Mass. releases plan to cut greenhouse gases

By Jay Lindsay
Associated Press / December 29, 2010

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BOSTON—The state's energy chief on Wednesday released a plan to sharply cut Massachusetts' greenhouse gas emissions that calls for better efficiency, more hydroelectric power and an experimental insurance program aimed at curbing driving.

The "Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2020" tries to reduce emissions to 25 percent below their 1990 levels within the decade. The target is the maximum allowed by the state's two-year-old anti-global warming law, which required Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles to chose a range between 10 and 25 percent.

The plan by Bowles outlines more than two dozen steps to get there that mix existing policies with expanded or new programs.

Bowles called the document "a roadmap of multiple routes" that will require diligence to ensure Massachusetts reaches the law's mandates and helps mitigate climate change. He said the plan won't require new regulation or cost businesses and residents more than they'll get back in savings.

"I think what it really underscores is that the first 20 or 30 percent (cut) of greenhouse gas emissions can be done on a cost-effective basis, including nationwide," said Bowles, who is leaving his post at year's end.

The state's 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act also requires an 80 percent reduction from 1990's total greenhouse gas emissions (about 92 million to 94 million metric tons) by 2050. Carbon dioxide is the primary gas targeted.

The plan to meet the 25 percent reduction by 2020 was devised over two years and at eight public hearings and had to be presented by Jan. 1. Officials say its policies and programs could create up to 48,000 jobs.

Better efficiency in transportation and among power suppliers are key to the plan, but improved building efficiency is the biggest contributor, with the state saying cleaner-running buildings will account for a nearly 10 percent of the hoped-for emissions reduction.

The state already has committed $2 billion, collected mainly from charges on utility ratepayers, to help building owners decrease energy use, such as with efficient lighting, improved insulation or furnace and boiler upgrades.

Bowles also wants to expand to commercial oil heat customers a program that improves residential oil heat efficiency. It's unclear how that expansion would be funded. Any attempt by electric utilities, which run the existing program, to pass on the costs to ratepayers would have to be approved by state regulators. But the state's two largest utilities, National Grid and NStar, both say they back an expansion.

The plan sees tightening Environmental Protection Agency regulations on power suppliers shutting down some major emitters, such as the state's older power plants. It also projects up to 15 percent of the state's electricity demand will be supplied by decade's end by renewable hydroelectric power after the completion of a massive project by Hydro-Quebec to run transmission lines to New England.

In transportation, the state's adoption of California emission standards, which require cars to increase fuel efficiency from 27.5 miles per gallon now to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, will cut emissions 2.6 percent, according to the plan.

The plan also calls for establishing a pilot "Pay as You Drive" car insurance program, which increases car insurance rates the more miles a person drives, and is seen as a way to give drivers' incentive to stay off the road. Bowles said the voluntary pilot, which doesn't have a start date yet, will measure the program's effectiveness and whether consumers accept it.

"This is something that may or may not make sense," Bowles said.

James Harrington, executive director of the Massachusetts Insurance Federation, said he doubts "Pay as You Drive" would reduce driving and wonders if there is consumer demand for it.

"I don't see any outcry from consumers looking for this approach," he said.

Bowles said the law gave him latitude to try different strategies, but he didn't shoot for huge changes that small Massachusetts can't drive by itself. Instead, he tried to focus on changes that could be realistically and affordably attained in a state that accounts for just 1.3 percent of the country's greenhouse gas emissions, he said.

"What surprises me ... is how far we can go with that," Bowles said.



Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2020: