Massachusetts Takes Another Step Forward In Climate Policy

Massachusetts State House at sunrise, where the state just passed a new climate policy.

Photo by Aubrey Odom-Mabey

Carrie Katan is Climate XChange’s Massachusetts State Manager, leading our organization’s efforts in the Green Future Now Coalition.

After two years of negotiations, advocacy, and research by environmental advocates and lawmakers, Governor Baker has signed H.5060 An Act driving clean energy and offshore wind into law. The bill helps move the state toward its net-zero emissions goal by updating policy around the transportation, electricity, and building sectors. 

One of the act’s primary goals is to electrify the transportation sector, which is currently the largest source of emissions in the Commonwealth. It aims to make electric vehicles more affordable by increasing the state’s rebate for buying a zero-emission vehicle, making that rebate available at point of sale, and adding a rebate for low-income buyers. In addition, the act requires that the MBTA (which operates public transit in the Boston area) buys or leases only zero-emission buses after 2030 and that all passenger vehicles bought after 2035 be zero-emission vehicles. 

In the electricity sector, the act aims to change the way the state generates power by updating regulations to encourage the deployment of offshore wind and solar power. These updates range from changing what prices offshore wind developers are allowed to charge customers to allowing argrivoltaics, or the practice of using the same piece of land for both solar panels and agriculture. Other provisions in the act are designed to increase electrical transmission and storage capacities, which are important to ensure that renewables can consistently power an increasingly electrified economy. 

Some of the act’s most important provisions are regulatory changes that could shift how buildings are heated. Currently, most households in the state are heated by natural gas from utilities. However, the need to reduce emissions, rising natural gas prices, and the age of natural gas infrastructure across the state all make the case for systemic change. Massachusetts’ Gas System Enhancement Plan (GSEP), the state’s program to repair leaks and keep the natural gas infrastructure functioning, is projected to cost over $40 billion in the coming decades.

H.5060 allows utilities to provide heat through thermal heating systems, like networked geothermal, a major step forward for the buildings sector. The bill also allows GSEP funds to be spent replacing leaking natural gas pipes with non-fossil fuel heating systems. This is a major policy shift toward science-based building decarbonization strategies and away from more expensive and polluting utility heating options, such as renewable natural gas and hydrogen.

While there are additional aspects of this climate bill to celebrate, it’s important to acknowledge there is more work to be done. The last minute derailment of an economic development bill decreased the amount of funding available for some climate-related projects. This misses out on additional funding for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, a quasi-public agency that plays an important role in the state’s clean energy economy with programs in workforce development, supporting sustainable startups, and clean energy R&D. While the agency will still have its regular funding streams, the lack of additional funding will hold back climate innovation and green workforce development in the state. 

Aside from climate funding that did not make it into law this session, the state also lacks some of the most effective tools to reduce emissions, such as a green bank or carbon pollution pricing. There is still a long road ahead to get to net-zero, but this bill drives Massachusetts forward.