Massachusetts Climate Law Brings Opportunities and Incentives

By PowerOptions Team

Groundbreaking climate legislation has taken hold in New England. In the first half of the year, the Governors of Massachusetts and Rhode Island signed bills that will move the two states towards net-zero emissions. The new laws, “An Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy” in Massachusetts, and Rhode Island’s “The Act on Climate,” are major steps toward building a stronger and cleaner climate in New England. We expect these laws to bring opportunities in the coming years for nonprofits, municipalities, and housing authorities to advance their own sustainability and energy management goals through new incentive programs to drive the changes needed to reach net-zero. 

Today, we’ll look at what Massachusetts’ climate bill means for PowerOptions Members.

What’s in store for Massachusetts?

Before An Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy was signed into law, the Baker Administration published the 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap, outlining its ideas for cost-effective and equitable ways the state will achieve long-term emissions reductions. The law, which was enacted in March, strengthens the state’s targets by requiring it to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, along with interim goals every ten years (50 percent emissions reductions by 2030 and 75 percent by 2040). It also requires select sectors like electricity, transportation, commercial and industrial buildings, residential buildings, industrial processes, and natural gas distribution to meet their own targets. While the law lays out several new programs and policies that will help the state get to net-zero, we can also expect to see many of the strategies outlined in the Roadmap carried out through programs and incentives over the next several years. The following are key pieces of the new law:

Renewable Energy Procurement: The Massachusetts law requires the state to double the amount of offshore wind it will procure over the next several decades, increases the Renewable Portfolio Standard to 40% by 2030, and requires the Department of Public Utilities to take climate change and greenhouse gas emissions into consideration when ruling. 

Overall, the ambitious law will result in many new and revised clean energy programs, some of which are detailed and some which we’ll see develop as the state moves forward to ensure the Commonwealth is on track to reach its emissions targets. At a minimum, Members can expect the renewable component of their electric procurement to increase to 40% in the next decade, from today’s 20% levels.

Solar: As of Q1 2021, Massachusetts has 3,263 megawatts of solar on the grid. The law will lead to more solar energy options for nonprofits and their constituents, with a heavy focus on solar options for low-income residents. In addition to the broad increase in Solar incentive programs expected, the law also creates the new Low-Income Services Solar grant program to provide nonprofits that support low-income populations to go solar. The program will have $500,000 to distribute per year. It also mandates that the state’s current solar incentive program, the SMART program, prioritize solar for low-income households. As these incentives are expanded, we will continue to integrate them into our Solar program.

Net-Zero Buildings: While Massachusetts already has a state-wide opt-in stretch code that over 80 percent of cities and towns have adopted, the new law will require the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to work with the Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS) to update the code to define what a net-zero building is and include net-zero building performance standards. The code must be added by September 2022 so cities and towns can adopt it if they choose to make their local building requirements net-zero. There will be public hearings over the coming months to provide input in development of the code. PowerOptions continues to be engaged and will provide more updates as details unfold. We would expect standards that Members may be facing and implementing to be similar to Boston’s building emissions reduction disclosure ordinance (BERDO) and performance standard.

Energy Efficiency: The law shifts the primary focus of the MassSave program to be about emissions reductions instead of purely energy efficiency. This means potential changes in how the program provides incentives to switch to more efficient heating and cooling with likely higher incentives to electric heating and cooling technologies versus incentives provided to gas systems. Through our Energy Efficiency program, Members will be able to utilize these incentives over the coming years to help decarbonize their energy usage through electrification of their heating and cooling coupled with the Commonwealth’s renewable energy procurement targets.

Electric Vehicles: The law sets up the Commonwealth for a more electric vehicle-friendly future by requiring the governor to set goals and benchmarks for the number of EVs on the road and EV charging stations installed. The Governor now must set rebates and incentive programs to meet these EV targets so we could see an increase in the current set of incentives, such as the current grant programs run by the Department of Environmental Protection and the utilities, Eversource and National Grid, for Massachusetts cities and towns to procure EVs and charging stations and for employers, like PowerOptions’ Members, to install charging stations. The Baker Administration also signed an executive order in April 2021 which requires the state to transition to a 100% zero-emission fleet by 2050 and double the number of EV charging stations installed at state facilities by 2030.

Prioritizing Environmental Justice: Lawmakers in Massachusetts were clear in their mandates that addressing climate must be done with an eye towards environmental justice, a core issue for the communities that PowerOptions members serve. 

The Massachusetts law for the first time defines environmental justice populations and principles to guide future laws and programs. It also requires that the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) spend $12 million a year to help environmental justice populations, and minority and women-owned businesses advance in the clean energy industry through its programs. Recently, MassCEC launched a new initiative, called EmPower Massachusetts which will offer support and funding to organizations, including community-based organizations (CBOs), non-profits and municipalities, to develop, and implement program models or projects that increase access to the benefits of clean energy in underserved populations in Massachusetts.  

This clause was legislation PowerOptions advocated to legislators for specifically and we are pleased to see real funding to support communities, which are communities many of our own Members are serving.  

PowerOptions has long been advocating and pushing policy aimed at ensuring access for communities of color to cheaper, cleaner, and reliable energy. And we are committed to working with our members that serve environmental justice populations, including nearly 100 public housing authorities, to help them benefit from new incentives and opportunities. We will continue to support our Members in serving these communities through not only keeping them informed as the states develop the programs to achieve the ambitious net-zero goals but also by advocating for equity in both access to clean energy as well as clean energy workforce opportunities.

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