Renewables make $en$e

The storms along the Massachusetts coast this past winter, including Beverly, make it increasingly obvious that rising sea levels are going to cost us money, one way or another, either in prevention, resiliency, insurance, or destruction.

Denying climate change isn’t going to wish away these costs. The Governor’s recent bill for resiliency – which I support – shows these tangible costs. However, we also need to accelerate our switch to renewable energy and away from fossil fuels. That’s quite the challenge.

But, with every challenge, there is opportunity. Bills currently in the legislature to reduce fossil fuel use will create 10,000 to 15,000 extra jobs in Massachusetts by 2040, according to Marc Breslow. After all, Massachusetts has no fossil fuels.

Thus, the number of jobs created is bound to be greater for renewables, housed within the state, than for fossil fuels, which come from out of state. It is better for the Bay State economy to pay for jobs in Massachusetts for solar installation than to pay for jobs of oil workers in Venezuela or gas workers in Louisiana or Saudi Arabia.

The legislature is considering many reforms, including: 1. Increase the amount of renewables required of utilities by 3 percent per year, up from the current 1 percent;

2. Modernize the electric grid;

3. Increase community solar, so low-income communities can benefit from renewables;

4. Put a fee on carbon pollution with a rebate to each person and business in the Commonwealth.

The fourth reform, referred to as a carbon pollution fee and dividend, may well be the most effective method to reduce greenhouse gases. It has been used in British Columbia for a decade, with very positive results. Fossil fuel use has dropped by 10 to 15 percent, while economic growth in the province is higher than in other Canadian provinces. And it is fair.

All the money collected from the fee is simply divided among the people and businesses. No money is kept by the government.

If you use the average amount of fossil fuels for heating and driving, you would pay an extra $260 (for example) per year and you would get a rebate of $260. If you used less than the average, you would pay less, say $210, but you would still get the average rebate of $260. You would have an extra $50 at the end of the year. Low-income people tend to use less fuel than high income people, so they would tend to come out ahead. Everyone has incentive to cut fossil fuel use. Conservative economists love this idea of using market forces to correct a problem.

And now we have proposed legislation to do just that.

Some people have concerns about a carbon fee and dividend. They fear that low-income people will not have the extra money to pay the fee early in the year, waiting for the dividend at the end of the year. But in British Columbia, the people are paid part of the dividend at the start of the year – they have the money up front.

Others fear that businesses will flee the state to avoid higher energy prices. But the dividends are also paid back to businesses based on the number of workers they have. Businesses did not flee British Columbia. In fact, the carbon fee and dividend continues to be very popular politically in British Columbia, and it wouldn’t be if businesses were fleeing the province.

Remember, fossil fuel prices are artificially low, since they don’t include the cost of those fuels to the environment, including negative effects on people’s health and the future costs of flooding.

Carbon pricing just makes the energy market fairer. And it does it without raising taxes overall.

If you favor moving Massachusetts forward with renewable energy, contact our representative from Beverly, Jerry Parisella, and ask him to support the current bills in the legislature. -- Kevin O’Reilly, Mason Street, Beverly