- The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) on Wednesday approved a three-year spending plan for the state's energy efficiency program, Mass Save, that will provide an estimated $9 billion in benefits and aim to deliver 845,000 tons of emissions reductions.
- The efficiency program has a total budget of $3.94 billion for 2022-2024, with a "significant portion" going to electric heat pump incentives for residential, income-eligible and commercial and industrial customers, according to the DPU. The previous three-year budget was set at $2.8 billion.
- Regulators call the plan "transformational," but efficiency experts say continued incentives for some fossil fuel heating and the removal of provisions for low- and moderate-income customers make the order a "missed opportunity" to improve energy equity.
The efficiency plan approved Wednesday will help Massachusetts reduce greenhouse gas emissions 50% below 1990 levels by 2030, according to the DPU. But consumer advocates say the loss of some key equity provisions is disappointing, even as they cheered the overall direction of the decision.
The plan "not only ensures that the energy efficiency funds are being carefully spent to maximize direct benefits to customers, but that they are also being used to significantly improve services to lower-income customers, renters, and customers with limited English proficiency," DPU Chair Matthew Nelson said in a statement.
The order "also sends a clear message to our utility companies that it is time to embrace electrification in the Commonwealth’s path to decarbonization," Nelson added.
The order sets specific equity targets that include increased investments and benefits to serve environmental justice communities. However, the DPU rejected stakeholder recommendations to track demographic data based on age, race, ethnicity, disability, income and primary language, a decision several groups said was "disappointing."
"Even though this plan aims to increase access to energy-efficiency, DPU’s lack of consideration for low- and-moderate income families in our state excludes many of our communities from taking the benefit of this program," said a coalition of groups including Clean Water Action, Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), GreenRoots, and Community Labor United, in a statement.
In a separate comment, CLF Vice President of Environmental Justice Staci Rubin said the plan comes at a "crucial moment" for residents and climate change efforts.
“These programs have historically not been equally available to those hit hardest by climate impacts, especially communities of color. It’s about time that changed, and this new plan will make sure everyone in Massachusetts can benefit from energy efficiency efforts," Rubin said.
The Mass Save program administrators, which includes the state's utilities, issued a statement saying they are reviewing the order "and determining how it will affect our incentive programs. Nonetheless, many of our existing incentives continue to be available to customers."
A draft spending proposal submitted by administrators last year would have essentially phased out incentives for fossil fuel heating, but advocates say the DPU's order weakened those provisions.
"There are still some incentives for fossil fuel to fossil fuel replacements, and I think we need to phase those out sooner rather than later," Northeast Clean Energy Council (NCEC) Vice President of Policy and Government Affairs Jeremy McDiarmid said.
McDiarmid said NCEC is generally pleased with the budget approval, overall savings targets, and with the recognition that energy efficiency is a "key piece of meeting Massachusetts climate goals." But equity issues, fossil fuel incentives and the DPU's rejection of a plan to provide clean energy equipment to low- and moderate-income homes on Cape Cod, represent a "missed opportunity."
"There's good and there's bad. The scale of investment and the scope of the program is a big deal," said McDiarmid. But he added, "the DPU missed some opportunities in some of the details, particularly around equity and making sure that environmental justice communities have access to these programs."