By Andy Metzger
State House News Service
BOSTON -- The governor's $1.4 billion environmental bond bill is not a Trojan horse to support natural gas infrastructure, the Baker administration's top energy official assured lawmakers Tuesday, calling the suggestion from some quarters of the environmental community "laughable."
"That is not how we play ball," Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matt Beaton told the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.
He said, "They're actually giving us way too much credit to think that we would be sneaky enough to trick the Legislature."
The legislation charges the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) with developing a first-in-the-nation clean peak standard to address periods of the greatest demand -- when power generators sometimes turn to dirtier fuels. The bill would require suppliers to provide some energy from clean peak resources.
The advocacy group Mass Power Forward, a coalition of environmental groups, warned the "clean peak" provision could open the "possibility that natural gas could be deemed a clean energy source."
Senate President Pro Tem Marc Pacheco said he wants to ensure carbon-emitting natural gas would not be deemed a clean power supply under the bill.
"It allows DOER to determine what's a clean standard. It may be silly to think that gas could be a clean standard, but we've all heard of clean coal, right?" Pacheco told the committee. "So I just don't want to take that chance.
While Beaton believes the state needs more natural gas in addition to renewable energy, he said the clean peak provision is not intended to finance pipelines, suggesting energy storage -- including storage projects paired with solar -- would better fit the bill.
"It was never our intent to include natural gas in what is a clean energy standard, a clean peak standard," Beaton told the committee.
"I do not question your veracity whatsoever and I would not do that," said Sen. Anne Gobi, a co-chair of the Environment Committee. She said she wants to make sure that it is "extremely clear" that "natural gas, dirty fuels, will not be allowed as a clean-energy source."
The bill was intended to "be flexible," so that DOER could adapt to changing technology, said Beaton, who said he would support changes to the bill to clarify that natural gas is not clean energy.
Energy storage has the potential to reduce peak system demand by 10 percent and avoid more than 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over a decade, according to the Northeast Clean Energy Council.
The clean peak standard "may hold significant potential," although it is "untested across the country, and Massachusetts would be the first state to implement such a standard," the clean energy council wrote, expressing caution that the proposed standard does not supplant existing programs to support clean energy and storage.
DOER would establish a standard for utilities, including a minimum amount of energy from clean peak resources, under the legislation, which authorizes DOER to use "market-based program designs to facilitate long-term investment in clean peak energy resources" as long as they would reduce costs to ratepayers in the long run.
Writing in WGBH last month, Pacheco warned that the bill as written contained a "clear win for the fossil fuel industry."
"As it stands now, the bill's new 'clean peak standard' would allow the administration to define natural gas or dirty fuel as a 'clean peak energy resource,'" Pacheco wrote, calling it an "alarming development."