Clean Energy

There are only a few ways I can think of to take action against climate change. One way is to educate others about the real and immediate threat of climate change. But the only action that will ultimately affect how much carbon goes into our atmosphere, and how soon, is burning – or emitting – fewer “greenhouse” gases (ghg). It means using (and wasting) less conventional energy, and being more sparing and efficient about what we do use.


A side benefit of reduced emissions, whether from smokestacks or tailpipes – is improved air quality.  Cleaning up our fossil fuel use habits can also benefit water quality – whether it’s making less plastic, or phasing out hydraulic fracturing of natural gas and oil. Admittedly, there are other water pollutants, but I’m going to keep all “environmental health” topics here as an organizational principle. And while there are other contaminants in our soil, food supply, and generally around us, many common toxins are, or are made from, petrochemicals.

Testifying on bills to safeguard the future of our land and water

On Tuesday, April 16th, the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture held a public hearing at which I testified in support of two bills. One of these was my bill banning the use of the shale gas extraction technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," from the Commonwealth. Using a set of specially-created maps, I showed members of the committee the location of the Hartford Basin, our state's only known shale gas reserve, juxtaposed with the public and private, surface and subsurface water resources of that area, which is mainly east of the Connecticut River. Quabbin Reservoir, where the drinking water supply for most of Greater Boston originates, is just twelve miles from the edge of the Hartford Basin, and would be protected by my bill from any efforts to extract petroleum there.


At the same hearing, I spoke in favor of the Comprehensive Adaptation Management Plan in response to climate change (CAMP) bill, filed in the House by Rep. Frank Smizik of Brookline. The bill would require the state's environmental and planning agencies to develop a plan to prepare for and, where possible, mitigate the likely outcomes of climate change, including rising sea levels, coastal erosion and flooding, extreme droughts, and related threats to agriculture, and public health and safety. The MA Senate engrossed this bill five times in the last session; I remain incredulous that the House has been so resistant to passing this measure into law  - maybe Scott Lehigh should talk to House leadership?

May 31, 2017

Our Energy Policy for the 21st Century, and the Long-Anticipated Energy Bill

Many of you have emailed or spoken to me about what should - and should not - be in the "omnibus" energy bill which is now being prepared by the legislature's Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy (TUE.) Since there seems to be considerable uncertainty about my position, I want to make it clear that I have been deeply involved in energy policy discussions, even before this 2015-2016 legislative session. I have been a consistent advocate for renewable energy, especially from solar, off-shore wind, and geothermal sources.


I have consistently voiced opposition to the construction or expansion of natural gas pipelines, which are manifestly unneeded. I have particularly opposed proposals - such as ones now pending before the MA Department of Public Utilities (DPU, against which I have testified) - to allow electricity consumers to be charged for the cost of pipeline expansion. I am utterly against any provision in the upcoming energy legislation which would authorize the electricity distribution companies to make such charges.


I've been advocating that the TUE bill include a strong mandate for repair of natural gas leaks. Efficiency is one of the most cost-effective ways to assure reliable supply, while meeting carbon emission goals - and as the HEET maps show, our gas distribution infrastructure is far from efficient. Also, we're barely scratched the surface of efficiency and de-carbonization in our transportation sector - a subject on which the House and Senate Committees on Global Warming and Climate Change will be holding an Oversight hearing on Thursday, June 7, 2016 - please contact my office for further details.

May 16, 2016

Mothers Out Front

On Saturday morning, September 10, our local branch of the organization Mothers Out Front held an engaging community event in East Somerville. I was delighted to join these climate change activists, who talked to passers-by about how leaks from natural gas pipes drive up greenhouse gas emissions, and the need to repair these leaks. Many thanks to Mothers Out Front - Mobilizing for a Livable Climate, to HEET (Home Energy Efficiency Team) for documenting the gas leak problem, and to my colleagues Pat Jehlen and Lance Davis for pursuing this important work.

