction.

 

 

Cambridge Leads the Way with Energy Efficiency Legislation

Cambridge Energy Alliance
1385 Cambridge St, Cambridge map

This month the Governor signed an important piece of legislation into law for the City of Cambridge: House Bill 1916 (pdf, text), An Act relative to the provision of services to the City of Cambridge by the Cambridge Energy Alliance. I filed this Home Rule petition, sent to the state by my colleagues on the Cambridge City Council, along with cosponsors Senator Galluccio, and Cambridge Reps. William Brownsberger, Jonathan Hecht, Marty Walz, and Alice Wolf.

H.1916 was enacted by both House and Senate on November 30th, then signed by Governor Patrick on Dec 4th. The bill, now in Chapter 170 of the General Laws of 2009, will go into effect on March 4th, 90 days after being signed into law. It establishes a minor exception to public procurement laws that enables Cambridge to enter into a contract with the nonprofit Cambridge Energy Alliance.

The contract will be used to support energy efficient initiatives municipal buildings, businesses, and residents in Cambridge.

The Cambridge Energy Alliance was co-founded by the city with the explicit intent of finding and implementing innovative, creative ways to cut down our energy usage and costs. Their work helps businesses, residents and government organizations in Cambridge save money and proactively work towards a more energy efficient future for the city.

I would urge Cambridge residents to reach out the the CEA to find out ways they may be able to help you with your heating bills and your energy usage. The services are cost-efficient and could be free or subsidized depending on your financial situation. More information, from their website:

CEA offers:

  • Comprehensive energy audits for Cambridge buildings, generally for free
  • Up to 30% reductions in energy bills
  • Energy efficiency upgrades with no up front cash required
  • A one-stop energy solution

2007-2008 Formal Legislative Session Update

At the end of July, the House and the Senate wrapped up the 2007-2008 formal session with a list of legislative accomplishments that will help to significantly improve our state’s economy, environment, health care system and aging infrastructure.

The extent of our broad-reaching achievements in the legislature is in part thanks to our new Governor Deval Patrick – it is great to again have a democratic partner in the executive office to help us work towards a better Massachusetts for all citizens across the state.

The following sections detail highlights of important bills and spending initiatives passed and signed into law during the 2007-2008 Formal Legislative Session:

In the increasingly difficult and unstable fiscal climate, it is now more important than ever to the residents of Cambridge and Somerville that their elected officials on Beacon Hill are working to ensure their safety, the quality of their schools and hospitals, their economic stability, the sustainability of their environment and their quality of life. I’m proud to say at the end of the 2007-2008 formal legislative session that we have taken significant steps to address each of these areas, and that the productive efforts of the legislature will have a positive and meaningful impact on the citizens of our communities for many years to come.

From the Green Communities Act to the Child Abuse and Neglect Bill, from the Environmental, Housing and Transportation Bond Bills to the Municipal Partnership Act and increased local aid and Chapter 70 school aid, the wide range of initiatives signed into law over the past year and a half will benefit children, families, taxpayers and municipalities throughout the commonwealth.

I would like to thank the hundreds of people who called, emailed, and wrote in over the last year for making your voice heard on these important issues in the state and in our district. Please feel free to look through this legislative update and contact my office if you have any further questions or to let me know about your priorities going forward into the next session.

Local Bills

Cambridge:

Public Salaries to Municipal Employees Serving Overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan:
This landmark local Home Rule bill authorized the City of Cambridge to pay full salaries and benefits to municipal employees serving in theaters of combat overseas such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill also ensures that any such employee will not lose any seniority or accrued vacation leave while serving our country.
Chapter 153 of the Acts of 2007

Somerville:

Establishment of a Municipal Hearing Officer:
The creation of the position of Municipal Hearing Officer in the City of Somerville provides a venue for residents to dispute citations for violations of local ordinances without being required to appear in district court.
Chapter 106 of the Acts of 2008

Updating the City’s Charter:
This expansive piece of legislation provided for many simplifications and modernizations of Somerville’s Charter and the Department of Public Works: it created divisions of highways, engineering, waterworks, and buildings within the Department of Public Works; it allows for the mayor, with the approval of the board of aldermen, to eliminate existing divisions and create new ones as deemed necessary by the city; it created the position of superintendent for each new division of Public Works; and, it mandates the annual appointment of the superintendent of each division by the mayor subject to the approval of the board of aldermen.
Chapter 112 of the Acts of 2008

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Read more about the 2007-2008 Formal Legislative Session:

Statewide Bills

Bond Bills:


