BOSTON — Expanding wind power, requiring utilities to buy more renewable energy and accelerating repairs to tens of thousands of leaks along natural gas pipelines are among new rules aimed at keeping the state's lights turned on while reining in greenhouse gas emissions.
Legislation signed last week by Gov. Charlie Baker will require the state to increase procurements of clean energy by 2 percent annually.
The measure also requires the state Department of Energy Resources to solicit an additional 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power by 2035 and compels utilities to make plans to store more wind, solar and other renewables to meet peak energy demand, lower emissions and cut overall costs.
But the final version of the bill has drawn complaints from environmentalists for not going far enough.
"Lawmakers could have knocked it out of the park," said Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts, which had pushed a proposal for the state to get 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2047, which didn't make it into the final bill. "Instead, they only got a base hit."
A Senate version proposed eliminating state-imposed caps on net metering credits, which reimburse solar panel projects for excess electricity that’s distributed onto the grid, but that also was removed from the final version.
Massachusetts lost an estimated 3,000 jobs in the solar energy sector from 2016 to 2017 as a result of net metering caps which stalled commercial projects and "caused companies to shift their capital elsewhere in the Northeast," according to the Solar Energy Industry Association.
The Senate also approved a carbon-pricing mechanism, which would place a fee on fossil fuel use, but that was dropped from the final bill.
The Sierra Club Massachusetts said lawmakers had "sided with the status quo of fossil fuel and utility companies" over clean, renewable energy.
Massachusetts faces an energy crunch with a loss of more than 10,000 megawatts of power expected over the next five years as older coal- and oil-fueled plants are retired. The Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth is scheduled to go dark in 2019.
In 2017, about 48 percent of New England's energy came from natural gas, while a third came from nuclear power, according to ISO New England, the organization that manages the electric grid.
Hydropower, solar and other renewables accounted for roughly 19 percent of the energy sent to the regional grid in 2017, the group said.
Lawmakers and the Baker administration are under mounting pressure to come up with a plan to meet the state's energy needs and benchmarks while reducing its carbon footprint by 25 percent of 1990s levels before the end of the decade.
The state Supreme Judicial Court ruled in May that Massachusetts isn't following its own law aimed at reducing those emissions. The court required annual limits on greenhouse gas emissions until the state meets goals it set for itself in 2008.
Business groups such as Associated Industries of Massachusetts had lobbied against the clean energy proposal this year, arguing that it will drive up energy costs which already are among the highest in the country.
Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said the new rules put the state closer to those ambitious goals by pursuing "a modest increase in the amount of clean energy utilities must provide a clean peak energy standard to avoid the use of coal and oil, and a pathway to more offshore wind power procurement."
"Clearly, we have much more to do in the future," the Gloucester Republican said. "We must continue to make progress on increasing usage of renewable energy and decreasing carbon emissions."
Christian Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for the North of Boston Media Group's newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.