Column: A Pivotal Time for Energy Policy in the Commonwealth

Earlier this month we held our most recent Community Conversation discussion forum on the future of energy policy and the environment in our communities and the Commonwealth.  This topic is particularly timely given the discussions occurring on Beacon Hill right now regarding the formulation of a comprehensive energy bill that will help guide energy and environmental policy in Massachusetts for decades to come.

Some of the important and complex considerations that come into play include diversifying the state’s energy mix, meeting our carbon emission reduction goals to address climate change, economic growth and job creation in the energy sector, ensuring a reliable energy supply, and the cost of energy to households and businesses.

This conversation comes at a pivotal time with significant changes to our energy supply on the horizon.  The last electricity-generating coal plant operating in Massachusetts, Somerset’s Brayton Point, is scheduled to shut down in 2017.  Additionally, it was just recently announced that Plymouth’s Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, which currently supplies power to more than a half-million homes and businesses, will close by 2019.  With our state already facing a challenge providing reliable, sufficient energy to meet our consumption needs, these power plant closures necessitate that we move quickly and boldly to update our energy policies.

This raises difficult questions about what energy sources can and should replace this retiring power.  For example, how do we continue to cost-effectively expand renewable energy supplies like solar and wind, including off-shore wind?  What about hydropower? Should we be building new natural gas pipelines? How much of our energy needs can be met through greater efficiency and energy conservation?

At the same time, we have to redouble our efforts to achieve our greenhouse gas reduction goals.  Massachusetts, along with California, has been leading the way toward a cleaner, more sustainable energy future.  The Global Warming Solutions Act, enacted by the Massachusetts legislature in 2008, sets binding targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020 (from 1990 levels) and by 80% by 2050.  We have been making steady progress toward the 2020 goal but still have a long way to go.

As we seek to stave off the worst effects of global warming, we also need to prepare for the effects of climate change that we may not be able to reverse.  To that end, the Massachusetts Senate passed legislation this summer that would establish a climate adaptation action plan.  The plan would codify the state’s goals, priorities and actions to achieve greater resiliency, preservation, protection, restoration and enhancement of the Commonwealth’s built and natural infrastructure, based on the best available data on current and projected climate change impacts including temperature changes, drought, flooding and sea level rise.  This legislation is now awaiting action by the House of Representatives.

As these state-wide (and in many cases, regional) energy and environmental policy decisions are being debated, it is just as important what actions we are taking at the local level in our homes, businesses, and communities.  For instance, both Melrose and Winchester have been officially designated as Green Communities, recognizing the steps they have taken to pursue energy efficiency and renewable energy.  This program makes them eligible for state grant funding and helps to lower municipal energy bills, saving money that can instead be used for education, public safety or other purposes.  Any community that commits to meeting the program criteria can also become a Green Community and share in these benefits.

If you are interested in further information about ways to save money and address climate change through energy conservation or renewable energy, including energy audits through MassSave, please contact my office at or (617) 722-1206.  I also welcome your feedback on the future of the Commonwealth’s energy and environmental policies.