Rhode Island Left Without a Plan After CT, MA Abandon Transportation and Climate Initiative

PROVIDENCE, RI – The McKee Administration has announced that recent decisions by Connecticut Governor Lamont and Massachusetts Governor Baker will delay Rhode Island’s pursuit of the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) program. The program, which would limit vehicle pollution over time and direct investments in clean transportation strategies, is a central component of Rhode Island’s strategy to rein in carbon pollution. Without TCI kickstarting efforts, the state will have an even steeper hill to climb as it seeks to achieve legally binding greenhouse gas reduction targets set in the Act on Climate. 

Rhode Island should apply the program’s central principles of equity, inclusive decision-making, and clean mobility priorities to redress myriad problems inherent with current transportation planning practices. Rhode Island must work with environmental justice communities to advance air quality monitoring programs, provide better mobility options, and pursue strategies that reduce the state’s overdependence on single passenger vehicles. 

“We still have to find solutions to several persistent challenges—stubbornly high tailpipe pollution and asthma rates, inadequate bike/pedestrian infrastructure, and underfunded and underutilized public transit. The Act on Climate law is pretty clear that Rhode Island must reduce pollution and without TCI, state agencies are going to have to redouble efforts to do just that.” said Hank Webster, Acadia Center’s Rhode Island Director and member of the Rhode Island’s 2020-2021 Mobility Innovation Working Group.  

Media Contacts: 

Hank Webster, Rhode Island Director and Senior Policy Advocate
hwebster@acadiacenter.org, 401-239-8500 x402, cell: 401 239-8500
144 Westminster St, Suite 203, Providence, RI 02903 

Jordan Stutt, Carbon Programs Director
jstutt@acadiacenter.org, 617-742-0054 x105 

Power grid operator needs a makeover

THE LARGEST OFFSHORE wind project in the nation is coming to the waters off Massachusetts, setting our Commonwealth up to be a global leader in clean energy that can deliver on the promise of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating good-paying green jobs across the state. But to get there, and to pave the way for more projects like Vineyard Wind to come online, our electrical infrastructure needs to be prepared to handle these significant new sources of clean energy. Currently, an antiquated power grid — the infrastructure at the core of that transition —  is threatening our progress in reducing emissions and addressing the climate crisis, just as our transition to clean energy is beginning to gain steam.

The transmission grid is the central artery for our electric power systems, determining where our energy comes from, how much that energy costs, and how it’s distributed. In Massachusetts, our transmission grid and energy markets are managed by an organization called ISO New England, which also serves the other five New England states. To date, ISO-NE’s management has prioritized a continuation of the status quo, setting rules that favor polluting fossil fuel plants and perpetuating barriers that make it difficult to connect Massachusetts consumers with cost-effective clean energy.

To ensure the success of Vineyard Wind and the other large-scale clean energy projects that will follow, we need to change the rules for our grid and invest in a smart and reliable clean energy grid that connects us to cost-effective renewable energy throughout the region and stops standing in the way of our critical emissions reduction goals.

First, we need to change how ISO-NE is governed to improve the organization’s accountability and transparency, prioritize input from states like Massachusetts, and ensure decisions are made with input from a more diverse range of stakeholders. ISO-NE must commit to delivering on the New England states’ climate, environmental justice, and policy commitments in both its mission and in its planning, markets, and decisions.

Second, we must reimagine transmission planning to prioritize cost-effective reliability, reflect the climate-focused decision making already enshrined in law by the New England states, and incorporate environmental justice priorities. This will enable the shift away from fossil fuel power plants that pollute our population centers to large-scale clean generation like wind and solar, together with clean distributed energy, as well as cutting-edge energy storage solutions and resilient microgrids.

A planning process dominated by entrenched interests behind closed doors that gives no meaningful weight to state law and policy will only result in a continuation of the status quo. ISO-NE must bring its planning processes into the 21st century. Planning must incorporate data-driven solutions that identify the timing and location of transmission that will optimize the grid to reach our critical clean energy goals in a cost-effective manner.

Finally, we need to change the old-fashioned assumptions of the energy markets that prohibit clean energy resources from fair competition and give fossil fuels a leg up. Even though every New England state has made commitments to reduce emissions and increase renewable energy procurement, ISO-NE maintains a market with a thumb on the scale for fossil fuels. Reforms should align with states’ climate objectives and remove barriers that stand in the way of allowing renewable energy projects to come online quickly and compete fairly. Although a significant redesign of the ISO-NE markets will take time, it’s necessary to secure the buy-in of all stakeholders, including New Englanders who have been burdened by the current system’s reliance on costly and polluting fossil fuel plants.

