Massachusetts Thermal Bill Sails Through Hearing

Members of the Massachusetts Renewable Thermal Coalition testified in support of S 1593 at a hearing of the state legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. The bill would qualify thermal energy generated with renewable fuels to receive financial credits under the Commonwealth’s Alternative Energy Standard (AES). Work on the bill began in December 2012.

If passed, S 1593 will award financial credits to homeowners and businesses that heat and/or cool with renewable fuels. To its supporters, this would be a big step forward for the Commonwealth’s overall renewable energy strategy, making Massachusetts one of the first states in the country to offer such a comprehensive program for renewable heating and cooling.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Barry Finegold (D-Andover) and promoted by the Massachusetts Renewable Thermal Coalition—a group of trade organizations and small businesses committed to clean and renewable heating and cooling technologies. According to co-founder Charlie Niebling (Natural Resource Solutions), “Lead organizations include the Solar Energy Industries Association, New England Geothermal Professionals Association, Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas, Geothermal Exchange Organization (GEO), Massachusetts Forest Alliance, and the Biomass Thermal Energy Council.”

 thermal panel 07162013Chaired by Sen. Benjamin B. Downing (D-Pittsfield) and Rep. John D. Keenan (D-Salem), the hearing confirmed S 1593 has gained broad support. Barbara Kates-Garnick, Undersecretary of Energy representing the Patrick Administration, said that the bill makes only modest changes to the current AES, but “provides a key and prominent incentive to grow the renewable heating and cooling sector in Massachusetts.” Janet Besser of the New England Clean Energy Council said the legislation gives consumers the option of renewable thermal technologies, which can be initially cost-prohibitive, even though long-term savings can be significant. Other stakeholders who endorsed S 1593 at the hearing included:

  • Bob Shatten, President of TerraCool, LLC
  • Ray Albrecht, National Biodiesel Board
  • George Whiting, Ecoheat Solutions, LLC
  • Bob Rio, Associated Industries of Massachusetts
  • Christopher Derby Kilfoyle, Berkshire Photovoltaic Services
  • Charlie Carym, Biomass Combustion System
  • Ben Bramhall, Andrew Reed, Dan Leary, and Conrad Geysar, SEBANE
  • Bob Perchel, New England Forestry Foundation
  • Alan Page, Green Diamond Systems

According to Coalition Outreach Chairman Chris Williams (HeatSpring Learning Institute), “S 1593 will create a production-based incentive for renewable thermal technologies in Massachusetts. This means that applicable renewable thermal technologies will get paid for every megawatt-hour of “useful thermal energy” that they produce. Production-based incentives have been incredibility effective at stimulating the wind and solar PV industries.” Williams noted a number of additional benefits that the legislation will provide to Massachusetts:

  • It will decrease Alternative Compliance Payments (ACPs) charged to utilities when they can’t find the renewable power they need. “These payments—which totaled $11 million in 2011—would be better invested in renewable thermal production.”
  • S. 1593 is technology agnostic. It will pay any form of renewable thermal technology.
  • The legislation will support local construction jobs that cannot be outsourced.
  • With more than half of Massachusetts buildings heated with traditional heating sources including oil, propane or electricity, the market for renewable thermal technologies is huge.
  • S. 1593 will help provide heating price stability to consumers.
  • The legislation will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Renewable and Alternative Energy Credits are already awarded to individuals and companies that can produce electricity with renewable resources. Until the introduction of S. 1593, little attention was paid to the energy consumed for heating and cooling buildings, which represents about a third of total energy consumption in Massachusetts. Technologies that would qualify under this new program include solar hot water, ground and air source heat pumps, advanced wood pellet and wood chip boilers, renewable natural gas from landfills, and liquid biofuels such as bio-oil made from wood waste or biodiesel made from waste vegetable oil.

Besides cleaning up the environment and creating new jobs across a variety of renewable energy industries, stakeholders said passage of S 1593 would also provide net benefit to electric ratepayers across the state. Under the Commonwealth’s AES, retail electricity suppliers must purchase Alterna-tive Energy Credits (AECs) offset the energy they produce using non-renewable fuels, and therefore electricity rates are influenced in part by the number of available AECs on the market. With more credits available from renewable heating systems, prices drop—and ultimately so will rates for electricity.

The Coalition expects the Senate committee to vote on S 1593 sometime this fall, sending it to the full Senate for approval. “To keep our efforts strong, the Coalition has set the goal of raising an additional $25,000 to carry us through the end of this year’s legislative session,” said Williams. “Please consider making a new or additional contribution today, and encourage your colleagues in the renew-able energy business to do the same.” For up-to-date information on the bill’s progress, or to learn more about how you can assist in its passage, click here. Questions? Contact Jeff Hutchins here.