New Era of Natural Gas Exports Raises Concerns for Northeast

President Trump’s “Energy Week” address today is expected to express strong support for U.S. exports of natural gas, currently on the rise. For the Northeast, these exports exacerbate the risks of the region’s already-dangerous overreliance on a fossil fuel that has a history of volatile prices and will not allow the region to reach its commitments to reduce greenhouse gases.

With the arrival two weeks ago in Taiwan of a liquified natural gas (LNG) tanker ship loaded with American natural gas, June has been a month marked with milestones for the nascent export industry in the United States. Preceding this delivery by a few days were the first ever U.S. LNG shipments to Poland and the Netherlands. U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry deemed those events significant enough to warrant a statement from his office. These deliveries from a new LNG export facility in Louisiana signify a new era for the natural gas industry in this country, and residents of Northeastern states should be paying attention to these events.

This export plant, the Sabine Pass LNG Terminal, is the first of several such facilities planned to be constructed or converted from import use. When it is fully online, it will be able to liquify nearly 1,300 billion cubic feet (bcf) per year of natural gas. Five other facilities under construction in Hackberry, Louisiana, Freeport, Texas, Corpus Christie, Texas, Elba Island, Georgia, and Lusby, Maryland, will be able to liquify twice that volume. In total, these facilities will be able to liquify and export the equivalent of 15% of current U.S. natural gas consumption. Several additional projects have been approved but are not yet under construction.

Having this large a portion of U.S. natural gas consumption subject to world market prices will likely have an impact on markets at home. Such a rapid surge in demand will likely increase domestic natural gas prices. What does this mean for Northeastern states? They need to carefully scrutinize analyses of any projected benefits from natural gas conversions or new natural gas infrastructure projects in the region. The levels of promised savings may never materialize if rapidly increasing LNG exports drive up natural gas prices. The risk of these projects as proposed is almost always borne by ratepayers—the utilities or other project developers will earn their guaranteed return on investment, paid for eventually by electric or gas ratepayers, but the savings are not guaranteed.

Natural gas already stands as one of the main obstacles to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the region, and concerns have been raised that subsidized pipelines could facilitate exports from facilities in Eastern Canada that—like Sabine Pass—were first built for imports. Tying domestic prices to volatile international markets layers on more risk.

The region’s policymakers should continue to proceed cautiously before committing their ratepayers to years of payments for large fossil fuel infrastructure projects whose tenuous savings can easily be wiped out by changing market conditions. All proposed projects should be evaluated against the possibility that other available resources can meet the Northeast’s energy needs without growing the region’s overreliance on natural gas. Northeast states need to consider energy efficiency, solar and wind generation, and conversion of fossil fuel heating and transportation systems to electric-powered alternatives. Acadia Center’s EnergyVision 2030 project shows the benefits of embracing energy sources that are indigenous to the Northeast region. With the expansion of U.S. natural gas in world markets, the economic benefits of local clean energy will likely only grow.

A second attack on the energy efficiency program at the General Assembly poised to pass

When the bill was heard in the House Committee on Corporations back in March, only Douglas Gablinske, representing TEC-RI, a fossil fuel company lobbying organization, spoke in favor. National Grid’s vice president Michael Ryan spoke against the bill, as did Kat Burnham from People’s Power & Light and Carol Grant, who heads up Rhode Island’s Office of Energy Resources (OER). Abigail Anthony from the Acadia Centeralso spoke against the bill.

Read the full article from RIFuture.org here.

States Bring Economic Clout to Fighting Climate Change

Nine states, including New York, participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a mandatory, market-based program to reduce carbon emissions. According to a new analysis by the Acadia Center, since 2005 the RGGI states have reduced carbon emissions by 40 percent while their economies have grown by 25 percent, outpacing the rest of the country.

Acadia analyst Jordan Stutt said these states bring real economic clout to the effort to combat climate change.

“Together, they represent the sixth-largest economy in the entire world,” he said. “This is no longer about symbolic statements; it’s about real action to reduce harmful emissions.”

