Your View: Forum to show clean energy choices are accessible
The energy landscape is changing. Massachusetts and the SouthCoast are facing critical choices about their energy future. Large power plants are closing, gas pipelines are being proposed, and new clean energy technologies are emerging. SouthCoast is disproportionately affected by these changes: the closing of Brayton Point coal plant, the potential construction of pipeline and storage tanks in our communities, and developing off-shore wind and solar. Decisions are being made right now at the Statehouse about the design of our future energy system, and these decisions affect your wallet, your health, and your community. What role can you play in these decisions?
Several studies, including the recent report by Attorney General Maura Healey, show natural gas now poses the biggest climate threat to the region. As coal and oil are effectively being phased out of our regional electricity mix, natural gas will start displacing cleaner sources of energy, undermining efforts to reduce climate pollution. Eversource, National Grid, and the Houston pipeline developer are seeking public financing for a new gas pipeline, Access Northeast, running directly through SouthCoast communities. In addition to the public health and economic implications, the pipeline would put Massachusetts over its carbon emission limit by 83 percent in 2050. How will we meet our carbon emission targets if we develop these projects?
The current energy system is designed for a previous era, based on a one-way flow of energy from traditional power plants to our homes and businesses. No longer should energy dollars be poured into fossil fuel power stations, pipelines, and miles of wire. Instead, we should invest in our homes, businesses, and communities, making them the centerpieces of the modern energy system. Renewable and community-based clean energy technologies can meet our energy needs more cleanly and cost-effectively.
With its proximity to an abundance of offshore wind, its leadership on solar, and its commitment to energy efficiency, the SouthCoast has the opportunity to build an energy system of the future, one based on clean energy in our own communities. These energy issues, their impact on the SouthCoast, and what can be done will be discussed at a free public forum, “Building the SouthCoast’s Clean Energy Future,” from 6 to 7:30 Wednesday evening at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational-Technical High School.
Forum topics will include an overview of the current energy system; a highlight of local efforts to combat pipelines; an explanation of the attorney general’s natural gas report and of Acadia Center’s EnergyVision, which outlines a pathway for creating safer, cleaner and more affordable energy systems; and local opportunities to reduce energy usage.
This forum is cohosted by Acadia Center, Leadership SouthCoast, the Marion Institute, Toxics Action Center, and the SouthCoast Media Group. It is the first event in the SouthCoast Community Energy Series, which will explore energy issues affecting the SouthCoast and how local residents and communities can maximize the economic, environmental, and public health benefits of clean energy.
Tyler Soleau is community outreach director for Energy & Climate at the Acadia Center. Jennifer Downing is executive director of Leadership SouthCoast. Janet Milkman is executive director of The Marion Institute, Claire B.W. Miller is lead organizer for the Toxics Action Center.
CT deals seen as linchpin for ‘Access Northeast’
Connecticut’s emissions hit a low point in 2012, dipping beneath a carbon emissions pledge made in 2008, but it rose above that line in the three years that followed, according to a recent data analysis by the Acadia Center, which cited a number of causes that the state has little control over, including low gasoline prices and economic recovery.
“While it is too soon to predict with certainty whether Connecticut will meet its mandatory 2020 GHG emissions cap, implementing additional short-term mitigation measures will increase the likelihood of doing so,” Acadia said in its report this month.
The nonprofit has urged state officials to rely on energy efficiency, solar energy and electric vehicles to lower demand for electricity and fossil fuels.
“We take a long view of electric emissions and believe that any short-term reductions in pollution on cold winter days that might be provided by additional pipeline capacity will be far outweighed by the additional emissions that will result from locking us into additional fossil fuels for 20 or 30 years,” said Jamie Howland, who directs Acadia’s Climate and Energy Analysis Center.
Connecticut Passes Legislation to Promote Electric Vehicles! Will Massachusetts Be Next?
Over the past five years, plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) have gone from a cool concept to a real option for vehicle buyers, with almost 440,000 sold nationally through April 2016. Consumer rebate programs have been a big part of this success, beginning in Massachusetts in June 2014, in Connecticut in May 2015, and in Rhode Island in January 2016. Recently, New York included a provision in their 2016 budget to create a consumer rebate program as well.
