SECTION 1. There shall be a special commission governed by section 2A of chapter 4 of the General Laws to conduct an investigation and study regarding the needs of agriculture in the commonwealth in the 21st century, including the viability, efficiency, climate change resiliency, and education, technical assistance and energy needs of farms and means of ensuring farms’ ability to adapt to changing economic, climate and energy conditions.
The commission shall consist of 1 member who shall be appointed by the senate president, who shall serve as co-chair; 1 member who shall be appointed by the minority leader of the senate; 1 member who shall be appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives, who shall serve as co-chair; 1 member who shall be appointed by the minority leader of the house of representatives; the house and senate chairs of the joint committee on environment, natural resources and agriculture; the house and senate chairs of the joint committee on telecommunications, utilities and energy; the secretary of the executive office of energy and environmental affairs or designee; the secretary of the executive office of housing and economic development or designee; the commissioner of agricultural resources or designee; a representative of the Massachusetts farm bureau federation; a representative of the University of Massachusetts Extension Service; a representative of NOFA/Mass and 2 persons who shall be appointed by the governor. Members shall not receive compensation for their services but may receive reimbursement for the reasonable expenses incurred in carrying out their responsibilities as members of the commission. The executive office of energy and environmental affairs and executive office of housing and economic development may furnish reasonable staff and other support for the work of the commission.
The commission shall review: (i) methods of supporting farms including development of tax incentives and credits such as sales tax exemptions for equipment related to farm-based renewable energy projects; (ii) effects of zoning bylaws on farm-based renewable energy projects and means of reducing administrative and regulatory barriers to such projects; (iii) potential integration of farm renewable energy systems into laws exempting agricultural machinery and structures from zoning bylaws; (iv) the feasibility of establishing an incentive program to facilitate the growth of non-solar renewable-energy distributed-generation projects; (v) methods of encouraging the use of renewable energy resources; (vi) development of potential new funding sources for grant programs in support of farms to develop farm-based renewable energy capabilities including wind harvesting, energy conserving refrigerated food storage pilot projects, methane capture and green combustion, and solar and photovoltaic energy projects; (vii) feasibility of using farms as resiliency centers during power outages or extreme weather events by installing technology such as battery storage or microgrids; (viii) the effects of climate change and means by which farms may seek to adapt to climate change; (ix) the feasibility and means of establishing a lower agricultural electricity rate for farms; (x) methods of promoting and facilitating more prompt interconnection of energy projects owned or operated by agricultural producers; (xi) possible increase in existing agricultural energy discounts; (xii) ways to support, expand and enhance opportunities for agricultural tourism; (xii) the timing of grant applications to the department of agricultural resources and department responses with a view to facilitating more efficient and timely use of grant funds; (xiii) administrative and regulatory barriers to and restrictions on farm owners placing renewable energy structures on farmland; (xiv) means of addressing the need for education and technical assistance to farmers; and (xv) any other matters the commission deems relevant to supporting the viability of farms in the commonwealth. As used in this section, “farm” shall not include any farm used to grow marijuana.
The commission shall file a report of its findings and recommendations, together with drafts of legislation necessary to carry those recommendations into effect, by filing the same with the clerks of the senate and the house of representatives, the chairs of the senate and house committees on ways and means, the senate and house chairs of the joint committee on environment, natural resources and agriculture, and the house and senate chairs of the joint committee on telecommunications, utilities and energy not later than June 30, 2020.
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