Following the president’s announcement, the RGGI states reasserted their commitment to upholding the Paris agreement.

The report found that participation in RGGI has done more than reduce carbon emissions. Stutt said reductions of such other pollutants as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides have led to fewer asthma and heart attacks, premature deaths, and missed school and work days – all of which saves money.

“When we quantify all of those avoided impacts,” he said, “we see that RGGI has delivered $5.7 billion in avoided health costs for the region.”

Stutt added that electricity prices have also declined in RGGI states while going up in other states.

Six of the RGGI states have joined with seven other states and territories to form the U.S. Climate Alliance. While the alliance doesn’t have a coordinated plan to reduce emissions, Stutt noted that some of the states already have policies in effect while others have legislation in progress.

“There are a number of different vehicles being discussed to address this issue,” he said, “and it’s encouraging to see that all these states are going to be working together to achieve that goal.”

Combined, the U.S. Climate Alliance states, which include California, represent the third-largest economy in the world, behind the United States and China.

The analysis is online at acadiacenter.staging.wpengine.com.

Read and listen to the full story from Public News Service here.

Why raiding Connecticut’s Energy Efficiency Fund is a bad idea

Op-ed by Bill Dornbos and Taren O’Connor in the CT Mirror.

As we try to address our state budget crisis, one option proposed by the Senate Republicans should be off the table: sweeping $136 million over the next two fiscal years from the utility ratepayer-funded Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund to the state’s General Fund.

The Energy Efficiency Fund generates immense economic value for Connecticut. It brings billions of dollars in electricity and natural gas bill savings to residents and businesses, drives our growing clean energy economy, helps families reduce the difficult burden of high energy costs, and supplies significant state tax revenue by fueling private sector growth. This Fund is a good deal for Connecticut’s consumers.

Fund raid proponents say their proposal is a simple movement of taxpayer funds from a state program to the General Fund, i.e., moving money from one state pocket to another. In reality, this proposal would impose a new energy tax on consumers.

Energy efficiency programs are funded primarily through a small charge on electric and natural gas bills, not by any state taxes. These funds are an investment by utility consumers in energy efficiency programs, a wise investment as these programs save consumers money on electric bills multiple times over the cost of the investment. Redirecting these funds to the General Fund would take money collected from ratepayers for energy efficiency programs and give it to the state — creating an energy tax on ratepayers at the expense of cost-saving, job-boosting programs.

And, if that wasn’t bad enough, the proposed cut is also severe – equal on an annual basis to about one-third of the Fund’s current budget for electric efficiency. A cut of this magnitude would undermine Connecticut’s nationally-acclaimed energy efficiency programs. Since 2010, these programs have generated about 27 billion kilowatt hours in lifetime energy savings—more than the annual generation of the Millstone nuclear power plant. These energy savings equal over $5.5 billion in savings on customers’ energy bills. This is help consumers need.

The Fund raid would rob consumers of energy efficiency’s tangible benefits. The lost bill savings alone would ultimately cost Connecticut’s residents and businesses at least $640 million in lifetime bill savings, and perhaps more, since the proposed sweep would require deep cuts to statewide program services like energy audits for households and businesses, technical assistance to commercial and industrial customers, insulation upgrades, strategic energy management for large energy consumers, and efficient heating and cooling equipment installations.

The impact would fall hardest on the neediest households, which often struggle to manage Connecticut’s high energy costs. Currently, income-eligible residents can qualify for free energy audits and other energy efficiency upgrades. About 12,000 low-income households received program help with weatherizing their homes and reducing their energy costs in 2016. A $136 million cut would put as many as 8,000 low-income households at risk of falling behind on their energy bills, while at the same time imposing a new regressive energy tax that would disproportionately burden this vulnerable population.

A raid of the Energy Efficiency Fund would also cripple Connecticut’s clean energy economy. A 2017 U.S. Department of Energy report found that Connecticut’s efficiency programs created nearly 34,000 jobs. We would see immediate job losses if proposed cuts were enacted. These job losses, combined with lost bill savings, would be felt statewide, as about $930 million in Gross State Product would be lost. That’s new economic growth Connecticut sorely needs.

