Last week, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed H.4738, An Act to Increase Renewable Energy and Reduce High Cost Peak Hours. House leaders were likely expecting a different reception than they received. Climate advocates and organizers, including myself, tore into the bill as completely insufficient. Some, including members of the legislature, are likely wondering why we reacted the way we did.
In their mind, they gave us what we were asking. In reality, they fell frustratingly short. That frustration needs to be understood, so let's explore first the policy shortcomings of H.4738 and then step back to examine the political context that makes those shortcomings so aggravating.
THE POLICY: Lots of numbers. Simple realities.
H. 4738 is actually relatively straightforward. It raises the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) - the amount of clean energy utility companies have to buy from renewable energy sources - and seeks to reduce costs during peak energy hours by establishing a “Clean Peak standard”. For the uninitiated, the RPS is, in essence, a predictable, consistent demand signal to the energy market. It’s the bat signal to renewable energy companies to invest in Massachusetts. For more context, RPS policies are responsible for 60% of new renewable capacity across the country and Massachusetts accounts for 50% of New England’s energy market. In other words, we shape the region and the RPS is the key tool in our belt when it comes to shaping the region’s energy supply for the better.
Currently, the RPS increases every single year by one-percent; so if the total renewable mandate for utilities is 13% in 2018, it will increase to 14% in 2019. The House bill doubles the RPS to 2% growth per year starting in July 2019 and then pulls it back to 1% starting in 2031. Before we even consider the question of why legislators would slow renewable energy growth, let’s first discuss why the 2% growth vs 3% (what we were advocating for) is important. Here’s a rough comparison of what each RPS timeline would look like:
No change: 25% renewable by 2030; 100% by 2105
House bill: 35% renewable by 2030; 100% by 2095
Our proposal/Senate bill: 50% renewable by 2030; 100% by 2049
Right off the bat, the House bill leaves a gap of 15% renewable energy on the table in 2030 and delays full renewable electricity penetration by an additional 44 years. For a bill hailed as continuing our “worldwide leadership in clean energy,” that sounds bad, but it looks even worse when compared against the states that are actually leading. Consider the RPS timetables for our competitors:
Vermont: 75% RPS by 2032
Hawaii: 30% by 2020, 40% by 2030, 70% by 2040, 100% by 2045
California: 50% by 2030
New York: 50% by 2030 (includes hydro)
Oregon: 50% by 2040
Some members of the House, in the rush to mollify their more progressive bases, suggested that their bill might generate significantly more renewable energy than the predicted 35% indicated above. There are multiple problems with this claim (one of which is counting an amendment by Rep. Haddad to study the benefits of procuring an additional 1600mw of offshore wind as an actual procurement, which...it isn’t) but the primary one is that their count includes the Canadian hydroelectricity that has been high on Governor Baker’s wish list since entering office in 2014.
Here’s why that’s a problem. If you care about building an interdependent economy that actually grows our clean energy sector, the term “renewable” doesn’t apply to just any non-fossil fuel. When the environmental community in Massachusetts is talking about renewables, we’re talking about Class One renewables - and large-scale hydro does not qualify as one. Class One renewables are generally the best from an emissions standpoint (usually wind and solar) and must operate within the New England grid operator control area, so they are being built and sited in New England, if not Massachusetts outright.
That has seriously positive economic implications, as Synapse Energy Economics concluded in 2017. A 3% RPS means up to 37,000 new jobs between now and 2030 and a decrease in wholesale electricity prices of up to 8.1%. In contrast, Canadian Hydro, by virtue of not being built and sited in the region, does not have nearly the same impact. That’s before we even consider the impact of such projects on indigenous people. The House’s 2% RPS increase suffers a similar fate, ironically as a result of the legislature’s large wind power procurement in 2016. Had the legislature done nothing on the RPS, renewable supply would’ve outpaced demand in the 2020s and damaged the market. Doubling the RPS rebalances supply and demand but does not “reignite” the bat signal to spur meaningful new development of renewables.
Opponents of RPS expansion, such as National Grid and the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, have consistently talked doom and gloom about price increases under an RPS increase. Here’s the thing about those price increases. Synapse concluded that a 2% RPS only would result in a $0.15 increase in most ratepayers’ bills. A 3% RPS? A little over $2. How often does the chance to create as many as 37,000 green jobs only cost you $2 a month? As someone who starts his commute with a trip to Dunkin every morning, I'd gladly downsize my iced coffee once or twice a month to make that happen.
So just to recap, here are the policy takeaways for the House’s RPS bill:
- Opts for a renewable energy ramp up schedule that pales in comparison to our leadership competitors
- Leaves significant job growth and reduction in wholesale energy prices on the cutting room floor
- Abandoned amendment opportunities to be better via a higher RPS, a ban on the pipeline tax, and codification of environmental justice.
