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Committee hears testimony on possible Mass Save overhaul

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(The Center Square) – The structure of Mass Save, a statewide program that involves traditional electric and natural gas utilities and energy efficiency service providers, could be reorganized if a recently introduced bill in the Massachusetts Legislature is adopted.

Senate Bill 2082, proposing changes to the program, was one of multiple pieces of legislation taken up Monday as the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy held a five-hour hearing.

Sen. Michael Barrett, D-Lexington, presenter of the bill and committee co-chair, said the reorganization effort dovetails into an attempt to establish a statewide clean heating standard.

Several speakers spoke to the committee about Mass Save, including residents, environmental advocates, and utility representatives.

Mark Tajima, founding partner of Chicopee-based B.Alpha Construction LLC, participates in Mass Save. He cautioned lawmakers not to cause unintended consequences by tinkering with the program’s framework.

“I will say that the current Mass Save program is working,” Tajima said. “While it’s not perfect, it’s achieving very good outcomes. I feel that it is unnecessary to disrupt the current Mass Save delivery model.”

But others, including Pittsfield resident Judy Gitelson, said reforms would be warranted. Gitelson cited a litany of concerns and challenges, including delayed energy audits that are a fundamental part of the program and rebate disbursements.

While Gitelson said there are merits to having the utility providers at the table, she urged broader representation with Mass Save, stating, “I still feel it would be good to have a different kind of executive committee.”

A panel of the Mass Save utility representatives spoke to the committee. The testifiers included Maggie Downey, administrator of the Cape Light Compact; Kate Peters, director of residential energy efficiency at Eversource; and Chris Porter, director of customer energy management with National Grid.

“Our principle goal … is ensuring an energy transition as quickly as possible that happens affordably and equitably,” Porter said.

Peters said, “We are committed to helping the state achieve its climate goals. We want to make sure the programs offered to our customers are valued by them.”

As the future of Mass Save is considered, Downey urged lawmakers to consider low- to moderate-income households.

“I don’t want to see the same mistake made with solar made with electrification,” Downey said, asserting high-income earners, in general, shifted to solar power, while low- to moderate-income households had fewer opportunities to do so.

In addition to Mass Save, several speakers at Monday’s hearing weighed in on Senate Bill 538 and companion legislation, House Bill 777, concerning clean lighting and phasing out of fluorescent bulbs with forthcoming sunset dates in favor of LED.

Sen. Susan Moran, D-Falmouth, the presenter of SB 538, said the bill is designed to curtail the use of fluorescent lighting, which contains traces of mercury that has been found to pollute natural resources.

“We know the significant public health threat this poses,” Moran said.

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