The proposed raid would also worsen the problem it’s trying to solve, ironically enough. The proposed cuts, and associated job losses, would reduce revenue from state income and sales taxes by about $30 million dollars through FY 2019. And if energy efficiency activity collapses, which is possible due to the cut’s severity, the total tax revenue lost over the next two fiscal years could be significantly more. Turns out, raiding the Energy Efficiency Fund just creates another budget hole.

In the end, a $136 million cut to our energy efficiency programs to help fill an unrelated state deficit will set Connecticut’s clean energy economy back for years and transform a prudent investment with a strong return on investment for ratepayers into a harmful energy tax. We urge the General Assembly to reject this transparent budget gimmick. Connecticut’s consumers deserve better.

Taren O’Connor is an Associate Rate Specialist with the Connecticut Office of Consumer Counsel. Bill Dornbos is the Connecticut Director and Senior Attorney for Acadia Center. Together, they serve as Chair and Vice Chair of the state’s Energy Efficiency Board, but do not represent the Board in this piece.

One Month In – Advocating for Clean Energy Policies in Connecticut

In this blog post, Acadia Center’s new Policy Advocate in Connecticut, Kerry Schlichting, shares her experience one month into her tenure at the organization.

Kerry Schlichting

I recently joined the Hartford team in late May, after eight years in Washington, D.C., working on energy policy issues with a national perspective, and was eager to apply my experience to challenges at both the federal and state level. As a new staff member, my experience over the past month in Connecticut’s exciting and fast-paced environment has shown me the depth and breadth of Acadia Center’s work and how much is possible in the state and regionally. With just over two weeks left in Connecticut’s legislative session, Acadia Center’s Hartford-based team made a final push for policies protecting and promoting the state’s clean energy goals while also fighting a proposal to divert funds from the state’s crucial energy efficiency programs. Meanwhile on the national stage, the decision to leave the Paris Climate Accord was announced, with lasting implications for climate and economy locally, regionally, and globally.

On just my second day, we organized a sign-on letter opposing proposed budget raids of ratepayer funds for energy efficiency and clean energy programs to send to CT officials. Over 70 signees—representing business, community, consumer, low-income, public health, environmental, and clean energy interests—came together against the harmful impacts that would flow from proposed raids on ratepayer-funded energy efficiency programs. The letter opposes two budget proposals, one made by Senate Republicans that would raid ratepayer-funded energy efficiency programs and another made by the Senate and House Democrats that would sweep ratepayer-derived revenues from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. These programs generate immense economic value for the state, from billions of dollars in electricity and natural gas bill savings to helping low-income families reduce the difficult burden of high energy costs, while also protecting the health and prosperity of our local communities. Budget negotiations are ongoing through the end of this month, and we continue to respond to changing proposals that threaten these important programs.

My second week saw the next major challenge as we learned of the threatened withdrawal of the Trump Administration from the Paris Climate Agreement. By pulling out of the Paris Agreement, the Trump Administration weakens our country’s position as an energy leader. This action also undermines progress being made globally, as well as at the national and state level, to address the growing harms of carbon pollution. The announcement by the White House underscores how much more important state leadership will be in advancing a clean energy future. The day of the White House’s announcement, representing Acadia Center, I spoke at U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal’s press conference to decry this shortsighted decision that risks our country’s global climate leadership and hurts our economic interests around clean energy.

Yet, this moment also offers states and regions an opportunity to aim high and lead the transition to a clean energy future. During my third week, Acadia Center joined other advocates to thank Governor Malloy for committing Connecticut to the Paris Agreement’s climate pollution goals and to pursue policies that will help achieve those goals, as well as for being a leader in the new U.S Climate Alliance, a bipartisan commitment by governors throughout the country to commit to reducing climate pollution. A recent analysis by Acadia Center, EnergyVision 2030, shows that Northeast states can be on the path to a low-carbon future by the year 2030 if they commit to and embrace clean energy technologies. With further strategic action and expanding adoption of modern, market-ready technologies, Northeast states can reduce climate pollution emissions 45% by 2030: a target needed to put the region on the path to meet scientifically directed emission reductions of 80% by 2050.

