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Sen. Downing pushing energy bills


Greenfield Recorder 05/02/2015, Page A01

By RICHIE DAVIS Recorder Staff

A state Senate bill to push utilities to adopt policies that incorporate energy storage systems to make more efficient use of solar, wind and other renewable sources is one of several initiatives by Sen. Benjamin Downing of Pittsfield to reshape the state’s energy future and keep its position as a clean-energy pioneer.

The bill, seen as a way of cutting greenhouse- gas emissions as well as demand for costly peak-demand generation and to improve reliability of the electric grid, would call for the Department of Energy Resources to open an investigation by year’s end to “determine appropriate targets, if any, for electric companies to procure viable and cost-effective energy storage systems to be achieved” by 2020.

In conversations with constituents, renewable energy advocates and industry leaders, Downing said, he’s heard repeated calls about the need for — and the potential for — so-called “smart-grid” and industrial- strength energy storage as a way around the intermittent nature of solar, wind and other alternative energy sources.

“California has been out front in requiring utilities in their state to purchase and procure energy-storage systems,” said Downing, the Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. ISO-New England, the region’s grid operator, has testified before his committee that although it focuses on the high-frequency, high-voltage electric system, it’s increasingly seeing the impact of residential- and utility-scale solar generation around the region. “The impact could be seen to an even greater degree if we’re better able to manage the flow of that energy,” said Downing, pointing to the use of battery systems in other parts of the world, and the introduction of combined solar panel-and-storage packages.

“As much as the last eight years has been about reducing cost in renewables and the expansion of efficiency, I think packaging these services with storage, with battery solutions, are going to be a huge part in the next five or 10 years. It’s massively important in how we modernize the grid, and make it more resilient in dealing with significantly more extreme weather patterns and storms, but also about how we use energy more efficiently and effectively and create a grid that isn’t just built around six or seven massive infrastructure investments but built around thousands if not tens of thousands of energy generating hubs and smaller, interconnected networks.”

Downing has also shepherded bills that would add Massachusetts-based “micro-hydro” projects to “net-metering” provisions that already require utilities to purchase solar, wind and other renewable generation, to diversify the mix of energy production. One of the bills would require those hydro generators to meet “appropriate and site-specific standards that address adequate and healthy river flows, water quality standards, fish passage and protection measures.”

Another initiative, advocated for years by clean-energy and energy-efficiency advocates, would require home energy audits before sale of a home.With a House version co-sponsored by Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, the idea would be to encourage more homeowners to take advantage of state-sponsored free audits, but also to let prospective buyers take stock of how efficient the homes are.

“There are lots of improvements we could make in our efficiency programs, even though we’re the first in the nation,” said Downing, who likened the idea to car buyers knowing what they are getting for their money. “I think it makes all sense in the world at the time when someone’s buying a home to know what the energy impact is, so they could factor that in and know what upgrades they have to make and what have already been made.

The Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee in coming months is going to be reviewing recent recommendations to the state’s net-metering regulations, and also investigating how the state can replace generation capacity that’s coming off-line. Downing suggests “a way that’s in line with our climate and clean-energy goals: a mix of New England and Canadian hydro and onshore, inland- based wind and renewables.”

But instead of waiting six months or more “on the sidelines” while it addresses those issues, he said, he wants the state to be moving ahead to advance a part of the state’s economy that’s created 88,000 clean-energy and energy efficiency jobs. Meanwhile, another local legislator, Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, has filed a bill to allow a state-chartered “green bank,” modeled on similar efforts in Connecticut and New York, into which people could invest money, dedicated to financing green-energy projects.

“The way I see it happening is that people who want to invest in renewable energy would go to a bank that sends money to projects you care about,” said Mark, adding that the state treasurer could also choose to invest state money into advanced renewable energy projects.

You can reach Richie Davis at: rdavis@recorder.comor 413-772-0261, ext. 269