Brief

Proposed Massachusetts air regulations target 80% decarbonization by 2050

Dive Brief:

  • Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R)'s Department of Environmental Protection has issued a draft of new clean air regulations to address greenhouse gas emissions, seven months after the state's Supreme Court ruled it was not doing enough to cut them.
  • Under the proposal, utilities would be required to purchase generation credits from zero-carbon sources, starting at 16% in 2018 and increasing to 80% by 2050. Renewables, nuclear and fossil generation with carbon capture would be eligible for the Clean Energy Credits.
  • The Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act requires the state reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. Separate regulatory programs announced last week target emissions from vehicles and fossil fuel extraction and transport, along with the power sector rules. 

Dive Insight:

With its 80% decarbonization goal by midcentury, Massachusetts is one of the few states with a greenhouse gas goal that roughly aligns with the Paris Climate Accord. But in May, the state's highest court found its economy was not keeping pace and ruled deeper emissions cuts were needed to comply with the law.  

The Department of Environmental Protection's new regulatory proposal, released Friday, is the response to that ruling. To bring the state back in compliance, it targets a 7.2% greenhouse gas reduction by 2020.

The structure of the Clean Energy Standard would be familiar to utilities, as it resembles the existing renewable portfolio standard.

Utilities would be required to purchase MWh-credits for clean generation in increasing proportions, starting with 16% of their retail load in 2018 and growing to 18% and then 20% in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Renewables, nuclear and CCS fossil plants would generate the credits.

"This standard appears appropriate and achievable given the RPS standards for those years of 13%, 14%, and 15% and the fact that [Department of Energy Resources] has identified additional RPS-eligible RECs available over that time frame in amounts that correspond to an additional 3% - 5% of sales," regulators wrote in the proposal.

After 2020, the standard would increase 2% a year until it reaches 80% each retail provider's portfolio in 2050. During that time, the clean energy standard would "complement" the RPS program by "supporting the acquisition of clean energy that cannot be counted toward RPS compliance," regulators wrote. 

"Such clean energy would include energy that is not considered “renewable” under the RPS regulation, and the portion of available “surplus” RPS-eligible energy that exceeds the RPS standard."

Separate programs in the Friday proposal would target methane emissions from natural gas facilities by setting annual, declining limits for gas utilities and transporters. Mass-based declining limits would also be set for transportation in the state, with regulators compelled to take action if limits are exceeded.

How environmental regulators respond to transportation pollution may prove critical. MassLive notes the sector is the state's largest emitter, with over 40% of GHGs, and is the only sector whose climate change contributions have grown since 1990.

The formal comment period on the Massachusetts proposal is open until Feb. 27, 2017 and public hearings are listed on the DEP site.

 

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Filed Under: Generation Solar & Renewables Regulation & Policy
Top image credit: Flickr; Robbie Shade