STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
With two of its key climate change policies dead or near-dead, the Baker administration approved two initiatives last week to incentivize the development of solar power and expand the use of zero emission vehicles.
The Department of Public Utilities finalized on Thursday a long-delayed regulatory process for a solar incentive program expected to yield 3,200 megawatts of power, double the size of the existing program. And on the same day the Department of Environmental Protection adopted California regulations requiring a faster adoption rate for zero emission light and heavy-duty trucks.
Both initiatives come after the administration’s Transportation Climate Initiative was declared dead after it failed to gain traction with states in the northeast and a Massachusetts-financed power line bringing hydroelectricity from Quebec was shot down by voters in Maine.
The DEP estimates the total cost of the solar expansion to be $3.6 billion over the next 25 years, which is considerably less per megawatt hour than previous solar incentive programs.
Under the order issued by the Department of Public Utilities, the state’s three private utilities — Eversource, National Grid, and Unitil — have until January 14 to submit proposals for how the newly approved funding for the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target, or SMART, program will be recovered from ratepayers.
Solar advocates hailed the decision, but said the long delay in moving ahead set the industry back. The SMART program launched in 2018 and was expanded to 3,200 megawatts in 2020, but final approval bogged down amid negotiations with the utilities over tariff rates.
“In the future, the DPU needs to move much faster if we want the Commonwealth to reach its decarbonization goals by mid-century,” said David Dahl, senior director of state policy for the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Also on Thursday, the Department of Environmental Protection filed emergency regulations and amendments to immediately adopt California’s Advanced Clean Trucks policy, which requires an increasing percentage of trucks sold between model year 2025 and model year 2035 to be zero-emissions vehicles.
DEP’s amended regulations also incorporate California’s revisions to greenhouse gas standards for model year 2025 and a “Heavy-Duty Omnibus Regulation” to establish lower greenhouse gas and nitrogen oxides emissions standards for conventional trucks and heavy-duty vehicles.
The Baker administration said the adoption of California’s regulations, which is required in certain circumstances under Massachusetts law, will help reduce pollution that harms the environment, promote the adoption of electric trucks, and “lead to reduced fuel consumption and fuel costs and maintenance due to more fuel-efficient engines and vehicles and next-generation zero-emission trucks.”
“Massachusetts continues to take aggressive action to reduce emissions from the transportation sector, and addressing pollution from medium- and heavy-duty vehicles and advancing the market for clean trucks is an essential part of this effort,” Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides said.
Emissions from transportation totaled an estimated 30.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents in 2018, more than any other single sector and equal to roughly 42 percent of all emissions that year, DEP said. Baker administration energy officials have said that medium- and heavy-duty vehicles account for about 14 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts. The transportation sector is one of a handful for which the Baker administration must establish legally binding 2025 and 2030 emissions sublimits by July 1.
DEP said in a summary of the changes that the adoption of the California regulations is projected by 2050 to lead to a 51 percent reduction in regional medium- and heavy-duty vehicle nitrogen oxides emissions, a 23 percent drop in particulate matter emissions, and a 53 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared with today’s levels.
The Massachusetts Clean Air Act requires that the Bay State adopt California emission standards if they yield greater emission reductions than the current federal program. Baker administration officials said their analysis indicates the California emission standards do that.
The regulations were filed December 30 on an emergency basis, the agency said, because they must be in place two years before the first affected model year begins. Model year 2025 starts January 1, 2024.
Members of the public will have a chance to weigh in on the changes during a February 1 virtual public hearing and can submit written comments via email to email@example.com until 5 p.m. on Feb. 11, DEP said.
DEP acknowledged that the amendments “will increase the upfront cost of new [medium- and heavy-duty] vehicles” but said the owners of those vehicles will realize savings over time from having switched to a zero-emissions vehicle. In all, the changes are projected to lead to costs of $1.054 billion by 2050, the agency said.
The amended regulations are also expected to lead to health care cost savings “in the range of $363 million to $818 million from 2025 through 2050, with the majority of benefits due to avoided premature deaths, avoided hospitalizations for cardiovascular illness and avoided emergency room (ER) visits,” the administration said.