Mass. Trust Fund Faces US$35 million Transfer

The Massachusetts Senate voted unanimously Thursday to transfer US$35 million from the Renewable Energy Trust Fund to help close that state’s massive budget gap.

Boston, Massachusetts – February 14, 2003 [SolarAccess.com] Advocates for Renewable Energy and trust funds in general are calling the move – and the potential local and national precedent – outrageous. The RE trust fund has collected more than US$160 million since it began receiving funds from a small tax on electric bills in 1998. A lawsuit delayed the beginning of distributing funds to solar, wind, energy efficiency and green building projects, but the fund’s board has been rapidly allotting money to projects in recent months. Although concerned that the transfer may set a precedent and clearly preferring that the money not be removed from the trust, the fund’s director said a one-time transfer was something the fund could survive. “It was made clear by (Senate Ways and Means committee) chairman Murray, it’s not an attack on the trust,” said Robert Pratt, MRET’s director. “The positive thing is that the trust is moving pretty quickly. We’re achieving a great amount, earning credibility both statewide and nationally.” Reaction from others close to the fund was not as tempered. “I think it diminishes the trustworthiness of people that pay these extra surcharges on their utility bills,” said Christopher R. Anderson, president of the Massachusetts High Technology Council and member of MRET’s advisory board. “It diminishes what the fund will do.” Anderson said that no trust funds should be the “target for legislative diversions,” taking money away from its intended purpose. Seth Kaplan, a senior attorney and the director of the Clean Air and Climate Change Project at the Conservation Law Foundation called the proposed transfer a mistake. He said the trust has grown to such a large amount because of a disciplined approach in spending and the initial law suit.” “They shouldn’t be punished because they were disciplined,” said Kaplan, calling Pratt’s leadership of the fund dynamic. “They have been waiting for the right opportunities.” “He (Pratt) has put them on an aggressive footing to make Renewable Energy happen in New England,” Kaplan said. “He’s conscious of commercial realities and wants to create a real industry with structural demand and structural supply.” The budget process is far from over. The Senate and House’s proposed budgets (the House budget does not include the diversion of funds) will be debated in a conference committee before final votes and an eventual trip to the desk of new Gov. Mitt Romney. In the mean time, Pratt is confident the fund will survive despite this distraction. “I don’t think anyone wants to take us apart,” Pratt said. “Even the Senate sent us the message that they think what we’re doing is great. I don’t feel that our core mission will be effected.”

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