Deleo doubts omnibus energy bill before budget launches

Solar Energy

BOSTON (STATE HOUSE) – The top lawmaker in the House said he has told both sides negotiating a solar energy bill that he wants it done before an omnibus energy bill. House Speaker Robert DeLeo on Wednesday also said he doesn’t believe the House will have time to take up an omnibus bill before work intensifies on the state budget.

Two varying versions (H 3854/S 2058) of legislation setting forth conditions for commercial and public-sector solar projects entered a closed-door conference committee of the House and Senate in November with the solar industry favoring the Senate version.

DeLeo on Wednesday told reporters he wants agreement on the long-stalled solar bill before getting started on a bill that he has said would encourage the competitive procurement of Canadian hydroelectricity and offshore wind.

“It’s my desire as I think I might have said before, to get this done before we take up the omnibus bill, so I think I’ve made that clear to both sides, so hopefully that might spur the desire to get it done sooner rather than later,” DeLeo said after a caucus of House Democrats.

During its only formal session of the week, the House on Wednesday unanimously approved a $200 million bill to pay for local road and bridge work and adjourned just after 1:30 p.m. without taking up bills on its lengthy session calendar.

It has been one year since the limit on incentives for homeowners and others to produce and sell solar power back to the grid was reached for customers served by National Grid. Since then, 550 solar projects have been stalled in Massachusetts and $618 million of investments have been put on hold, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Lawmakers are traditionally reluctant to discuss the particulars of inter-branch negotiations in the six-member conference committees. DeLeo said Wednesday he senses some progress.

“I think they’re at the stage where certain things that were not previously agreed to are being agreed to now,” DeLeo said. He said, “We’re going in the right direction.”

Lobbyists for utilities that prefer more modest compensation for solar electricity have been a regular presence in the State House, and solar advocates have regularly sought to highlight the benefits of solar and risks of the Bay State losing the environmentally friendly business.

On March 14, DeLeo said he expected to have an omnibus energy bill to present on the House floor sometime in April.

House Ways and Means Vice Chairman Stephen Kulik previously said he expects the House budget to be out April 13 with debate taking place the week of April 25.

Approaching $40 billion, the budget debate hogs the attention of lawmakers, and DeLeo was unsure whether there would be time for a sweeping energy bill ahead of discussion of the annual spending bill.

“I’m getting to doubt that at this point. I’m getting to doubt that,” DeLeo said. “With the budget rollout and everything else – and people putting amendments together – I doubt we could do that.”

Copyright 2016 State House News Service

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