With a special legislative session called to address the state budget, Acadia Center’s Connecticut team continues to advance policies that benefit consumers and the environment. To reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions as well as to accelerate the growth of our clean energy economy, creating new jobs and state revenue, the state needs policies that support our award-winning energy efficiency programs. Additionally, we need policies that make us competitive with our neighboring states in pursing clean energy resources. This includes strengthening the state’s commitment to renewable energy procurement and encouraging electrification of the transportation sector and increased deployment of electric vehicles.

Both federal and state policies can affect the state’s clean energy economy, and it is from that perspective that I look forward to the many opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. My experiences this past month have made me look forward even more to being part of a team advancing the clean energy future through fact-based, solutions-oriented advocacy and collaboration.

NH Regulators Order DER Study; Cut Net Metering Credits

One settlement proposal came from a coalition of utilities and consumer parties (UCC), including Eversource Energy, Liberty Utilities, Unitil Energy Systems, the state Office of Consumer Advocate, the New England Ratepayers Association, Consumer Energy Alliance and Standard Power of America.

The other proposal was filed the same day by a coalition of distributed generation industry advocates and environmental organizations known as the Energy Future Coalition (EFC), which included the Acadia Center, The Alliance for Solar Choice, the Conservation Law Foundation and eight other organizations and companies (docket DE 16-576).

 

Energy efficiency fund raided to balance budget: $12.5 million of public trust eroded

“Rhode Island’s energy efficiency programs generate immense economic value for the state,” so says folks from People’s Power and Light, Acadia Center, Burrillville Land Trust, the Conservation Law Foundation, the Environment Council of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Association of Conservation Commissions, the Blackstone River Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone and many more who signed a letter asking that the state budget be amended to delete the raid on the energy efficiency fund. The use of these funds bring millions of dollars in electricity and natural gas bill savings to the State’s residents and businesses, drive our growing clean energy economy, help low-income families reduce the difficult burden of high energy costs, and protect the health and prosperity of our local communities. Rhode Island’s Least Cost Procurement law – first implemented a decade ago and extended another five years in 2015 – is primarily responsible for the state’s continued leadership on economic efficiency, says People’s Power & Light. The General Assembly has unanimously recognized that the electric and natural gas distribution utility must invest in the lowest cost energy resource, energy efficiency, before more expensive energy supplies from outside Rhode Island. This is an economic strategy, not a social benefits program. It is a program that also sits well with every ratepayer.

Read the full story from RIFuture.org here.

$12.5 Million Raid to Energy Efficiency Fund Threatens to Hurt Rhode Island Consumers and Economy

Joint release with People’s Power & Light

Providence, RI – Since the House Finance Committee released its proposed state budget, energy and environmental organizations have expressed serious concerns about the dangerous precedent that the House will set if their budget is enacted. The proposed plan would raid $12.5 million from ratepayer funded, cost-effective energy efficiency programs. Groups emphasize that these are not state funds, they are rate-payer funds collected specifically to bring much-needed energy savings to all Rhode Islanders. Diverting the funds from the efficiency programs will cost Rhode Island ratepayers more money.

Nonprofit organizations Acadia Center and People’s Power & Light (PP&L) are urging state representatives to support an amendment deleting Budget Article I, Section 16, in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget now before the General Assembly. Over thirty organizations and individuals – representing business, community, consumer, low-income, public health, environmental, and clean energy interests – signed a letter to the General Assembly vigorously opposing the raid. This letter highlights that by diverting ratepayer funds, the proposed budget is in effect taxing consumers for the use of their energy instead of using those funds to secure consumer savings.

“Imposing a new energy tax would be extremely unfair to Rhode Island’s already burdened ratepayers, who have been promised tangible benefits in return for their efficiency funding,” said the letter.

