Massachusetts is home to almost half of New England’s residents presenting a unique challenge in the fight against the effects of climate change. With most of Massachusetts’s population focused on its east coast, the threat of rising sea levels puts coastal urban centers like Boston in immediate danger. As sea levels rise, Boston is losing a vital line of defense against coastal flooding as the cost of 21stcentury storm damages in Boston alone is projected to be between $5-100 billion. Further, important industries that Massachusetts relies on such as farming and fishing are at risk. Rising temperatures have been shown to interrupt animal migratory patterns, introduce invasive species to certain ecosystems, and have an overall harmful effect to agricultural production.
Fortunately, Massachusetts is among the leaders in environmental policy and energy efficiency. Starting in 2002, Massachusetts adopted a Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS)which set a requirement for electricity retailers to acquire increasing amounts of renewable energy with a goal of 15% by 2020 with an additional 1% each subsequent year. By 2018, 33% of the state’s electricity generation has come from nuclear and renewables with 66%from natural gas. Massachusetts is actively working on many aspects to site and develop potential offshore wind projects responsibly, reduce their risks, and cultivate jobs in the sector. In 2016, the Massachusetts legislature set the ambitious goal of requiring state’s utilities to procure 1,600 MW of offshore wind capacity and in 2018, updated that standard to 3,200 MW of offshore wind capacity by 2035.
Utility-scale solar and wind resources did not come online until 2008, but, by 2018, more than one-tenth of the state’s net generation, including small-scale generation, was produced from those two renewable resources, primarily from solar photovoltaic (PV) power. Massachusetts ranked 7thin the nation in solar PV electricity generation.
In 2008, Massachusetts passed its seminal piece of climate legislation, the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA), making it one of the first states to pass a comprehensive climate change regulatory program. The original goals set by the GWSA included a 10-25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 based on 1990 levels and an 80% reduction by 2050. As of 2018, in its 10-year progress report the 2017 greenhouse gas emissions were estimated to be 22.4% below 1990 levels, exceeding expectations.
To achieve the goals laid out in the GWSA, the state legislature passed the Green Communities Act (GCA)in 2008. The act provides a policy framework and investment into electricity production to create more affordable energy and expedite the transition to renewable energy. Under the GCA, all Massachusetts municipalities are eligible for up to $10 million/year in technical and financial supportfor the promotion of energy efficiency as long as the guidelines of the GCA are followed.
Just over a decade ago, the first mandatory carbon emissions abatement program in the US launched, with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). This market based system currently spans nine northeastern states including Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey (an initial member who left in 2012 with plans to return in 2020), New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. It’s an innovation and powerful cap-and-trade system, most recently reset to require a 30% reduction from 2020 levels by the year 2030.