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Leonardo Angiulo: How State Law Can Be Used To Promote Clean Energy

Monday, June 09, 2014


This past week, one of the last coal fired power plants in Massachusetts announced it was closing.  By coincidence the Environmental Protection Agency, aka the EPA, also announced a proposal this week to mandate the cutting of carbon emissions from existing power plants.  Such regulations are in furtherance of President Obama's efforts to change the way our country's power production affects the global environment.  Whether, or not, an individual perceives carbon emission as a problem depends on multiple factors but opinions are typically strong.  What many people may not know is that Massachusetts laws currently allow each resident to choose where they source their electricity from.  

Without much exaggeration, the issue of how power gets generated divides people into three distinct camps.  The first see significant environment harm caused by energy sources like coal.  That harm begins with the mining, continues during the processing, and culminates in the exhaust from the final burning.  Some groups, such as the Sierra Club, see strengthened EPA regulations as an unqualified victory by promoting health and growing the economy through renewable energy projects.  It's also no secret that many people link carbon emission and air pollution.  The chemical poisoning of the public drinking water in West Virginia this past January, however, is another reminder that even the processing of carbon fuels like coal can have a high environmental cost.

The second group considers the current modes of energy production as a vital part of our economy that should not be cast aside based on speculation.  The American Coal Council presents itself as the voice of an industry and disputes major assertions of their opponents, such as the ability of alternative energies to keep up with demand or the efficacy of clean coal technology, on their website.  Other associations, like the United Mine Workers of America, are concerned by the idea of their way of life ending. In the short-term, if we transition away from coal energy less people would work in mines, resulting in some families having less income and some small businesses in mining towns closing.       

The third group of people either haven't considered the issues enough to have an opinion or don't care.  

Those that do care, however, should know that Massachusetts regulations currently provide them with an opportunity to act on their beliefs.  Our state's laws are structured in such a way that residential and commercial electricity bills are comprised of delivery fees and generation fees.  The delivery fee is the cost to send energy through, and maintain, infrastructure like power lines.  The generation fee reflects the payment due to the entity that sources the electricity you eventually receive.  Massachusetts has been a competitive supply state since the passage of Chapter 164 of the Acts of 1997.  This means every resident and business has the right to choose who they purchase their electricity from and, therefore, how that energy is generated.

The language of the Chapter 164 presents several bases for its enactment.  Of note is the legislature's interest in encouraging competitive pricing and opening the market to new and improved technologies.  While the bill affected several individual laws the overall impact is clear: if you have an opinion about how electricity should be generated in the future you should act now.

Interestingly, if you don't exercise your rights to competitive supply the result is your distribution company gets to choose for you.  If you happen to fall into that third group of people who don't sweat this stuff then feel free to carry on.  If, however, you care then don't hesitate to speak up.  With your wallet. 

Leonardo Angiulo is an Attorney with the firm of Glickman, Sugarman, Kneeland & Gribouski in Worcester handling legal matters across the Commonwealth. He can be reached by email at [email protected]


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