September 12, 2016

Failing to Raise the Cap on Solar Net Metering

The Background:

 In 2008, our legislature adopted laws committing MA to lower its carbon emissions (the "Global Warming Solutions Act"), through actions that would increase our use of renewable energy (the "Green Communities Act"). To optimize the production of electric power through solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, our legislation required electricity distribution companies to purchasesurplus solar energy from producers at the retail rate (what consumers pay for electricity.) The ability ofsolar producers - including homeowners with rooftop solar - to pay a "net" electric bill (the cost of the power you purchased, minus cost of power you sold back to the grid) is how "net metering" works.


Since 2008, solar energy has taken off in Massachusetts. For a while, we were the number three solar producer in the nation -+ though we've slipped to fourth place. While our net metering law unleashed demand for solar PV installations, it also set caps on the amount of solar energy that electricity distribution companies would have to buy back from solar energy generators in their geographic areas.


When caps are reached, it can become impossible for solar generators to sell electricity back to the grid, squandering the many benefits of distributed solar power generation. Besides being free from carbon emissions, solar power allows us to diversify our energy supply, making us less dependent on expensive spot market energy when demand spikes. As storage battery technology continues to improve, the benefits of solar  will only multiply.


Where we are now - and how we got here:

In July of 2014, the legislature raised the net metering cap by a small amount, to avoid reaching caps and allow the continued expansion of solar. On March 31, 2015, the cap was reached for commercial-scale solar projects in National Grid's territory of 171 cities and towns. I spoke personally to Gov. Baker on that day about the need to raise the cap; he was noncommittal then, but subsequently took a public position opposing the raising of net metering caps. In July, 2015, the Senate engrossed a Climate Change Adaptation bill  with an amendment eliminating net metering caps. The House but took up the Senate net metering amendment (disposing of Climate Change Adaptation in the process), and released its own net metering bill on November 17, 2015.


Why I voted against the House bill:

House members (myself included) filed 27 amendments to the net metering bill; adopting even a few would have improved the House bill in important ways - but no such amendments were adopted, and I voted against the bill. The House bill proposed a tiny increase (2%) to the cap, which would have likely been used up in just a few months. Worse, the bill would have changed the payment for solar power from the retail rate to the wholesale rate - a difference of approximately 13 cents per kilowatt hour - undermining the economics of solar generation. Although the Senate, in conference committee, quickly agreed to lower the cap increase to 2%, no agreement could be reached between the branches, and the net metering cap remains in place.


As State House News Service has reported, "[c]ome January the pressure will ratchet back up on conferees to strike a deal. The disagreement over solar is serving as a prelude to a broader debate next year over energy policies. Offshore wind and Canadian hydroelectricity interests are angling for a piece of the energy mix as lawmakers weigh price, reliability and demand issues that will be exacerbated with the Pilgrim Nuclear Plant shutdown."


What can individual voters do?

I know that many of you support renewable energy, and the use of net metering - many of you have contacted me about this issue.  Here are some things you can do:


  1. Stay informed - the MassSolar website, is a good resource, where you can sign up for its email list for updates; many environmental organizations also provide good information.

  2. Continue to let me know where you stand and what you're thinking.

  3. Contact people you know in other districts, explain why this is important, and ask them to contact their legislators.

  4. Let Governor Baker know you support solar and other forms of clean energy. 

January 26, 2016

State Representative Denise Provost to Join Delegation Meeting on Clean Energy and Climate Change

State Representative Denise Provost (D- Somerville) has been invited by the British Consulate in Washington, D.C. to join a government delegation travelling to Great Britain in early January. The purpose of the trip is for state legislators from the United States to learn about initiatives by the United Kingdom (UK) and European Union (EU) to address climate change through a variety of legislative initiatives. Provost, representing Massachusetts, will join state representatives and state senators from Maine, Michigan, Washington, and Oregon for an intensively scheduled program of meetings, briefings, and site visits.


“Massachusetts is already a national leader in clean energy and promoting the green economy,” said Representative Provost, “but there’s always more to learn about achieving a sustainable future. Britain, for instance, hosts the world’s largest offshore wind farm, as well as many based on land, even though their population density is far greater than ours. I think we have much to learn from their success.”