- Embraces a peak reduction policy that has never been tried anywhere else
It’s massive missed opportunity to do serious good for the state and we’re rightfully frustrated. It’s the circumstances under which we missed it that are so infuriating.
THE POLITICAL: Why is leadership standing in the way?
This bill looks disappointing in a void. In our political context, it’s a travesty. If this bill had passed in Alabama or West Virginia, we would be all ecstatic. But we are not Alabama or West Virginia. We have the political capacity to do more and, given the challenge of climate change, we have a moral responsibility to use it. Progressive champions in the legislature offered broadly supported amendments to fix the major issues in the bill- Rep. Khan’s 3% RPS amendment was co-sponsored by a nearly one-third of the entire House- but House leadership rejected each and every one.
We live in the age of Donald Trump, which, beyond wondering if you’ve woken up in The Handmaid’s Tale everyday, means open hostility to renewable energy and a fired up Democratic base looking for ambitious responses. The MA legislature has enjoyed an impenetrable Democratic supermajority for more years than people could count and is heavily siloed by policy issue; it is one of the few legislative bodies in the entire country that risks little politically by choosing progressive solutions and most members don’t pay enough attention to energy policy to disagree with leadership. Moreover, the activist base of this party has explicitly codified a desire be aggressive on renewable energy into its party platform. Consider the following planks of the 2017 Massachusetts party platform:
Massachusetts Democrats Will Fight For:
...Achieving the goals of the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act to reduce emissions by at least 25 percent by 2020, at least 45 percent by 2030, and at least 80 percent by 2050.
...Reducing fossil fuel consumption, divesting taxpayer funds from programs and policies that subsidize fossil fuel production, and opposing efforts to force ratepayers to fund the construction of new gas pipelines.
...Doubling our commitment to renewable energy by increasing the Massachusetts renewable portfolio standard to at least 50 percent by 2030.
So where’s the disconnect? Why is the same legislature that opted to create a working group to safeguard the commonwealth against Donald Trump also opting for weaker policy when stronger policy was available and it would’ve cost them nothing? Regardless of the reason, the question has begun to fester. The angry reaction to the House bill in Chairman Jeff Sanchez’ reliably blue district should serve as a warning to other members: ignore the climate movement at your own risk. The climate activists who donate money and volunteer on to the campaigns of rank-and-file Democrats are sick and tired of being told to accept what is “possible” when the limits of the “possible” are not in line with reality.
We are better than this. Thankfully, we have another opportunity to try in conference committee.
- Andrew Gordon
Legislative Manager, 350 Massachusetts
Written by Rachel Schlueter, Summer 2018 Campus Organizing Intern
To build a national campus movement for fossil fuel divestment, it is necessary to begin with the students themselves. Last Wednesday, we wrapped up the second installment of Better Future Project’s National Campus Divestment Input Calls. These monthly video conference calls are serving as the base for discussion, vision-building, and input by bringing together current student organizers, alumni, and faculty from across the nation. They also helped us to meet students beyond our network and have one-to-one calls with them to deepen our network as it grows. As the summer Campus Organizing intern, I wanted to break down what has surfaced in the calls so far, and share some more information on the conversation you can join next month! If you’re interested, you can see the full notes from the 1st call and 2nd call here.
Callers sign off at the end of our 2nd National Campus Divestment Input Call last Wednesday, June 20, 2018. The call consisted mostly of one-to-one and small group discussion in video break out rooms, with time for larger group discussion among the 17 organizers.
This blog post was originally posted by Power Shift Network on their blog on June 8th. It was co-written by Hope Ghazala, the Power Shift Network Trainings Coordinator, and BFP's Alyssa Lee!
Trainings are a critical part of our movement. As young organizers working toward the huge vision that is climate justice, we know that we need training to succeed. We often experience frustration, disempowerment, and confusion when we try to do our work without a baseline of theory and skills from which we can start or return. We also find it difficult to thrive in the midst of the non-profit industrial complex that perpetually suggests that competition is key to survival.Read more
Written by Rachel Schlueter, Summer 2018 Campus Organizing Intern
In April, Better Future Project announced our expansion to a national coordination of the fossil fuel divestment movement (read more here)! In these first summer weeks, we have been busy strategizing, expanding our team, and most importantly - connecting and seeking input through our video conference series of National Divestment Input Calls.
Divestment students from the group Student for a Just and Stable Future assemble on Harvard bridge for a collective action demanding eight Massachusetts universities to divest from the fossil fuel industry.
Written by Anastasia Christilles, Spring 2018 Campus Organizing Intern
A goofy picture of our fellows at our final fellowship training on April 15th. Not all fellows were able to make it so some are not pictured.
Springtime is often associated with transition and transformation. Longer days. Flowers blooming. Trees budding with new leaves. While the weather in Boston as of late hasn’t exactly reflected that change, students have been gearing up for their critical transition from the spring semester to the next school year in the fall. Our fellows have been focusing on how to plan for this transition in their climate campaigns during the last two trainings of the Spring 2018 Climate Organizing Fellowship.
