The House and Senate chairs of the Legislature’s energy committee aren’t talking to each other, but in separate interviews they both seem confident lawmakers will pass another climate and energy bill this session.
The two chairs, Rep. Jeffrey Roy of Franklin and Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, are locked in a dispute over rules governing the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy. As a result, the joint committee has split in two, with House members holding their own hearings on bills and Senate members meeting separately to do the same.
Despite the gulf between the two chairs, both are confident their rules dispute will not prevent the Legislature from passing another climate and energy law this session. Roy says the legislation is desperately needed so it has to get done. Barrett agrees, although he suggests it may not be easy.
“I expect there to be climate legislation this session,” Barrett said. “But the road is filled with rock slides and debris. It’s not a smooth road.”
The two lawmakers may agree another climate and energy bill is needed, but they don’t agree on what it needs to include.
Both lawmakers say permitting reform for electricity transmission infrastructure is a priority. Roy said electric vehicle charging stations need to get built across the state, but currently rules for such construction vary from one municipality to the next, slowing the pace of development.
Roy points out that some charging stations will require access to large amounts of electricity. For example, one study estimated a charging station of the future along the Massachusetts Turnpike could require the electricity needed to power Gillette Stadium on a game day. Getting that power delivered to the charging station will require transmission lines crossing many jurisdictions, all with different regulatory approaches.
“We need a little more uniformity,” Roy said. “We can’t wait four to five years for permits.”
The representative ticked off several other priorities, including granting the authority for more offshore wind procurements; revamping the Mass Save program, which is run by utilities, to encourage more efficient use of electricity; and addressing concerns about retail electricity competition.
Barrett said he wants to see the bottle deposit law expanded to include more containers. He wants a ban on competitive retail electricity suppliers. And he wants to see electricity rates restructured to encourage people to electrify their homes and vehicles.
Currently, electricity rates are based on the amount of electricity consumed. Barrett said that makes sense for the electricity being purchased, but he points out that roughly half of a consumer’s bill is for transmission, distribution, and energy efficiency – items unrelated to electricity consumption. He said rates for those items should be fixed and not vary with consumption.
Normally a joint committee would vote on a bill and then report it out for action to the House and Senate. Given the acrimony over rules between Roy and Barrett, a vote of the full joint committee seems unlikely, which means a climate and energy bill will have to follow a different, uncharted path.