By RICHIE DAVIS
Friday, October 23, 2015
(Published in print: Saturday, October 24, 2015)
State House Speaker Robert DeLeo got a standing ovation even before he began speaking to a crowd of about 150 local business people Friday morning.
Kibbutzing easily with Franklin County Chamber of Commerce leaders, the legislative leader nonetheless faced pointed questions on energy issues, which he said will play a key role in the Legislature’s agenda in the remainder of this session.
“This year, energy is going to be the focus of the House,” he said, pointing out that Massachusetts was recently cited by American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy as the most energy-efficient state for the fifth consecutive year. He said the Legislature is working on a “broad review of energy policies.”
While he favors a comprehensive approach to energy legislation before the House, he acknowledged that it’s taken longer than he had expected and has called for measures to extend solar “net metering” and other initiatives to be passed over the next two months.
Responding to audience questions, the Winthrop Democrat called for a greater diversity of energy sources as a way to address spikes in costs, with a better mix of alternatives “so we can have a better bargaining position to lower our costs.”
The speaker also was reminded by Greening Greenfield member Pam Kelly about state Rep. Paul Mark’s Green Energy Bank legislation that would allow borrowing of money for renewable energy and energy-conservation investments, with repayments from the energy cost savings.
With a small anti-pipeline demonstration greeting DeLeo and other chamber guests when they arrived at the Country Club of Greenfield Friday morning, the speaker also addressed the issue of natural-gas infrastructure.
“While the state has a limited role in approving interstate pipelines,” he conceded, Massachusetts has become more reliant on natural gas to replace coal and oil-fired plants. We should not rely on a single resource for all of our energy needs. We need reliable, cost-effective energy that keeps Massachusetts competitive with other states.”
When it comes to natural gas pipeline proposals, DeLeo said he urges the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to conduct a thorough review of those projects and added, “I realize what a substantial effect the pipeline would have on your families and your businesses, and I urge FERC to take your opinions into account in any decision that they make.”
The speaker defended the importance of the state’s casino legislation, licensing fees from which he said provided $23 million to support manufacturing in the state and $30 million for community colleges, with “folks (who) play an integral role in our workforce development initiatives, preparing students for the careers that will shape the commonwealth’s future. The House is focused on community colleges, voc-tech (vocational-technical schools) and partnerships that link high schools with higher institutions of learning.”
DeLeo, pointing to the discrepancy between $1,500-a-week median salaries in Boston and nearly half that amount in Franklin and Berkshire counties, said “We know the ecosystem of emerging industries extends across our state. We have to do a better job encouraging Boston businesses to discover the benefits and resources in other parts of the state.”
He has asked the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce to join with chambers in western Massachusetts to host an event in this part of the state to help businesses discover potential suppliers within Massachusetts.
As part of the state’s 2014 Economic Development bill, the House commissioned a study of large and small manufacturers in the four western counties as well as Bristol County in southeastern Massachusetts about specific barriers that challenge them, DeLeo said. The study, which is due to be released soon, should help the state address major impediments to economic growth.
You can reach Richie Davis at: email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 269.