The letter goes on, “Rhode Island’s energy efficiency programs generate immense economic value for the state. They bring millions of dollars in electricity and natural gas bill savings to all our residents and businesses, drive our growing clean energy economy, help low-income families reduce the difficult burden of high energy costs, and protect the health and prosperity of our local communities. Rhode Island’s Least Cost Procurement law – first implemented a decade ago and extended another five years in 2015 – is primarily responsible for the state’s continued leadership on economic efficiency. The General Assembly has unanimously recognized that the electric and natural gas distribution utility must invest in the lowest cost energy resource, energy efficiency, before more expensive energy supplies from outside Rhode Island. This is an economic strategy, not a social benefits program.”

“Given that saving energy costs less than buying it and it creates far more jobs than making energy from imported gas and oil, it seems weird to tax energy consumers. There must be better ways,” says Larry Chretien, Executive Director of People’s Power & Light.

Recently the Office of Energy Resources released a report showing the importance of efficiency to the state’s economy. The report shows that clean energy jobs have grown 66% since 2014. In addition, according to the Energy Efficiency & Resource Management Council’s 2016 annual report, “Every $1 million invested in this sector leads to the creation of 45 job-years of employment, and every $1 invested boosts Gross State Product by $4.20.”

“Rhode Island’s ratepayer-funded energy efficiency programs have provided $2.3 billion in economic benefits to residents and businesses since 2008, a fourfold return on investment,” said Erika Niedowski, Policy Advocate at Acadia Center. “Rhode Island has worked hard over the last decade to become a national leader on energy efficiency, and diverting these funds would cost ratepayers money and represent a big step backwards for our economy.”

As the House members prepare to vote today, Acadia Center, People’s Power & Light, and numerous local organizations and constituents are urging state representatives to delete Budget Article I, Section 16 to do right by ratepayers and all Rhode Islanders.


Media Contacts:

Erika Niedowski, Acadia Center
eniedowski@acadiacenter.org, 401-680-0056

Larry Chretien, People’s Power & Light
larry@ripower.org, 617-686-7289

$12.5 million plunder of Energy Efficiency Fund threatens to hurt consumers and economy says environmental groups

The proposed 2018 RI State Budget will “raid $12.5 million from ratepayer-funded, cost-effective energy efficiency programs” says nonprofit organizations Acadia Center and People’s Power & Light (PP&L) setting a “dangerous precedent.”

In a press release the two groups “emphasize that these are not state funds, they are rate-payer funds collected specifically to bring much-needed energy savings to all Rhode Islanders. Diverting the funds from the efficiency programs will cost Rhode Island ratepayers more money.”

[…]

“Rhode Island’s ratepayer-funded energy efficiency programs have provided $2.3 billion in economic benefits to residents and businesses since 2008, a fourfold return on investment,” said Erika Niedowski, Policy Advocate at Acadia Center. “Rhode Island has worked hard over the last decade to become a national leader on energy efficiency, and diverting these funds would cost ratepayers money and represent a big step backwards for our economy.”

Acadia Center is a non-profit, research and advocacy organization committed to advancing the clean energy future. People’s Power & Light’s mission is to make energy more affordable and environmentally sustainable in New England.

Read the full story from RIFuture.org here.

Environmental Advocates Regroup After House Diverts Energy Efficiency Funds

Dozens of environmental groups, including the Acadia Center, signed a letter that was sent to state lawmakers Wednesday expressing their concerns about the scoop of energy efficiency funding, which is about 10 percent of the total funds collected for the programs.

Niedowski said the funds for Rhode Island’s energy efficiency programs are collected from electricity ratepayers. She said the state needs to keep using that money for its intended purpose.

“If you divert those ratepayers’ funds to another purpose, that essentially amounts to an energy tax because this money is collected from ratepayers and then would be transferred and used for other purposes,” Niedowski said.

Niedowski said Rhode Island has been a leader in energy efficiency, but that could change if funding for those programs is cut.

“The less energy efficiency we do here in Rhode Island will make it more difficult and (maybe even impossible) to reach our climate goals in the state,” Niedowski said.

Read and listen to the full story from Rhode Island Public Radio here.