Our final two trainings of this year’s fellowship consisted of learning about leadership development, planning transition plans for the fall, and meeting with the Campus Divestment Advisory Committee (CDAC). In our March training, fellows learned about the ladder of engagement, distributing leadership within campaigns, and how to get new people involved as core organizers.
In our April training this past Sunday, fellows brainstormed ideas of how to keep campaigns active over the summer and how to start the fall semester strong. They were also joined by several members of the CDAC, who offered valuable answers to students’ questions about investing and financial literacy. We ended this final training in a circle where both fellows and CDAC members shared their suggestions and hopes for Better Future Project’s upcoming expansion into national campus divestment organizing.
This semester, BFP will make its own transition from working with schools in Massachusetts to supporting young climate leaders across the country. This is not just a transition--it’s a transformation. As a graduating student who has spent all four years of college working on fossil fuel divestment at Brandeis, I’m excited to see Better Future Project continue its commitment towards supporting and empowering other student organizers like myself.
Thank you to our fellows for always putting their best foot forward!
We are excited to share an important update about Better Future Project and the national campus divestment movement!
Since 2012, Better Future Project (BFP) has been providing support to student fossil fuel divestment campaigns in coordination with groups like 350.org and the Divestment Student Network (DSN). We have funded a full-time organizer position to provide deep and ongoing training and mentorship to students for the past six academic years. We have run immersive summer organizing training programs, led day-long mass trainings for budding student climate organizers, planned mass multi-campus student actions, and run year-long organizing fellowships for dedicated divestment organizers. Among our most notable victories were helping students win first coal, then full fossil fuel divestment in the University of Massachusetts system (the first major public university to fully divest from fossil fuels), full divestment from Lesley University, and partial coal and tar sands divestment from Boston University.
The most recent cohort of students from our 2017-18 Climate Organizing Fellowship with members of our Campus Divestment Advisory Committee!
At the 2017 March for Science, tens of thousands of us came together to defend science against the assault by leaders in our federal government, and to proclaim the importance of science in public policy and celebrate the discovery, understanding, and sharing of scientific knowledge as crucial to the success, health, and safety of the human race. Together, we were part of more than one million people around the world who gathered together in the largest event for science advocacy in history.
On Saturday, April 14th, we will continue to use the momentum of last year’s march to once again lift up these same themes and ideals, but we won't stop there. In 2018, we'll also take the offensive and rally behind specific climate legislation that will advance certain science- and evidence-based policy in the Massachusetts state legislature, with an eye to passage this year. In 2018 in Massachusetts, science is striking back!
Please RSVP today, spread the word far and wide and join us for this historic occasion at Christopher Columbus Park at 1pm-3pm on April 14th 2018!
Learn more about the 2018 March for Science: Science Strikes Back!: www.marchforscienceboston.org
Written by Anastasia Christilles, Spring 2018 Campus Organizing Intern
On Sunday, February 25th, Better Future Project hosted the Spring 2018 Mass Climate Organizing Training, bringing together over 55 students from 16 different campuses in Massachusetts (and one from New Hampshire)! This training was led and run by this semester’s Climate Organizing Fellows, from registration to coordinating the food to facilitating the trainings. The Mass Climate Organizing Training is a key component of our year-long Climate Organizing Fellowship program. The fellows spend the fall learning about campaign organizing through monthly workshops and individual mentorship sessions. Then in the spring, they spend a month learning how to facilitate and design workshops and trainings so that they can be the next generation of student organizing trainers!
Group photo of all attendees from BFP’s Spring 2018 Mass Climate Organizing Training.
Introducing our Spring 2018 Climate Organizing Fellows! We are lucky to have 14 fellows from 7 campuses who have are dedicating much of their free time to growing their leadership skills and to developing as strong organizers in their campus climate campaigns.
Read on to learn about our fellows and their upcoming Mass Climate Organizing Training!
Last fall semester, twelve students from six campuses across Massachusetts came together for the 2017-18 Better Future Project Climate Organizing Fellowship program.
The fellows range from first-years to seniors, and many are members of fossil fuel divestment campaigns, continuing a 5-year old movement to get their schools to divest their endowments from investments in fossil fuel companies. Some are also actively pursuing carbon pricing campaigns with the support of Put A Price On It to get their schools to advocate for a statewide carbon pricing bill.
The Climate Organizing Fellowship program is now in its third year, and it remains one of the few opportunities for students in Massachusetts to get trained in grassroots organizing skills to advance their climate action and climate justice campaigns, both on campus and beyond. This year-long program convenes these 12 students every month for day-long organizing trainings that allows them to develop a broad set of climate organizing skills and political education and to also build a strong community of peers.Read more