Civic Engagement, Energy Storage Priorities for Massachusetts’ Youngest Legislator

take back the hous
Western Mass. activists are pushing to elect Democrats to "take back the house." Photo by Ana Goni-Lessan/BU News Service

By M.J. Tidwell
BU News Service

This article was also published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette

BOSTON — When Solomon Goldstein-Rose, D-Amherst, was elected to the Massachusetts House last year at age 22, he expected to start his first year in office under a different presidential administration.

A lot has changed since then, but he says his personal goals to address climate change in Massachusetts and increase civic engagement have not.

“I came in wanting to solve climate change by developing clean energy technologies in Massachusetts,” he said in an interview at the Statehouse. “For me that’s something we should be doing anyway, regardless of who is president or what’s happening at the federal level. This is a huge economic opportunity for Massachusetts.”

For him, his biggest victory in office so far was receiving funding through the state budget to form and chair a new commission to study energy-storage technology options, such as batteries that can power an individual house.

A part of a larger bill Goldstein-Rose proposed right after entering office in January, the commission held its inaugural meeting on Halloween after funding was approved in budget negotiations over the summer. The goal is to combine research being done in western Massachusetts with existing infrastructure in order to scout new energy storage options and prove their efficiency.

Batteries that can be used to store energy for an individual house could eliminate the need for natural gas power as a backup, he said, and could smooth out the peaks and valleys of available wind and solar energy. This would make renewable energy less expensive and more efficient, he said.

“We can’t reach our goal of 100 percent renewables without storage. The sun’s not always shining, the wind’s not always blowing. They are unpredictable,” Goldstein-Rose said. “If you had really cheap batteries, you wouldn’t need any fossil fuels, period.”

The larger bill he sponsored, H.3473, or an Act to Create Energy Jobs, has gone before the Legislature’s Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies three times for public hearings.

Among other provisions, it includes carbon pricing incentives, which add a fee to fossil fuels that is returned as a dividend to consumers, revisions or repeals of some regulations like the net metering cap, and the establishment of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Trust to fund clean energy projects.

State Rep. John Scibak, D- South Hadley, has also signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill.

“For anyone, irrespective of whether you’re a millennial or a more senior person, it’s a learning process,” Scibak said of Goldstein-Rose’s first year on Beacon Hill. “He’s learning the process and he’s certainly tried to make his mark with this legislation. I think his district has been well served and he had some big shoes to fill.”

Goldstein-Rose, who succeeded longtime Democratic state Rep. Ellen Story, also from Amherst, recently finished a major revision of the bill, which he has presented to House Speaker Robert DeLeo and is waiting to see where it will go from there.

As for climate change, he said more is happening in Massachusetts than at the federal level.

“We’re absolutely moving in the right direction,” he said, “It’s just that we’re moving at maybe a hundredth of the pace that we need to be moving. Unlike issues of education or civil rights (where) there’s no deadline after which you’ve lost, with climate change, it’s a problem we need to solve in about the next 10 years.”

He’s also focused on something millennials are accused repeatedly of lacking — civic engagement. Since his election, the first-year lawmaker said, other young people have contacted him to ask how they can get involved or run for office.

In partnership with the Amherst League of Women Voters last spring, he helped set up the first annual Civics Fest, which brings together both students and adults for a night of fun and education around civics.

When asked how the participants fared, Goldstein-Rose earnestly replied, “Really well!”

“We’ve got a lot of smart people and it’s a very politically engaged place in general,” he said of Amherst. “This is somewhat a celebration of that and somewhat bringing people, especially students in, who don’t know much about it yet.”

The next Civics Fest in April will have a theme of public education, with trivia, debates and a creative policy section where trivia winners will work to solve problems related to public schools. His goal for the second fest is to get middle school students involved, too.

Along with Civics Fest, Goldstein-Rose also participated in a pilot program with high schoolers earlier this year to teach students about public speaking, interviewing for jobs and other communications training.

State Rep. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton, praised Goldstein-Rose’s work with students, along with his environmental efforts, saying he has brought attention to regional issues that can sometimes be left behind when so much of the population is centered around Boston.

“He’s had a very active first year… He’s testified on many, if not all the bills in the House,” Kocot said. “I think he’s doing a great job, not only of representing his constituents, but also in moving Massachusetts forward.”

For other young people interested in running for office and moving Massachusetts forward in their own way, Goldstein-Rose is working to set up a political leadership institute during the first week of February in collaboration with several local organizations. It will incorporate communications training, technology tools and advice on fundraising, staffing and “all the nuts and bolts of pulling papers and getting signatures” to run for office.

As the first anniversary of his own successful campaign approaches, Goldstein-Rose said the most noticeable element of being the youngest legislator in the Statehouse comes back to speed.

“There’s this feeling, that is to a large degree true, that we should be deliberative and get things right,” he said, adding that he can sympathize with that on some issues more than others. “Some things like climate change are so urgent, we don’t have time to necessarily get the most perfect policy ever devised in the world. We need something that is good and beneficial to our state and gets the job done. We need to move much, much faster.”

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