Transportation Bond Bills:
Both the three-year $3.5 billion bond bill to finance and increase efficiency in long term projects for the state such as the Green Line Extension through Cambridge and Somerville, and the $1.5 billion bond bill to fund projects on municipal transportation projects will serve to help Massachusetts to meet the increasing demands of our state’s aging transportation infrastructure.
Chapter 86 of the Acts of 2008
Chapter 172 of the Acts of 2008

Housing Bond Bill:
This $1.3 billion bond bill was passed to create and encourage long term development of capital improvements and affordable housing resources, helping to make homeownership a more attainable goal to families across the state
Chapter 119 of the Acts of 2008

Bridge Repair Bond Bill:
This $3 billion bridge repair bond bill provides for the preservation of existing transportation infrastructure, and the assurance of safety on our state’s bridges.
Chapter 233 of the Acts of 2008

Higher Education Bond Bill:
This $2.2 billion bond bill will help the Commonwealth to control costs of higher education for Massachusetts families.
Chapter 258 of the Acts of 2008

Children and Families:

Booster Seat Bill:
This crucial public safety initiative is an important step in protecting child passengers on the road, and requires children up to the age of 8 or the height of 4’9” (whichever comes first) to be secured by child passenger safety devices. The proper use of booster seats has been proven to significantly decrease child fatalities in motor vehicle accidents.
Chapter 79 of the Acts of 2008

Child Abuse and Neglect Legislation:
This bill created a brand new cabinet level secretary responsible solely for child welfare, establishes minimum education requirements for social workers and toughens penalties for child abuse and neglect.
Chapter 176 of the Acts of 2008

Child Protection Legislation (Jessica’s Law):
Aiming to further protect children from sexual predators, this important legislation increased penalties for sex offenders, and enhanced online tracking of online sexual predators.
Chapter 205 of the Laws of 2008

Education:

Reorganization of the Commonwealth’s Education Governance Structure:
This reorganization has taken important steps to streamline, simplify and improve communication and coordination between every education sector of the Commonwealth. Most importantly, it created a cabinet level secretary to oversee the state’s education system and its reorganization.
Chapter 27 of the Acts of 2008

Reorganization of Early Education Quality & Care System:
As an extension of the overall education reorganization, this initiative works toward improving access to and the quality of early childhood education for all children in the Commonwealth, creating the new Department of Early Education and Care.
Chapter 215 of the Acts of 2008

Environment:

Global Warming Solutions Act:
With this bill, Massachusetts put in place a long term plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions. This is an important step forward in the fight to save our environment from the dangerous effects of harmful emissions produced by humans.
Chapter 298 of the Acts of 2008

Green Communities Act:
This broad reaching energy reform package establishes bold new clean, renewable energy goals for the Commonwealth, providing incentives to municipalities, businesses and individuals to invest in progressive energy saving technologies to meet the new benchmarks.
Chapter 169 of the Acts of 2008

Green Jobs Bill:
Unanimously supported by both braches of the legislature, this innovative initiative will encourage green start-up companies to expand in Massachusetts, and provide residents of all experience levels with exciting new and sustainable careers.
Chapter 307 of the Acts of 2008

Ocean Management Bill:
This bill clarifies existing ocean management laws to allow for clean energy development in areas that had previously been zoned only for traditional energy generation.
Chapter 114 of the Acts of 2008

Health Care:

Electronic Health Records for Health and Human Services:
Moving to further improve Massachusetts health care system, this bill modernizes and standardizes the state’s health care records for those enrolled in states programs. It will help to simplify record keeping and decrease costs to taxpayers over the next several years.
Chapter 130 of the Acts of 2007

Protecting Patient Confidentiality:
This common-sense legislation provides clients of mental health counselors with the same right to privacy and confidentiality as clients of psychiatrists and psychologists.
Chapter 142 of the Acts of 2007

Public Service:

Commonwealth Corps:
This bill established the Commonwealth Corps, a statewide volunteer service organization that works in partnership with the Massachusetts Service Alliance. The mission of the Commonwealth Corps is to engage Massachusetts residents of all ages and backgrounds in direct service to rebuild communities and address unmet community needs. The Corps will provide opportunities for skill building, leadership development and will encourage and enhance a lifelong civic vocation for Corps members.
Chapter 192 of the Acts of 2007

Increased Benefits to Families of Police and Firefighters:
Helping cities and towns to show gratitude to the loved ones of those killed in the line of duty for their thankless public service, this bill allows municipalities to raise funeral expense reimbursements to families of police officers and firefighters killed while on the job from $5,000 to $15,000
Chapter 110 of the Acts of 2007


Tax/Fiscal Policy
:

