Massachusetts has enacted a clean energy law that gives a green light to a controversial plan to allow some local communities to ban new natural gas-hookups.
Signed Aug. 11 by outgoing Gov. Charlie Baker (R), the Act Advancing Clean Energy and Offshore Wind, also expands the state’s offshore wind energy mandate to 5.6 GW, from 4GW previously, while scrapping price caps on new bids that had lowered interest in the development of new projects.
The new law also aims to accelerate the transition of the state’s transportation sector, boosting incentives for electric-vehicle purchases and setting a deadline to phase out sales of new gas-powered vehicles and trucks.
The Massachusetts law, given its size and enactment at the same time as passage of the huge federal clean energy bill, won national attention and praise from environmental groups.
“This bill is a big deal,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts, in a statement. “With this bill becoming law, leaders in Massachusetts of all political stripes are showing that states can take meaningful climate action.”
But groups representing developers and trade unions have been less than thrilled with the hotly contested gas-ban provision.
Ten Boston area communities will now be allowed to halt new gas hookups in a range of new building projects, including Cambridge, a growing global center in the life science sector, Acton, Aquinnah, Newton, Brookline, Lexington, Lincoln, Concord, West Tisbury and Arlington.
The Massachusetts arm of NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, said it pushed hard and won an exemption for health care and lab complexes, which say they depend heavily on natural gas and cannot make a complete transition as rapidly.
The potential for bans on natural gas-hookups had raised concerns it would derail a booming life science sector that has plans for tens of millions of square feet of new lab development, a significant amount of which is located in some of communities intent on banning the fossil fuel.
“NAIOP is grateful to House and Senate leadership for their recognition of the technological difficulties associated with 100% electric lab development, and their commitment to protecting this vital industry in the Commonwealth,” the trade group said in a blog post.
NAIOP and other critics of the gas ban provision had less luck in efforts to exempt new apartment and condo buildings amid concerns it could stymie new construction in communities at a time of soaring prices and rents.
In the days before he signed the bill, Baker, who has made ramping up housing production a major goal, told CommonWealth magazine “part of the bill gives me agita.” Elected governor in 2014, he will not be running for reelection in November and ends his current term in January.
Legislative leaders balked at an exemption, but did add to the bill a requirement that communities must have met state affordable housing quotas before they are able to start banning new gas hookups.
Meanwhile, state officials are banking on the lifting of a price cap to revive momentum in the state’s offshore wind energy sector, with Massachusetts now building the first fully-permitted utility scale project, the $2.8-billion Vineyard Wind 1, with contracts in place overall for 3.2 GW of power.
Under previous rules, each bid on a new offshore wind project was required to come in lower than the previous one. After some initial success, only two of the four companies with offshore wind leases in Bay State waters actually bid last December on the latest procurement round, raising red flags in the Baker administration, according to Recharge.
The new law, which beefs up the climate legislation Baker signed in March 2021, also aims to encourage offshore wind developers and other companies to invest in the supply chain of local firms that provide components, goods and other services to the budding sector.
Massachusetts Clean Energy Centre (MassCEC), which regulates the offshore wind sector, will now be able to roll out tax incentives as well for companies with supply chain plans and initiatives. MassCEC would also be able to offer direct funding for port buildouts, grid improvements and research and development.
The new law also attempts to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels in the transportation sector, hiking the rebate to $3,500 for buying or leasing an EV, while offering an additional $1,000 to a buyer trading in a gas-powered car or truck.
In addition, sales of new gas-powered vehicles must be phased out by 2035, with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority having until 2040 to transition its fleet off trains, buses and other vehicles to emission free models.
“It’s a great day for Massachusetts,” tweeted state Rep. Jeffrey Roy, a Democrat and House chair of the joint committee on telecommunications, utilities and energy.