Friday, May 18, 2001
Fargo looks at energy distribution, education, innovation
Hot on the heels of a winter of staggering home fuel costs, and with the California electricity crisis emblazoned in the headlines, state senator Susan Fargo said bluntly, "We have no energy policy in Massachusetts." But she clearly has no fear of a crisis here of California proportions. "We have a better deregulation bill," she said. In the near term, however, she would not speculate on whether oil, natural gas or electricity will be the best bet for cost and reliability for homeowners concerned about home heating.
In an interview with the Mosquito, Fargo, who has just started her second two-year appointment as chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, spoke about the need to give attention to energy distribution systems while focusing on the longer-term issues of education and innovation.
While energy costs will continue to escalate, and demand for power is higher than it was a decade ago, Fargo sees a need for education and a better definition of the problems and solutions. She recently formed the Energy Caucus on Beacon Hill to provide legislators an opportunity to understand the wide-ranging complexities of the energy issue. The non-partisan Energy Caucus aims to bring together legislators, academic researchers and the technology and business communities to brainstorm answers to the current energy situation.
At the inaugural meeting of the Energy Caucus held on May 7, two experts from the MIT Energy Laboratory presented a lecture on "Creating a Consumer Friendly Electricity Market in New England." Speakers Marija Ilic and Stephen Connors educated members of the energy, natural resources, agriculture, health care and governmental regulations committees on how the spot market works in pricing electricity, whether electricity generators can artificially manipulate costs and how to expedite delivery from one regional power system to another. "On a regular basis," the presenters noted, "both New England and California require electricity imported from Canada to meet their system-wide demand."
Echoing the increasingly regional nature of the energy distribution system, Fargo summarized, "Having what you need when you need it and where you need it," is the essence of an energy policy. Last year, she recalled, the state appropriated $24 million to help low income families pay for home heating oil. One reason for the high price was that barges could not deliver the oil because the Cape Cod Canal had frozen.
Another big part of the education campaign is training in conservation. When the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs sent representatives into schools to talk about conservation methods, the rates of recycling in those communities rose. "The children shamed their parents into recycling," observed Fargo.
Fargo also highlighted several new bills which offer different solutions to the state's energy problems. One bill would encourage the new technology of "biomass," which involves the combustion of wood byproducts to produce energy as an alternative to heating oil. Another bill would investigate harnessing wind power in Boston Harbor. Under "An Act to Promote an Energy Efficient Massachusetts" all state agencies would implement energy efficiency measures so that by 2011 there is a 20 percent reduction from 2000 levels of energy consumption per unit of output.
A bill sponsored by Fargo would offer up to an eight percent tax credit for the costs of constructing "green" buildings. For a building to be considered green, it must meet standards for energy efficiency, indoor air quality and building materials. For example, energy use for new buildings must not exceed 65 percent of the use permitted under the Massachusetts Building Code, and there are strict standards on the use of recycled materials, renewable source material and maximum levels of toxicity.
With organizations like the MIT Energy Laboratory and a reputation for high-powered academics, Massachusetts is poised to be on the cutting edge of new forms of energy, said Fargo. The senator, who also serves as the vice chair of the Senate Committee on Science and Technology, wants to see the state encourage entrepeneurship in this area and pointed out a small business incentive recently awarded to a woman who is developing a fuel cell which produces water as a byproduct. "Not only should we be able to keep our own energy needs in order," said Fargo, "but we should be able to market to the rest of the world."
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