However, advances in a number of policy areas are needed to allow electric vehicles to make significant inroads with mainstream consumers and take full advantage of the new advanced EV models that will go on sale in the next year. In October 2015, Acadia Center issued a joint report with Conservation Law Foundation and Sierra Club that laid out “Nine Vital Steps for Success” for governments, auto companies and dealers, and utilities.
Connecticut enacts “An Act Concerning Electric and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles”
In May 2016, the Connecticut General Assembly passed H.B. No. 5510, “An Act Concerning Electric and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles.” On June 7th, the bill was signed by Governor Malloy and became Public Act 16-135. This law contains a number of great provisions that will help promote electric vehicles:
• Reporting of electric vehicle sales from the Department of Motor Vehicles in order to track progress towards goals;
• Exemption of EV charging stations from burdensome public utility regulations;
• Electric vehicle time of day rates for residential and commercial customers to promote electric vehicle sales and encourage efficient charging;
• Integration of EV sales into utility distribution planning and analysis of EV batteries as energy storage in the Connecticut Integrated Resources Plan; and
• Requirements for public charging stations to allow fair access to all EV drivers.
Notwithstanding one negative provision—a new fee on certain EV charging stations—the Act contains a range of smart provisions that promote electric vehicles and creates a broader framework for widespread electric vehicle adoption.
Electric Vehicle Bill Set for Action in Massachusetts
Massachusetts has its own electric vehicle bill moving through the legislative process, “An Act Promoting Electric Vehicle Adoption,” now numbered S.2266. This bill, which has already been reported favorably by the Joint Committee on Transportation and is now at the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, would promote electric vehicles and other zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) by:
• Allowing EV and ZEV owners to use high-occupancy vehicle (“HOV”) lanes;
• Providing for municipal enforcement of dedicated “ZEV-only” parking spaces;
• Amending the building code to incorporate measures to install EV charging at a lower cost in the future;
• Requiring fair access to public EV charging stations; and
• Adding EV-specific requirements to the state fleet fuel economy standards and studying the opportunities for electrification of the state fleet and vehicles used by the Regional Transit Authorities.
The original bills containing these proposals (numbered H.3085/S.1824) were supported by 16 businesses and organizations, including the Massachusetts Association of Regional Transit Authorities, in joint testimony to the Transportation Committee. Since then, a provision for a study of transportation revenue issues and options for ZEVs were added to the bill.
What Comes Next in Massachusetts?
The Massachusetts Legislature is in the middle of a big debate on our energy future. The House recently passed an “omnibus” bill to promote hydro, onshore and offshore wind, and the associated transmission and diversify the Commonwealth’s energy portfolio. The Senate and outside advocates are debating how to expand this House bill to truly promote a clean energy future. The Senate should either adopt an amendment to incorporate these electric vehicle provisions in their own bill or take up the electric vehicle bill separately as a complement to this work. This legislation could be passed within the next month, and advocates remain hopeful that Massachusetts will embrace this opportunity to make electric vehicles more accessible and practical for consumers.
Energy forum to spark discussion Wednesday night at GNB Voc-Tech
All of those topics and others will be on the table at Wednesday’s free forum, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational-Technical High School on Ashley Boulevard. The forum is a collaborative effort between the Marion Institute; Acadia Center, a nonprofit, multi-state organization that advocates for the development of clean energy; and other partners.
Panelists include Milkman; Claire Miller, lead community organizer for the Toxics Action Center; Roger Cabral, of South Coast Neighbors United; and Peter Shattuck, clean energy director for Acadia Center’s Massachusetts office.
Enviros say tougher RGGI caps are worth the price tag
While some states may be hesitant to sign on to those goals, the Sierra Club and the Acadia Center say the far higher emissions reductions would be worth the money.
Peter Shattuck, clean energy initiative director for Acadia Center, said while RGGI electricity prices could be $6 higher with the harder goals, emissions reductions would be three times bigger — looking like almost 20 million tons more of carbon per year.
“You can get much more of a reach at lower cost than I think folks would often assume,” Shattuck said.
Skyrocketing Transmission Costs and the Need for Reform
Concern that electricity prices in New England are too high is constant. Yet, a key cause of increasing prices is usually ignored: the high cost of transmission lines built to meet infrequent periods of peak electric demand. Over the last 15 years, charges for this reliability-focused transmission have skyrocketed and continue to climb. Since 2002, consumers have footed the bill for $12 billion in projects in New England, where transmission spending is relatively higher than in the rest of the country and steadily growing. Costs are passed directly on to ratepayers, causing electric prices to increase and raising consumer bills. Acadia Center’s new report, “The Hidden Costs of Energy: Overpaying for an Outdated System,” highlights four basic problems that contribute to increasing transmission costs and offers recommendations for reforming the way we plan and pay for the grid.
