On August 6, the Renewable Thermal Bill (SB 2214, formerly SB 1953 or SB 1970) was signed by Massachusetts Governor Patrick Deval. The bill, which passed the Massachusetts House and Senate on July 31, will award alternative energy credits (AECs) to any building heating or cooling system that uses renewable energy sources, including “solar heating, geothermal and air source heat pumps, biofuels and wood pellets, wood chips, renewable bio-oils or renewable natural gas.” Massachusetts officials hope this measure will wean the state away from heating oil, a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts uses 800 million gallons of heating oil a year, according to Charlie Niebling, the Chair of the Massachusetts Renewable Thermal Coalition (RTC).

The new bill will help the state’s utilities meet the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (APS), which requires that a certain percentage of the state's electricity consumption be met by low-carbon or carbon-free technologies. Before SB 2214, these eligible systems consisted of combined heat and power, coal gasification, efficient steam technologies, and flywheel storage. A separate Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) covers renewables such as geothermal, solar, water, and wind power.

In addition to lowering the state’s carbon emissions, S.B. 2214 is also expected to benefit its economy. According to Jeffrey Hutchins, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Forest Alliance, some of the advanced biofuel technologies that will be supported by this bill “can be produced sustainably [in] Massachusetts, [creating] the potential for more production and manufacturing jobs, especially in rural areas of the state.” Katherine Stainken at the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) believes the new bill could also encourage companies that install solar energy systems to “continue to expand their businesses and hire more people.”

The example set by Massachusetts may inspire other states to pass similar measures – including New York, which Niebling believes could be next in line, as it is currently “the number one importer of heating oil.” David Cox, a representative of the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas, commented, “when governments signal to the market that renewables are a priority in their state, supply of clean, green alternatives to fossil fuel is certain to follow.” The bill will go into effect on January 1, 2015.


Author: Emily Jackson