Sales Tax Holiday:
For the fifth year in a row, the members of the legislature overwhelmingly voted to suspend the state sales tax for one weekend in August, providing consumers with an incentive to stimulate the local retail economy.
Chapter 211 of the Acts of 2008

Corporate Tax Reform:
This bill closed several so-called corporate tax loopholes that were being abused by larger companies at the expense of small businesses and individual taxpayers, increasing tax fairness in the Commonwealth.
Chapter 173 of the Acts of 2008

Investment in Life Sciences:
This 10-year, $1 billion bill invests in our state’s ever-growing life sciences sector, helping to draw new life science companies to the region and keep current ones here. This will have a significant impact growing the number of quality jobs and the state’s reputation as a world leader in life sciences.
Chapter 130 of the Acts of 2008

Mortgage Foreclosure Relief:
In response to the unprecedented spike in the number of home foreclosures, this legislation encourages banks to help borrowers, providing a three month window to cure defaults. It also mandates tough new licensing standards for mortgage loan originators.
Chapter 224 of the Acts of 2007

LIHEAP Fuel-Assistance Appropriation:
Passed in anticipation of a difficult winter season, this bill provided emergency funding to help more than 100,000 elderly residents and low income families pay to heat their homes over the coldest months.
Chapter 174 of the Acts of 2007


*Note: This list only reflects a sampling of some of the more important legislation passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by the Governor. If you have any additional questions about any legislation, whether it is on this list or not, please feel free to contact my State House staff at 617-722-2692.

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Read more about the 2007-2008 Formal Legislative Session:

Bills that Require Further Attention

Although the 2007-2008 formal legislative session was extremely productive, some bills never made it to a full vote, and must remain priorities for the 2009-2010 session. Over the past two years we were able to address many of the pressing concerns of the citizens, families, businesses and municipalities of the Commonwealth, but several other crucial matters still require further attention.

Here are a few highlights:

CORI Reform:

In the beginning of 2008, Governor Deval Patrick introduced legislation relative to reducing recidivism rates by providing better employment opportunities to citizens who have been convicted of criminal offenses. One of the most important parts of this bill would prevent employers from accessing information about fraudulent charges on which a defendant has been found innocent.

Although the bill gained some attention this year, it never made it to the floor of the House for a vote, and it remains a top priority hopefully to be addressed early next session.

Non-Lethal Defense Sprays:

In the interest of helping citizens protect themselves from violent and predatory criminals without needing to buy a firearm, it is essential that Massachusetts increase the availability of non-lethal defense sprays. While on the one hand it is important to work to decrease the number of illegal and unregistered hand guns and automatic weapons on our streets, another often neglected front in the battle against crime is providing people with legal ways that they can protect themselves and their families. Non-lethal defense sprays offer an effective and safe way for people to feel secure both while out walking on city streets and within in their own homes.

I filed a bill that will help increase legal access to such defense sprays, which has been reported favorably by The Committee on Public Safety, but still requires a vote before the House and Senate.

Urban Speed Limits:

In the wake of several tragic deaths on roads in urban districts, it is clear that we must take steps to increase the safety of pedestrians on sidewalks and in crosswalks. Vehicles operating at high speeds in highly populated areas cause a significant threat to safety for all pedestrians, and especially children.

Based upon the recommendation of various transportation agencies and safety experts, this bill will decrease roadway speed limits in urban districts to 25 MPH and will considerably increase the safety of the tens of thousands of pedestrians in urban areas every day.

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Read more about the 2007-2008 Formal Legislative Session:

FY 2009 Local Aid for Cambridge and Somerville

In the Fiscal Year 2009 State Budget approved by the House and Senate and signed by the Governor, both Cambridge and Somerville saw increases in the amount of aid that they receive from the state. There are three types of assistance that cities and towns receive from the state:

1. Chapter 70 funding. The Chapter 70 program is the major program of state aid to public elementary and secondary schools.
2. Additional Assistance.
3. Lottery Aid funded through Lottery revenues.

All three types of assistance are crucial to municipalities, and I’m very pleased that we were able to oversee increases in the bottom line for both cities that I represent.

Cambridge:

$9,313,701

Chapter 70 Funding:

$17,956,060

Additional Assistance:

$8,781,240

Total Lottery Aid:

$36,054,001

Total:

$800,348

Total Increase over FY 2008:

Somerville:

$20,597,265

Chapter 70 Funding:

$16,219,924

Additional Assistance:

$13,901,505

Total Lottery Aid:

$50,718,694

Total:

$341,626

Total Increase over FY 2008:

Fiscal Year 2009 Budget

Fiscal Year 2008 Budget

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Read more about the 2007-2008 Formal Legislative Session: