State organization calls for 100 percent renewable energy in Massachusetts by 2035

For Ben Hellerstein, state director of advocacy organization Environment Massachusetts, the state is moving in a good direction with regard to renewable energy, but it needs to do more.

“Even being number one is not enough,” he said, adding that Massachusetts is ranked seventh in the nation for new solar projects and first for energy efficiency.

Hellerstein was among the speakers at the Hitchcock Center in Amherst on Tuesday, July 24, promoting a 100 percent renewable energy agenda his organization hopes to pitch to the winner of the 2018 governor’s race in Massachusetts.

Among the goals of the agenda are committing to power the entire state with renewable electricity by 2035, and to transition heat, transportation, and other sectors to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

“Today we have more than 240 times as much solar as we did 10 years ago, and we’re poised to see similar growth in offshore wind,” he said.

Hellerstein sees the potential to produce 19 times as much electricity as the state uses through offshore wind alone, he said.

Components of the plan involve eliminating the caps on solar net metering, which has stalled some local solar projects, implement the state’s commitment to 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind, and raise that to 5,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2035. There would also be measures requiring energy storage, mandatory solar on new buildings with suitable solar exposure, establishing community-owned clean energy projects and municipal light plants, and eliminating subsidies for fossil fuel generation, nuclear, or gas pipelines.

“It’s time for Massachusetts to go big on clean energy,” Hellerstein said.

Julie Johnson, executive director at the Hitchcock Center, also spoke at the meeting, the organization’s recently completed headquarters, in which the event took place, was recently completed. The organization will seek certification as a living building under the living building challenge.

Only 17 buildings across the world have achieved this distinction, which involves being energy self-sufficient, treating all water used on site, and more intangible concepts, like connecting occupants with community, according to Johnson.

“We felt like it is an extremely important step to do this with severe environmental challenges we face today, including climate change,” she said.

As part of the event, Johnson guided participants through a tour of the Hitchcock Center building, which collects rainwater, is heated with electric air source heat pumps, and uses composting toilets to capture waste. The building is still connected to town water as well as the electric grid, but Johnson said there is a plan to disconnect from town water soon.

Anne Perkins, a representative of Mothers Out Front, said she worked with Amherst’s Town Meeting to pass a bylaw calling for buildings that get replaced in Amherst to be replaced by zero net energy buildings. Sam Titelman discussed his work in creating local renewable energy production in the city of Northampton and the towns of Amherst and Pelham.

University of Massachusetts Amherst rising junior Kaitlyn Mitchell, who is working through MassPIRG to get UMass administration to commit to running on 100 percent renewable energy, also spoke at the event.

Mitchell said that 5,000 students have already signed on to the idea, eclipsing the organization’s goal of 25 percent of the student body.

“This has been an amazing issue to be working on; I can’t wait to spend the rest of my two years at UMass working on it,” she said.

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at deisen@valleyadvocate.com.

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