Monday, July 29, 2013

Support Grows for Historic Renewable Energy Legislation in Massachusetts

Jeffrey Hutchins, Executive Director
Massachusetts Forest Alliance
Support Grows for Historic Renewable Energy Legislation in Massachusetts

By Jeff Hutchins

"This is quite possibly the most important piece of legislation for renewable thermal energy in the country” Ed Malloy of New England Renewable Energy Systems told legislators at a July 16 hearing in Boston. 

Malloy was referring to MA Senate Bill 1593, which, if passed, will award financial credits to homeowners and businesses who heat and/or cool with renewable fuels – a big step forward for the Commonwealth’s overall renewable energy strategy, which would make Massachusetts one of the first states in the country to offer such a comprehensive program for renewable heating and cooling.

On Tuesday, July 16, the Massachusetts Legislature's Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities & Energy heard testimony on Senate Bill 1593 - An act relative to credit for heating and cooling with renewable fuels.  Thanks to the efforts of many MFA members, the hearing was success, with numerous groups and individuals providing testimony in support of this important legislation.  It's not too late to show your support for
S. 1593 - please see the bottom section of this message for ways you can help move S. 1593 forward!

Support Grows for Historic Renewable Energy Legislation in Massachusetts

July 16 Renewable Thermal Hearing

Sponsored by Senator Barry Finegold (D – Andover), the bill is strongly supported by the Massachusetts Renewable Thermal Coalition, an assemblage of national and regional trade organizations and small businesses who are committed to advancing heating and cooling technologies that use clean, renewable fuels.  According to Charlie Niebling, co-founder of the coalition and a principal at Innovative Natural Resource Solutions, “the lead organizations include the Solar Energy Industries Association, the New England Geothermal Professionals Association, the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas, the Geothermal Exchange Organization, the Massachusetts Forest Alliance, and the Biomass Thermal Energy Council.”

Tuesday’s hearing before the MA legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, chaired by Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D – Pittsfield) and Representative John D. Keenan (D – Salem), confirmed that the bill is gaining both momentum and wide-spread support.  Barbara Kates-Garnick, Undersecretary of Energy representing the Patrick Administration, testified in favor of the proposed legislation saying that, while the bill makes only modest changes to the current Alternative Energy Standard, it will “provide a key and prominent incentive to grow the renewable heating and cooling sector in Massachusetts.”   Janet Besser of the New England Clean Energy Council echoed the importance of the legislation, saying that it would give consumers the ability to opt for renewable thermal technology, for which the initial installation is often cost-prohibitive, even though the long-term savings can be significant.

Renewable and Alternative Energy Credits are already awarded to individuals and companies that can produce electricity with renewable resources, but until now, little attention has been paid to the energy consumed for heating and cooling buildings, which represents about one third of total energy consumption in Massachusetts.  A significant amount of that energy relies solely on fossil fuels.  According to representatives from the Solar Energy Business Association of New England (SEBANE), who also testified in support of the bill Tuesday, Massachusetts produces more greenhouse gas emissions annually from heating and cooling than it does generating electricity.  In order for the Commonwealth to realize its ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals laid out as part of the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008, it will be important to identify incentives to encourage homeowners and businesses to move away from heating and cooling with fossil fuels.

Examples of renewable heating and cooling technologies that would qualify under this new program include solar hot water, ground and air source heat pumps (including geothermal pumps), advanced wood pellet and wood chip boilers, renewable natural gas from landfills, and liquid biofuels such as bio-oil made from wood waste or biodiesel made from waste vegetable oil.  An amendment to the bill has also been proposed with input from the Renewable Thermal Coalition that will establish eligibility criteria for systems that are fueled with forest-derived biomass.  Similar to the statute that governs the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, the amendment will require that thermal systems using forest-derived biomass be both high-efficiency and low-emission systems.  

Robert Perschel, Executive Director of the New England Forestry Foundation and contributor to the 2010 Manomet Report on Biomass Sustainability and Carbon Policy, described that high-efficiency wood heat systems have very desirable carbon profiles, which will help the state reduce its greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades.  Perschel also spoke about long-term woodland management, and how making use of low-quality wood for high-efficiency heat helps woodland owners grow higher quality wood products (similar to weeding a vegetable garden) as part of a sustainable model for managing local forests for local wood.

