Faith leaders outline energy reform goals

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STATE HOUSE — Religious leaders and members of faith communities from across Massachusetts rallied at the State House on Tuesday, urging lawmakers to take action on energy reforms that would emphasize clean, renewable power and benefit vulnerable communities.

With the House poised to take up solar power legislation before formal sessions end for the year next week, members of the Massachusetts Interfaith Coalition for Climate Action called for a move away from fossil fuels.

“We are here today because we know that there are crucial decisions to be made,” said Mariama White-Hammond, a minister in training at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Jamaica Plain. “There are decisions that will impact not just the here and now, but generations to come. And so we are here, in these hallowed halls, because we are ready to start a revolution.”

The coalition, an interfaith group formed last month with members of more than 60 religious and spiritual organizations, has identified a series of issues they want see addressed in upcoming energy legislation.

Members are asking lawmakers to lift caps on solar energy and strengthen incentives for the development of community and low-income solar installations; invest in offshore wind development, with a focus on communities where coal-fired power plants have closed or are closing; ensure that energy efficiency programs reach low- and moderate-income homes and speakers of languages other than English; increase accountability for gas leaks and reject ratepayer funding for new natural gas pipelines.

Rep. Lori Ehrlich, a Marblehead Democrat who has sponsored bills this session addressing gas leaks and mining, told the coalition members they brought an important voice to the debate over energy policy.

“Policy decisions made in this building by virtue of who shows up to advocate so often revolve around other factors, such as cost and feasibility,” Ehrlich said. “Well, those things are important for sure, but what you bring to the table today is important, too: morality.”

The coalition’s call for energy reform comes at a time when legislators are looking to update laws and diversify the state’s energy mix to reduce carbon emissions, control costs and fulfill the demand for power.

Gov. Charlie Baker has sponsored bills that would authorize long-term contracts for hydroelectric power (S 1965) and that would lift the cap on solar net metering (H 3724), which determines how many megawatts of commercial and public-sector solar energy can be sold back to the grid at retail rates.

A comprehensive climate change adaptation bill (S 1979) passed by the Senate also includes a move to lift the net metering cap. Speaker Robert DeLeo has said a net metering bill could emerge from the House before the Legislature breaks for winter recess on Nov. 18.

— Written by Katie Lannan

Copyright State House News Service