by Stephen Barrett
I had the honor of recently moderating a panel of experts with the new Massachusetts Commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources, Judith Judson. Commissioner Judson was appointed on April 21st so her appearance at the Environmental Business Council of New England’s (EBC) breakfast marked the end of her first month on the job, which is enough time to be engaged in many hot issues facing the state, but too little time to be in a position to communicate specific policies still in development. But she did kick off by stating her five energy priorities for the Commonwealth which is helpful for understanding the context of the discussion:
- Stabilizing ratepayer energy costs
- Retaining national leadership status in energy efficiency and clean energy
- Maintaining progress in clean energy procurement toward achieving greenhouse gas emission goals contained in the Global Warming Solutions Acts.
- Facilitating operations of safe and reliable energy infrastructure
- Working to modernize the grid
The Commissioner explored more deeply many topics of interest to EBC members. She said she likes data and cited some interesting statistics including: 10% of all electricity consumed in Massachusetts in 2015 is from renewable energy; 350 of the 351 towns in Massachusetts have at least one solar installation on a home or business; $2m are available from the Commonwealth in rebates for buyers of electric vehicles; and a study out of Texas demonstrated that deploying 5,000 MW of energy storage on the grid is cost-effective. The latter point may be of particular interest to Commissioner Judson as she has worked in the private sector over the past decade for companies involved in developing innovative technologies to help make the grid run more efficiently, including Massachusetts-based Beacon Power and its flywheel technology.
In response to a question from panelist Matt Shortsleeve of Solect Energy about obstacles to continued growth in the Massachusetts solar industry due to net metering caps and fulfillment of the Solar Renewable Energy Certificate (SREC) II Program, the Commissioner acknowledged the problem with pending uncertainty for private investors with the start/stop nature of these programs. However, she said that the Baker Administration is interested in putting in place mechanisms to facilitate sustained and long-term growth with market predictability which considers the changing role of the utility companies as more power is generated locally. The administration continues to review the Net Metering Task Force’s Report released in April to help formulate a path forward. Other topics discussed among the panelists included maintaining Massachusetts’ position as #1 in the country in Energy Efficiency, working with the regional on gas supply to stabilize electricity prices, purchasing more renewables through long-term contracts to meet Green Communities Act goals, working to facilitate the development of regional electric vehicle infrastructure network, and prospects for offshore wind in New England with the problems faced by Cape Wind and the commencement of construction this month of the country’s first offshore wind project off of Block Island, Rhode Island.
With so much ground to cover, the Commissioner promised to make a return visit in the fall to provide an update.