By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON -- Gov. Deval Patrick will make a major investment during his last year in office to try to protect the state's energy infrastructure and guard critical roadways and coastal communities from what the administration sees as heightened risks from global warming.
Patrick on Tuesday will commit $52 million to support his multi-pronged approach to preparing for climate change, including a $40 million municipal grant program to be administered by the Department of Energy Resources to help cities and towns steel electric transmission and distribution systems from the impacts of severe weather.
The grants will be paid for with money from retail electricity suppliers who make alternative compliance payments to the state if they have insufficient renewable energy credits required under the state plan to force investment in renewable energy sources.
Another $10 million will be directed to coastal infrastructure, including $1 million available through the Office of Coastal Zone Management in grants for municipalities to reduce the risks associated with coastal storms and sea level rise, such as flooding.
The governor plans to detail his administration's approach on Tuesday morning at 11 a.m. at the New England Aquarium in Boston. Counting five major storms since 2010, including Superstorm Sandy, Patrick will announce plans to partner with UMass Amherst's Northeast Climate Science Center to appoint a state climatologist to help the state and communities understand the risks.
While Patrick plans use his executive authority to implement much of the plan, about $2 million in spending for transportation vulnerability assessments and public health initiatives will require legislative approval.
Under the new action plan, the Department of Public Utilities will work with utilities to speed efforts to "accelerate storm hardening and deploy micro-grids and resiliency projects for transmission and distribution." The administration will also take inventory of the vulnerabilities of electricity generation facilities throughout the state and their preparedness plans in case of storms or disaster.
"Recent storms and related outages serve as a reminder that it is critical we secure our energy grid to endure more extreme weather patterns," Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan said in a statement. "I will work with my team, my colleagues across the Administration and stakeholders to act quickly and responsibly to harden our energy sources."
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation will similarly assess the vulnerabilities to extreme weather of its facilities and adopt "climate adaptation plans" by 2015, while the Department of Conservation and Recreation will rate the levels of exposure of its parkways and roadways susceptible to flooding during storm surge high tides.
Part of Patrick's approach to preparing for climate change includes a charge for Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency planners to advise about hazards present for smart growth and sustainable developments. MEMA will start sharing its hazard data for use in building assessments, according to the administration.
The governor will also direct the Department of Public Health to develop additional programs and strategies to assist local boards of health with the impacts of climate change. Part of that planning will include an analysis and monitoring of disease in oysters and mosquitoes.
Suggesting climate change may be playing a role, the administration noted that the state experienced a rise in mosquito-borne Eastern Equine Encephalitis in the summer of 2012 that led to aerial spraying in some communities, while oyster beds in 2013 had to be closed for the first time due to vibrio parahaemolyticus.
The Department of Environmental Protection will work with communities to make sure infrastructure associated with delivering potable water to residents is protected as best it can be from natural disaster.