Ensuring that the grid is reliable is critical to the region’s economic, energy, and environmental future, but the way electric transmission is planned and financed gives utilities incentives to maximize spending on transmission instead of working in the interest of consumers. The current selection, planning, and financing processes are stacked in favor of transmission lines that can earn utilities upward of 11% guaranteed annual returns. Viable alternatives for meeting reliability – some of which are both cleaner and cheaper – do not offer such high returns, and are not adequately considered. Without significant changes, transmission lines will remain the inevitable outcome of all reliability planning practices, and it will be impossible for New England consumers to have confidence that the billions of dollars we are all paying for new transmission lines are the best choices to clean our air and contribute to a healthier environment.
Some new transmission investments are needed to meet regional policy goals of opening opportunities to access renewable power supplies. Others may be needed for reliability. But it is hard to distinguish the transmission investments that are truly necessary for reliability from the transmission investments that could have been avoided.
Experience has shown that New England can mitigate the high cost of transmission construction by using local energy resources. These local alternatives include geographically targeted energy efficiency and demand response that reduces demand for electricity, as well as roof-top solar, battery storage, and efficient combined heat and power. These technologies have proven themselves capable of reducing grid stress and deferring transmission construction. In Boothbay Harbor, Maine, the Boothbay Smart Grid Pilot spent $2.6 million on energy efficiency, demand response, battery storage, and solar resources instead of building an $18.7 million transmission line. Consolidated Edison is deploying energy efficiency and demand response in its Brooklyn/Queens territory to avoid costly grid upgrades and deliver benefits of greater than $500 million to consumers. Energy efficiency investments were credited with deferring the need to construct $416 million in transmission upgrades in Vermont and New Hampshire. These local energy resources are smaller and quicker to deploy than building a new transmission line and can be customized to the particular reliability need being addressed. Local energy resources represent smart and economic solutions to grid reliability needs.
But even with proven successes of local energy resources, the region keeps building more transmission lines. To understand why, you need only look to the economics and politics of transmission construction that have contributed to the increase in transmission line investment. These drivers are described in greater detail in Acadia Center’s “The Hidden Costs of Energy: Overpaying for an Outdated System.”
Reliability-focused transmission lines being built now represent a 30-plus year wager on the region’s energy needs. And these investments are being made before the region has made the important determination of what transmission enhancements may be needed to integrate the renewable generators that will help meet clean energy policy goals, or what gains can be realized through greater reliance on small distributed generation like rooftop solar. Instead, utilities and grid regulators continue down the path of building expensive transmission lines to meet the region’s current resource mix and reliability needs, with little regard for how those needs might change. Any missed opportunity to meet projected reliability needs while promoting renewable resources is a costly mistake. Overestimates are wasteful and cost the region; they divert capital that could be used to make the grid more resilient with local resources and help promote a diverse and cleaner set of energy resources.
In “The Hidden Costs of Energy: Overpaying for an Outdated System,” Acadia Center offers recommendations to reform the system and thereby prevent the region from facing continued increases in transmission cost, while also furthering regional policy goals like promoting cleaner energy and stronger communities. Check out the full report to read more about the problems with our present transmission policies and Acadia Center’s recommendations for reform.
Utilities seek cut of hydro, wind contracts
Peter Shattuck, Massachusetts director at the Acadia Center, an energy advocacy group, said the utility fee seems high considering National Grid and Eversource might play a role in building the transmission lines that will deliver the power. Eversource, for example, is partnering with Hydro-Quebec on the Northern Pass transmission line down from Canada. National Grid is involved with the Green Line in Vermont.
“The bonus incentives seem excessive given that utilities can get a return of 10 percent or more on the transmission to bring hydro and wind online,” Shattuck said.
Op-Ed: House energy bill must be scaled up
In the next two months, Massachusetts has the opportunity to reorient the energy system away from risky over-reliance on fossil fuels and toward a stable clean energy future. The opportunity is created by two trends upending the electric power sector. First, aging power plants have become increasingly uneconomical, prompting a turnover of almost one-third of the region’s power generation. Second, costs for renewable energy have plummeted, offering the potential to retool with clean energy at competitive, stable prices.