Mike Hogan, managing partner of Paradigm Partners, a Medford-based firm specializing in solar hot water installations, explained to the Energy Committee that the benefits of this bill are not just environmental; there are very real economic advantages as well.  “If this bill becomes law, our annual revenues could grow between $500,000 and $1 million.  That would allow us to hire one to two more people full-time.”

Bob Rio, representing the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, pointed out that the bill’s passage would also be a net benefit to electric rate payers throughout the state.  Under the Commonwealth’s Alternative Energy Standard, retail electricity suppliers must purchase Alternative Energy Credits to off-set the energy they produce using non-renewable fuels, and therefore electricity rates are influenced in part by the number of available Alternative Energy Credits on the market.  With more Alternative Energy Credits available from renewable heating systems, prices drop, and ultimately, so will rates for electricity.

The Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy is expected to vote on the bill sometime this fall.  For up-to-date information on the bill’s progress, visit

The Massachusetts Renewable Thermal Coalition welcomes support and involvement from anyone interested in promoting renewable heating and cooling technologies and fuels.  Those interested are encouraged to visit the website to learn more.

It's not too late to show your support!
What can you do to help?
  • Send a letter to the Senate and House chairmen of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities & Energy urging a swift and favorable report on S. 1593.
    • Use the attached template and the below talking points to draft a letter of your own (scroll to the bottom of this email for links to download)
    • Email your letter to Senator Benjamin Downing and Representative John Keenan
  • Make a phone call to the offices of the Committee chairmen and tell them why you support legislation that promotes the responsible use of local forest resources.
  • Consider making a financial contribution to our ongoing efforts to see this bill passed - for more information see the left hand side-bar.

S. 1593 Talking Points:
  • S.1593 adds renewable thermal energy technologies - solar, geothermal and biomass thermal - to the MA Alternative Portfolio Standard (APS).
  • Heat represents one-third of all energy consumed in Massachusetts. MA is among the most dependent states on imported and expensive fossil heating fuels such as heating oil or propane.
  • Renewable thermal technologies are ready for the market and can help MA reduce dependence on these fuels, and create new jobs by the growth of the renewable thermal businesses.  Due to high capital cost, they need support from the APS, much as renewable electric technologies receive support from the Renewable Portfolio Standard.
  • MA cannot meet its aggressive greenhouse gas emission targets under the MA Climate Solutions Act without attention on thermal energy.
  • S.1593 will save ratepayers money by providing utilities with lower cost options to meet their APS obligation.
  • S.1593 is a logical extension of MA's national leadership on renewable energy policy.  S.1593 is good for the MA economy, and good for the MA environment.
  • Production of thermal energy with renewable fuels is already given some form of energy credit in fifteen states.  The most recent two additions were New Hampshire and Maryland last year.

Please take a few minutes and help us show the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities & Energy that this bill has a wide base of support!
Please contact our office with any questions or concerns:
  1. By Phone: (617) 455 - 9918
  2. By Email:

Many thanks for your continued support!

Jeffrey Hutchins
Executive Director
Massachusetts Forest Alliance

A note on the Massachusetts Forest Alliance....

Today Massachusetts is both the third most densely populated and the eighth most forested state in the country.  Our forestlands provide the Commonwealth’s residents with an array of services: water quality protection; soil erosion control; habitat for many wildlife species; uptake and storage of atmospheric carbon.  Forests support rural economies and provide a source of reliable, renewable forest products, such as high-quality timber, pulpwood for paper products, biomass chips, fuel wood and many specialty products.  All residents of Massachusetts, wherever they live, benefit from our state’s public and private forest resources.  Yet, despite the fact that over 60% of our state is covered by forest, many citizens remain disconnected from local forest resource production. Massachusetts imports an alarming 98% of its forest products from around the world.
The Massachusetts Forest Alliance (MFA) was founded in 2012 for the purpose of representing and advocating for citizens and businesses who support a strong, sustainable forest economy.  Three previously separate groups (the Massachusetts Wood Producers Association, the Massachusetts Association of Professional Foresters, and the Massachusetts Forest Landowners Association) voted to combine their resources into one organization, to provide a unified and consistent voice in matters of forest policy.  In July of 2012, MFA’s Board of Directors hired Jeffrey D. Hutchins as its Executive Director, who will coordinate membership, policy, outreach, and educational efforts, develop a long-term strategic plan for the organization, and raise the funds necessary to accomplish MFA’s mission.


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