MMA letter to conference committee outlines municipal concerns and priorities in energy bill

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The Honorable Brian S. Dempsey, House Chair
The Honorable Benjamin B. Downing, Senate Chair
The Honorable Thomas A. Golden, House Vice Chair
The Honorable Marc R. Pacheco, Senate Vice Chair
The Honorable Bradley H. Jones, Ranking House Member
The Honorable Bruce Tarr, Ranking Senate Member
Committee Conference on Energy Legislation (H. 4385 & S. 2400)
State House, Boston
 
Dear Chairman Dempsey, Chairman Downing, and Distinguished Conference Committee Members,
 
On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is writing to offer input regarding H. 4385 and S. 2400, the energy legislation advanced by the House and the Senate. We thank you for your dedication to energy diversification in the Commonwealth.
 
This bill will allow Massachusetts to continue to make strides in renewable energy and energy efficiency. Massachusetts has been ranked number one in the nation in energy efficiency by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Several months ago, you enacted important legislation that increased the net metering cap on solar projects to allow the Commonwealth to continue its progress in bringing clean energy to the state. Municipal officials appreciate your commitment to clean energy and your efforts to diversify the state’s energy portfolio by adding more types of renewable energy, such as offshore wind and hydropower.
 
The bills before your conference committee both contain provisions related to the repair of gas leaks. Gas leaks are harmful to the environment and can be a threat to public safety. The MMA supports language that would facilitate and enhance communication between municipalities and utilities. The language in these bills specifically targets Grade 3 gas leaks, which are not considered hazardous to public safety, but may still be destructive to the environment.
 
The House bill would amend Section 144 of Chapter 164 of the General Laws to clarify the process for gas leak repairs during a road construction project. The House language would require that, upon commencement of a project, the gas company survey for gas leaks and repair all leaks to the extent feasible in the timeframe of the project. The current statute only addresses the repair of Grade 1 and Grade 2 leaks during a road construction project and lays out no provisions for the repair of Grade 3 gas leaks. The Senate bill would add Grade 3 gas leaks with significant environmental impact to Section 144 of Chapter 164 of the General Laws, which would require the inclusion of these leaks in the gas company’s survey of the project area and in the repair and replacement schedule.
 
The MMA respectfully requests that you adopt a modified version of the House language, adding two clarifying amendments to ensure coordination between utilities and municipalities. The MMA supports adding clarifying language to make it clear that, in cases where it is agreed upon by both the municipality and the gas company, gas companies may repair leaks before a road construction project. If schedules can be agreed upon to ensure that gas leaks are repaired before or during roadwork projects, this would save time and money for municipalities, taxpayers and the utilities. When repairs are not coordinated with road projects, valuable Chapter 90 road funds and local property tax dollars are wasted, especially when recently paved or reconstructed roads are dug up to fix a preexisting gas leak, as these road patches accelerate road surface deterioration and lead to costly potholes and road damage. This recommended addition to the House language is intended to ensure effective and meaningful communication and coordination between municipalities and utilities.
 
MMA also supports an addition to the House bill to make it clear that the replacement schedule and plans to replace or repair gas leaks and gas mains must be subject to agreement between the municipality and the gas company. This is important because clarifying that the schedule for the repair of leaks is subject to agreement between the municipality and the gas company would ensure that leaks are repaired on a schedule that makes sense for both parties and would reduce disputes between municipalities and utilities.
 
We urge your support in strengthening coordination and communication between utility companies and municipalities in repairing gas leaks.
 
Thank you for your strong and abiding commitment to renewable energy, and your continued work to make Massachusetts an energy leader. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to have your office contact me or Victoria Sclafani of the MMA staff at (617) 426-7272 at any time.
 
Again, thank you very much.
 
Sincerely,
 
Geoffrey C. Beckwith 
MMA Executive Director & CEO