Friday, June 29, 2012

House Approves Series of Green Energy Bills

This week I joined my colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in passing three pieces of legislation that expand on the state’s Green Communities Act, improves emergency storm response protocol, and puts in place a new standard on how to handle gas leaks across the Commonwealth.

Energy Bill

This energy bill expands on the Green Communities Act of 2008 by establishing a new requirement for distribution companies to negotiate their contracts through a competitive bidding process. Contracts must be for projects that work to create jobs and stimulate the state’s economy while being cost effective.

The bill raises the net metering cap on public generation facilities from 2%-3% of a distribution company’s peak load and from 1%-3% on private generation facilities. Additionally, the bill amends the current property tax exemption for solar or wind powered systems, directs the DPU to establish a cost-based rate design for distribution companies recovering costs and requires that they also design all base rates using a specific cost allocation method based on the equalized rates of return for each customer class, and establishes a requirement for distribution companies to enter into long-term contracts to procure energy from generating facilities that are located on the site of a retiring coal or oil-fired generating facility under certain circumstances.

Storm Response Bill

This legislation mandates that emergency response plans must identify management staff responsible for company operations, including a public information officer responsible for coordinating with the state and municipal officials, and an estimate of service workers available to respond to an emergency within 24 hours. Plans must also include a communication system with customers during an emergency that includes continuous access to staff assistance and twice-daily updates on estimated return of service via telephone, a website and 1 other media outreach effort. There must be a sufficiently staffed call center during an event, as well.

Any violation of service standards or emergency response plans during a storm will result in a penalty collected by the DPU that will be credited to ratepayers.

Gas Leaks Bill

This legislation puts in place an industry standard on how to handle gas leaks by first creating a classification system that measures how threatening each leak may be to public safety. The system works to prioritize leak repairs by helping to create a schedule wherein the most dangerous leaks are repaired immediately.

The bill puts in place new reporting requirements for gas companies, authorizes DPU to establish a minimum winter patrol standard for cast iron pipelines susceptible to leaks, and addresses aging natural gas pipeline infrastructure by allowing gas companies to file replacement plans with the DPU for review.

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