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News Briefs: MASSPIRG foresees a viable clean energy future

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the United States has the technical potential to meet its current electricity needs more than 100 times over with solar energy and more than 10 times over with wind energy.

North Adams – On March 30, MASSPIRG students, Mayor Richard Alcombright, and representatives from Berkshire Photovoltaic Services and Berkshire Environmental Action Team met at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts to release a paper arguing that a society powered by 100 percent renewable energy, such as solar and wind, is within reach.

The paper, titled “We Have the Power: 100 percent Renewable Energy for a Clean, Thriving America,” comes as state officials consider whether to expand solar power and bring offshore wind to Massachusetts, or spend billions of dollars in public money on new fossil fuel infrastructure. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the United States has the technical potential to meet its current electricity needs more than 100 times over with solar energy and more than 10 times over with wind energy.

Since last March, caps on a key solar energy program have prevented solar installations from moving forward in nearly half of Massachusetts’ communities. The program, known as net metering, allows families, businesses, and local governments to receive fair credit for the solar energy they provide to the grid.

State leaders have yet to come to an agreement on lifting the solar caps. In November, the House of Representatives passed a widely criticized bill that would cut solar net metering credits by 75 percent for most types of projects and impose a minimum charge on solar owners while only lifting the caps by a small amount. State officials have said that they plan to consider an “omnibus” energy bill this session, which could include support for offshore wind farms to be built off the coast of Massachusetts.

The omnibus bill may also include provisions relating to controversial natural gas projects. One proposal would add charges to electric bills to pay for new gas pipelines likely to cost several billion dollars. Advocates argued that these pipelines would harm natural landscapes and increase Massachusetts’ dependence on fossil fuels, while placing added burdens on ratepayers.

The clean energy industry employs more than 98,000 people in Massachusetts. The state has consistently ranked high for solar and energy efficiency, but advocates warned that Massachusetts’ leadership status was at risk without further action from elected officials.

–E.E.

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