MMA letter to Senate Ways and Means Committee identifies municipal positions on energy bill provisions

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The Honorable Karen E. Spilka, Chair
Senate Committee on Ways and Means
State House, Boston
 
Dear Senator Spilka,
 
On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is writing to offer comments on S. 2302, An Act to Promote a Clean Energy Future. Clean and renewable energy is very important to cities and towns in Massachusetts. Nearly every city and town in Massachusetts now has a solar development, 210 municipalities have been designated as Green Communities, and over 68% of Massachusetts residents live in a Green Community. Cities and towns have helped the Commonwealth to exceed its solar goal of 1600 megawatts, far ahead of the 2020 schedule. We look forward to working with you to continue this leadership in clean energy development, and to ensure that renewable energy is feasible for our cities and towns.
 
The MMA supports efforts to develop a balanced, long-term energy plan with a range of renewable energy sources to ensure a sustainable energy supply for residents, businesses and communities. To that end, S. 2302 has many provisions that are in line with the MMA’s policy positions on renewable energy, energy efficiency and climate change. This legislation would create more ambitious requirements for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by allowing the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to promulgate regulations that exceed standards set by the Paris Climate Agreement. The measure would also expand the definitions in the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act to more directly deal with emissions from all sectors. The bill sets new goals for solar energy, expands opportunities for wind and hydropower and energy storage, and increases the renewable portfolio standard.
 
The MMA appreciates the opportunity to provide comments on the following provisions:
 
Energy and Net Metering
The MMA strongly supports the elimination of the net metering cap and other provisions that would help to ensure that solar is feasible for communities. Eliminating the net metering cap would allow municipal solar projects to go forward with more certainty. Net metering is a critical part of solar development financing. When the cap is reached in a service area, cities and towns often have projects in the queue that are unable to move forward. This uncertainty over net metering can cause delays in planning projects and can prevent municipalities from taking advantage of solar development opportunities. Lifting the net metering cap is essential, and will allow for more long-term planning to enable municipalities to participate in solar projects.
 
Unfortunately, a recent decision by the Department of Public Utilities goes in the opposite direction by allowing Eversource to impose new charges on net metering customers. This has made the future of solar less feasible for communities. Under the DPU’s ruling, Eversource will be able to impose a new “monthly minimum reliability contribution” (MMRC) on net metering customers who come online after Dec. 31, 2018. The impact will vary by project, but could make it more difficult for communities to benefit from net metering. We support the provisions in the legislation that would delay implementation of the MMRC. The MMA also supports the sections in S. 2302 that would give municipalities in a utility service area the ability to participate as a full party in rate proceedings. Rate cases can have a major impact on municipal budgets, and municipalities need to have full ability to engage in discussions at the DPU.
 
The MMA also supports amending the legislation to include a statutory exemption from the MMRC for municipal and community solar customers. The possibility of changes in solar financing, such as changes through rate restructuring, the addition of an MMRC for solar projects, and a decrease in incentives for communities, could all lead to increased costs for municipal customers, which would ultimately fall on local taxpayers in the form of higher property taxes or reduced services (education, public safety or public works, e.g.) elsewhere in the budget. We urge the committee to consider the impact that these changes would have on a community’s ability to use net metering to move forward with renewable energy projects, and on the Commonwealth’s position as a leader in solar and renewable energy.
 
Electric and Zero Emission Vehicles
Municipalities have a strong interest in electric and zero emission vehicles and the MMA supports provisions that would help to create charging infrastructure in communities. The bill would establish a grant program providing rebates to consumers and municipalities to defray the expenses of purchasing and installing electric vehicle charging stations. The bill would also direct the Department of Energy Resources to develop a guide to assist communities that want to develop programs for curbside charging stations and would give communities the authority to regulate parking by restricting or requiring that certain areas are reserved for zero emission vehicles. These tools would help cities and towns encourage and expand the use of zero emission vehicles, and help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
 
Climate Adaptation
The MMA has supported climate adaptation legislation and appreciates the Senate’s work to develop a framework for the Commonwealth to fight climate change and build resiliency. The MMA supports provisions in this legislation that would establish a comprehensive adaptation management plan to address climate change. The plan would provide a process for local and regional climate vulnerability assessment and adaptation strategy development and implementation. The bill would direct the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs to develop an adaptation management plan grant program to provide financial and technical assistance to municipalities.
 
The MMA does have concerns about one section of the bill that would require that all certificates, licenses, permits, authorizations, grants, financial obligations, projects, actions and approvals issued by state agencies be consistent, to the maximum extent practicable, with the plan. This would establish a highly complex and cumbersome reconciliation process that could make it very difficult for state agencies to implement effective and timely permitting processes. We hope to discuss more effective and impactful ways to ensure alignment with the goals of the climate adaptation plan, while avoiding the imposition of unprecedentedly broad bureaucratic requirements on dozens of state agencies.
 
Solid Waste and Recycling
The MMA supports further study of provisions in the legislation that would place a new mandate on cities and towns, primarily by imposing a set of solid waste “performance standards” on communities and instituting new annual reporting requirements. The bill would direct the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection to establish performance standards for the reduction of municipal solid waste, and lays out specific standards of not more than 600 pounds per capita by July 1, 2020 and not more than 450 pounds per capita by July 1, 2024. The measure omits any technical assistance to help communities, and while the bill would establish a solid waste reduction assistance fund, the fund lacks a meaningful revenue stream. The bill also requires that, for communities that don’t provide solid waste removal, any future contracts would be mandated to include a recycling option. While well-intentioned, the provisions would impose unaffordable unfunded mandates on cities and towns. We have opposed similar measures in the past.
 
These provisions would establish one-size-fits-all standards that would be unrealistic for many cities and towns to meet. Currently, the market for reselling certain recycled materials has crashed, due to unanticipated changes in the global marketplace. We do not believe S. 2302 recognizes this reality. In order to increase recycling rates and reduce solid waste, municipalities need the flexibility to determine what system is best for their particular community and should receive adequate funding from the state to institute comprehensive programs. Further, the reporting requirements would be difficult to comply with, especially for smaller communities that have limited staff.
 
Municipalities have made enormous progress in reducing solid waste and increasing recycling programs throughout the state, but the new requirements in the bill would impose a costly new mandate on cities and towns. At the same time, recycling costs are increasing drastically, due to a recent policy change in China that limits the amount of contaminants the country will allow in shipments of recyclable material. With the supply of recyclables exceeding the demand, this new policy has severely altered the markets for recyclables and will change the financial dynamics for cities and towns negotiating recycling contracts.
 
The MMA supports a study commission that would examine municipal solid waste and recycling operations and the impact of the changing markets. The MMA and local officials have also long supported, and will continue to support, producer responsibility legislation to reduce solid waste at its source. Removing materials at the beginning of the use cycle is far more effective than mandating that taxpayers deal with the problem at end of the waste stream.
 
Summary
We deeply appreciate your commitment to bringing clean and renewable energy to the Commonwealth, and your leadership in combatting the impacts of climate change. Thank you very much for your consideration of the priorities and concerns of cities and towns in this effort. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to have your staff contact me or MMA Legislative Analyst Victoria Sclafani at (617) 426-7272, ext. 161 at any time.
 
Sincerely,
 
Geoffrey C. Beckwith
Executive Director & CEO
 
cc: The Honorable Harriette Chandler, Senate President