WITH THE STATE BUDGET expected to tie up the House the rest of this month, time is starting to run short for other bills to make it through the legislative process before the term ends at the end of July.
Rep. Brian Dempsey of Haverhill, the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, said on Wednesday that a number of bills could come up for consideration in the remaining time but mentioned only two. He said the House will take up an energy bill (“I hesitate to use the word omnibus,” he said) in mid-May and also work on an economic development initiative.
Dempsey said the energy bill is still being developed. “There’s a general concept,” he added, noting Gov. Charlie Baker is seeking legislative authority to pursue contracts for hydroelectricity from Canada and House members want to promote offshore wind.
Rep. Stephen Kulik of Worthington, the vice chair of the Ways and Means Committee, and Rep. Bradley Jones of North Reading, the House Republican leader, crafted a letter to House Speaker Robert DeLeo this week urging him and other leaders not to include any provision in the energy bill that would require electric ratepayers to pay for new natural gas pipeline infrastructure. The letter was signed by approximately 90 of the 160 reps.
Many energy analysts say the only way a new natural gas pipeline into the region could be built is if Massachusetts electric ratepayers commit to purchasing pipeline capacity. The theory is that the new pipeline (or pipelines) would bring enough low-priced gas into the region to drive down electricity prices, saving ratepayers money on their electric bill in the end.
Kulik said he has received no assurances from Dempsey or other House leaders that the energy bill will not include provisions dealing with natural gas. Kulik also said the state Department of Public Utilities is taking testimony on proposals to have Eversource and National Grid ratepayers finance natural gas pipeline infrastructure through their rates. Kulik said he hopes both the DPU and House leadership will reject the pipeline financing request.
“I’m pretty confident, given that we had nearly 100 members of both parties,” Kulik said of the letter to DeLeo. “I’m hopeful we will not be addressing ratepayers paying for interstate natural gas transmission lines in the omnibus energy bill. I think it’s bad energy policy for Massachusetts.”
Kulik also signed a letter signed by about 100 lawmakers urging the member of a legislative conference committee to adopt legislation with more favorable solar net metering rates than were envisioned in the House bill. That letter seemed to work, as the House moved off its hard-line position and compromised with the Senate.