Great Britain’s Department of Energy and Climate Change will provide detailed information on its “Green Deal” for energy efficiency; grid modernization and electricity market reform; its Green Investment Bank; low carbon economic benefits, and transportation sector transformation programs. One highlight of the trip will be a visit to the port city of Bristol, which was recently awarded the prestigious title of European Green Capital 2015, for its extraordinary efforts to become a “green” city. “Since my roots are in city government, I’m especially looking forward to finding out what Bristol is doing to make such an impact,” Provost explained.


 For more information about the British government’s key policies aimed at combating climate change, improving energy efficiency, and increasing the use of renewable energy sources, see:

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) also has several influential reports on maximizing the green economy in the UK:

December 01, 2014

Keeping Massachusetts on a Clean Energy Path

Since 2008, Massachusetts has been a national leader in lowering its greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions and making the switch from burning dirtier fuels to incentivizing the development and use of renewable energy resources. We've had notable success in this endeavor, ranking number one in the nation for energy efficiency for the last four years, and number three, nationally, for generation of solar photovoltaic energy. With the change of state administrations, however, there are signs that our new Governor may be backing off from our state's clean energy leadership, so I've redoubled my efforts to keep Massachusetts committed to the cleanest sources feasible for generating a sufficient supply of the energy we need, for energy bills which continue to be below the national average.



Expanding Our Lead in Energy Efficiency


Our electricity utilities have presented the administration with a far less robust three year energy efficiency plan than we should be embracing. I was one of several legislators who recently signed on to a letter to the Massachusetts Energy Efficiency Advisory Council (EEAC) asking that more ambitious goals be adopted. I also went personally to the EEAC hearing on May 28, 2015, to testify in support of a strong commitment to efficiency.


I asked the Council to develop programs to allow tenants to access energy efficiency measures in the dwellings that they rent. In a cities like Somerville, where such a large percentage of the residents do not own their homes, energy efficiency programs for rental properties could have a huge impact, making it possible for tenants to have more efficient boilers, burners, water heaters and appliances, as well as badly needed insulation of walls and windows. Such programs would make life at home more comfortable for many, while reducing utility bills, and combatting the scourge of "fuel poverty," so prevalent among the elderly.



Continuing to Grow Solar Energy


One of the two main mechanisms Massachusetts has used to encourage the adoption of solar photovoltaic (pv) energy is "net metering," a mechanism that allows generators of solar energy to sell it back to the electricity supply grid. The potential for such sales is not unlimited, however - each of the electrical distribution utilities has a cap on the amount of energy it has to buy back within its service area.


On March 31, 2015, this cap was reached in the National Grid territory of 171 communities, out of the 351 in the state ( ). Not only does hitting the cap put a damper on expansion of solar with the National Grid territory, it discourages our strong and (up to now) growing solar energy industry. I was terribly disheartened, at the June 2, 2015 legislative hearing, to hear Gov. Baker's Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Matt Beaton, announce the administration's opposition to raising the net metering cap - my testimonywas in support of lifting it.



Reducing Costly, Damaging Gas Leaks


Somerville has a problem with gas - natural gas, leaking from old pipes. While most are not of the magnitude which can cause buildings to go up into fireballs, leaking natural gas is still a big problem. It can kill street trees and other vegetation; consumers pay for it, though we don't get to use it, and it is a potent greenhouse gas - practically pure methane, which has far more potent short term effects than carbon dioxide, as a climate change driver.


A locally-conducted study shows that Somerville has more gas leaks than Cambridge does [maps of the leaks]. According to the Home Energy Efficiency Team, the cost per gas-using household could be as much as $102 per year for the lost gas. Pending legislation H.2870 ( would require more prompt attention to chronic leaks which don't hot the 'threat to public safety' threshold.  A lot of credit goes to Alderman William White for bringing before the Somerville Board of Alderman a resolution in support of this legislation.