Read full piece here.
Massachusetts Energy Bill Lacks Provisions to Ensure Cost-Effective Clean Energy Transition
BOSTON — Leaders of the Alliance for Clean Energy Solutions, a coalition of business groups, clean energy companies, environmental organizations, health and consumer representatives dedicated to advancing clean energy for Massachusetts, issued the following statements regarding the energy bill (HB 4377) passed this week by the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
“The House of Representatives passed a bill that aims to grow the market for combinations of onshore wind, other class 1 renewables, hydro and the transmission to bring this competitive clean energy to the Commonwealth,” said NECEC Executive Vice President Janet Gail Besser, co-leader of ACES, “But the scale of the bill’s solicitation is insufficient to spur the private sector investment needed to capture the full cost reduction and economic development benefits of renewable energy sources, while the failure to include provisions that enable Class 1 RPS-eligible resources to compete on their own removes the most cost-effective source of renewable energy in today’s market from the equation.”
“The house bill takes steps toward clean energy but lacks the necessary scale and scope needed for a cost-effective clean energy transformation,” said Acadia Center Massachusetts Director Peter Shattuck. “The scale of procurement for offshore wind and other renewable energy sources is smaller than the need to replace retiring generation with clean energy sources and may limit the competitiveness of opportunity for new clean energy combinations.”
Below are amendments that ACES encourages the Senate to include in its version of the bill:
- An amendment that increases the size of the clean energy procurement.
- An amendment that enables Class 1 RPS-eligible resources (including on-shore wind) to compete in large scale clean energy procurement established by the bill, which will lead to greater competition, put downward pressure on prices, and allow a variety of renewable resources to bid.
- An energy storage amendment that would direct the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to develop a plan to implement an energy storage program in the Commonwealth. Energy storage is viewed as a game-changer. Its flexibility could solve problems related to integrating wind and solar energy and help grid operators manage resources more efficiently.
- An amendment to increase the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS), a statutory obligation that requires suppliers to obtain a percentage of the electricity they provide to customers from renewable resources. Since first being introduced, the RPS and similar laws in other New England states (and 29 states across the country) have helped to bring many renewable energy projects online, boosting the regional economy, diversifying our energy mix and mitigating the environmental impacts of electricity use and production. Massachusetts clean energy policy and adopting this amendment would make rising to the climate challenge that much more achievable.
“From where we sit, the complicated world of energy policy is actually very simple: we must continue to invest in clean energy in order to bolster our economy, mature a thriving industry and tackle climate change. We’re encouraged by the important progress made in the House yesterday and hope this issue, which is so vital to the future of our commonwealth, remains front and center in the State House as the end of the legislative session draws near.”
Phone: 617-742-0054 x107
Kate Plourd Johnson
The Alliance for Clean Energy Solutions (ACES) is a “coalition of coalitions” comprised of business groups, clean energy companies, environmental organizations, labor, health, and consumer advocates dedicated to advancing clean energy for Massachusetts. ACES is committed to ensuring that those charged with shaping Massachusetts’ energy policies have the most rigorous, current data on the benefits and costs of clean energy. Our goal is to ensure that the Commonwealth can attain a cost-effective, reliable and diverse energy supply to power its businesses, communities and households, which will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, create a stable and prosperous business environment and meet the Commonwealth’s greenhouse gas emissions requirements. For more information: acesma.org
Members Include: Acadia Center, Alliance for Business Leadership, Climate Action Business Association, Clean Water Action, E4theFuture, Energy Storage Association, Environment Massachusetts, Environmental Entrepreneurs, Environmental League of Massachusetts, Health Care Without Harm, Mass Audubon, Mass Energy Consumers Alliance, Northeast Clean Energy Council, Northeast Energy Efficiency Council, RENEW Northeast, Solar Energy Business Association of New England, Union of Concerned Scientists, US Green Building Council Massachusetts Chapter, Vote Solar.
Why Boston was chosen for the next US-China climate summit
A conference of this scale “really cements Massachusetts’ reputation as a clean energy leader,” Peter Shattuck, director of Acadia Center’s Massachusetts’ branch, tells The Boston Globe. “It puts Massachusetts companies on display.”