A spark for clean energy

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - It might be just a coincidence that California's clean energy industry started vaulting ahead of the Northeast's after California passed a bill in 2006 to curb its carbon emissions. More likely, passage of the anti-global-warming law was the proof that innovative entrepreneurs were seeking of the state's commitment to changing its energy profile.

Massachusetts should learn from California's example and pass the energy bill that is now in a conference committee. Senator Michael Morrissey of Quincy and Representative Brain Dempsey of Haverhill are leading the negotiations.

The signs from Washington offer little hope that the U.S. Senate will pass a filibuster-proof bill limiting greenhouse gas emissions. This makes it all the more important that states like Massachusetts lead the way in curbing such emissions.

Both the House and Senate versions of the state's energy bill give top priority to requiring the state's electric and gas utilities to invest first in efficiency gains before turning to new production as they balance supply and demand. Not only does this ensure no increases in emissions, it also saves ratepayers money. Generating new electricity is typically four times as costly as conservation. Under the bill, electric utilities would have to get 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025.

There are differences between the two bills. The Senate sets a commendably tougher standard for proposals for gasified coal as a favored alternative energy technology. The state has no business giving a competitive edge to any power source that emits more carbon than the cleanest-burning natural-gas plant. The final version should also leave open the door for renewable energy imports, such as wind or water power from Canada, if they are price-competitive with in-state renewables.

Governor Patrick has enlisted Massachusetts in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which sets up a cap and trade system to reduce electric utilities' carbon emissions. California's global warming bill extends that approach to the entire state economy. A global warming bill pending in the Massachusetts Legislature would set this state on a similar course, but its goal for emission reductions is extremely ambitious.

States can attract more companies with breakthrough technology by setting high standards for clean energy. In the year after California passed its global warming bill, it gained $1.8 billion in new clean energy investments, more than 48 percent of the US total. Massachusetts is at risk of ceding this burgeoning industry to California. For economic reasons as well as environmental ones, the state needs a solid energy bill.


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