June 09, 2015

Another Threat to Smart Energy Policy: Fast Tracking International Trade Agreements

Elizabeth Warren is right to oppose "fast track" authority for the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP). These secretly-negotiated treaties are accessible to big corporations, their lawyers and lobbyists. While our Congress people are allowed to see the documents, they may not copy or photograph them, or take notes - what we know of these agreements is mostly courtesy of leaked text (these leaks, I'm grateful for.)


To get a sense of what is so troubling about these big trade deals, look at the testimony I gave in April to the Office of the US Trade Representative (within the Office of the President), at a Stakeholder Forum in New York. The following day, Somerville Neighborhood News did this story; you may also read the text of two letters (May 10 and May 25) I sent to the editors of the Boston Globe (neither was printed.) My second letter describes a letter sent by a bi-partisan group of 85 state legislators from 36 states to leaders of the U.S. House and Senate.  If anyone is interested in reading the original letter, reach out and I can send it to you.  For more information on how trade agreements impact the environment, visit the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators website:

June 09, 2015

My Additional Testimony on Proposed Somerville Zoning

 was pleased to see in the comments from the public that many of you noted that the proposed zoning does not significantly further Somerville's goals for new, green, open space. This is an important point to have made to the Board of Aldermen. I personally can't support any new zoning which does not promote such a goals.


Finding myself with a little time before the date given for the close of public comments, I submitted a few further remarks about Somerville's zoning proposal. This time, I focused more on what I would have wanted to see in the proposed ordinance.Once again, my remarks were not comprehensive:


March 27, 2015

Additional Thoughts on Proposed Zoning


In the time remaining before your comment period ends, I would like to raise some questions about the way the proposed new zoning ordinance's contemplated interplay between Somerville's built environment, the natural world, and the city's energy and environmental future:


1) Open space, gardening, "urban agriculture"

Somerville is supposedly a city which values "urban agriculture," yet the new zoning will allow even greater density than presently exists in the region's densest city. The shrinking of setbacks and allowance of more building height in even the most protected residential neighborhoods will transform us, over time, into a city without yards. Rising heights, from closer-together, denser buildings (no FAR) will deepen our shadows. Lack of arable land and natural light will render us virtually without gardens. This will be a terrible loss, especially given our paucity of public open space.

 What thought was given to the conditions necessary for growing plant life - including trees - in Somerville? Were shadow studies conducted, to determine how much light will be lost, at maximum allowed build outs, on public and private land - especially private homes abutting districts which allow substantial height? Has anyone calculated the amount of unpaved land that will be left, at maximum build out?


2) Water use, drainage, runoff, flooding

Flooding and improper drainage have long been problems in Somerville. There seems to be no enforcement of current zoning restrictions on paving private property, or of illicit connections to city sewers and storm drains. Additional building and paving have worsened flooding of adjacent basements, and sometimes introduced such flooding. The overwhelming of storm drains during our increasingly heavy rain events floods streets, and has caused considerable damage to private property. It is widely understood that a storm surge at high tide - such as that which New York experienced with Hurricane Sandy - would cause considerable flooding along the Mystic River.


What modeling has been done of storm surge scenarios along the Mystic? How does zoning in the potential flood zone area reflect planning for flood resiliency? What studies have been made of the capacity of the city's sewers and storm drains to carry the additional water usage and surface runoff, at different build out scenarios - including maximum build out? Has there been any though of where residents will put snow, as the area of privately owned opened land diminishes?


3) Energy Needs/ Renewables

There is a significant missed opportunity here to set out clearly the requirements for the permitting of solar panels and other renewable energy infrastructure, to replace the slow and unpredictable process that residents complain of now. New roofs should be required to have solar PV panels, to be "green" roofs (built to support soil and plant life), as the City of Paris is now requiring. At minimum, new roofs should be made of white roofing materials, to counter "urban heat island" effect. The use of geothermal heating and cooling, and other accepted technologies, should be a condition of certain developments. The provision of electric car charging stations should be mandatory whenever developers are providing new parking; there should also be requirements for providing charging stations when municipal facilities are constructed.


These comments are more suggestive than exhaustive, but there are sources, I'm sure, for bold "best practices" when it comes to zoning codes that adapt to emerging conditions. 

April 10, 2015

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