With the potential for our state to produce around 800 terawatt hours of energy from offshore wind alone, we’re at an inflection point for clean energy and clean jobs in Massachusetts. There is no doubt that the decisions we make now will determine the fate of our burgeoning clean energy economy and our region’s efforts to cut harmful pollutants. With the passage of the Next Generation Climate Roadmap, we now have the framework to achieve critical climate goals across the Commonwealth. There is a queue of innovative and exciting clean energy projects in the pipeline that will allow us to rapidly increase our renewable energy procurement over the next decade. Now we need a reformed ISO-NE to deliver the modernized grid that will make that innovation possible.

Published in CommonWealth Magazine.

Jennifer Benson is the president of the Alliance for Business Leadership and Amy Boyd is the director of policy at the Acadia Center.

FERC and ISO-NE: Help or Hindrance to Reaching State Clean Energy Goals?

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the federal agency that regulates energy markets and electric transmission lines, has a big impact on whether New England can effectively fight climate change. FERC’s control over energy markets and transmission influences New England’s ability to eliminate dirty power plants from communities that have suffered the health impacts of pollution for too long, and to replace those dirty plants with climate-safe energy and green jobs. That’s why Acadia Center is recommending that FERC adopt new rules for transmission planning that will help support New England’s climate and equity goals instead of standing in the way.

FERC can empower New England by helping to create a strong inter-state transmission grid that brings clean, affordable energy to homes and businesses, along with good-paying green energy jobs for New England’s communities. The transmission grid is the central artery for transmitting electric power, determining where energy comes from, how much that energy costs, and to whom it can be delivered. The region needs transmission lines that bring clean energy to homes and businesses to replace the energy from dirty fossil fuel-fired power plants that now pollute population centers across the region. Because transmission lines link multiple states, FERC has federal authority over planning and regulating these lines, though the states retain control over siting.

Given the significant role FERC plays, Acadia Center is encouraged that FERC has launched a new forum to reconsider how it plans electric transmission, including the role that states should play in determining what transmission is needed for the clean energy transition. In this new proceeding, entitled “Building for the Future Through Electric Regional Transmission Planning and Cost Allocation and Generator Interconnection,” FERC is taking input on what policies it can adopt to help states and regions better integrate important public policy – including decarbonization laws and environmental equity – into transmission planning. With input from Acadia Center and others, FERC can help change the course of history across the country and here in the northeast.

Bringing new large-scale clean energy to homes and businesses across New England isn’t the only benefit of better planning. Planning improved transmission will help communities across New England withstand the increasingly frequent storms and volatile weather patterns the climate crisis is already bringing, while integrating flexible and lower-cost solutions like rooftop solar and battery storage into the energy system.

Acadia Center is working with partners across New England and around the country to help FERC develop new rules governing what the transmission grid of the future should look like. On October 12, Acadia Center and its partners submitted opening comments outlining what’s going wrong, what’s going right, and what needs to be improved.

Part of what needs to change is ISO-New England (ISO-NE). ISO-NE is the regional organization that FERC has designated to manage New England’s energy markets and transmission system. Right now, ISO-NE doesn’t consider state climate goals in its energy markets or its transmission planning, and that’s a huge obstacle to the clean energy transition. It is critical that ISO-NE take input early and often from both states and stakeholders in all regional planning, otherwise the region will fail to meet its critical clean energy goals.

Acadia Center has cried foul on ISO-NE before, New England Governors’ Energy Vision: Shifting Power on the Regional Electricity Grid arguing that ISO-NE is hanging onto the dirty fuels of the past. To their credit, the New England Governors have also started to object to ISO-NE’s backward-looking practices, demanding that ISO-NE conduct a study that shows what the energy system will look like in 2050 with state decarbonization goals as a guiding factor.

Acadia Center strongly supports the New England states in their efforts to press ISO-NE for policy accountability, including incorporating state decarbonization goals into transmission planning and regional energy markets. Without these changes, ISO-NE will continue to support dirty gas plants and entrenched interests over the new wind, solar, and storage solutions that should be leading the way. So far, ISO-NE continues to make its decisions behind closed doors, relying mostly on input from entrenched interests including the dirty fuel companies themselves. ISO-NE gives short shrift to the communities that are impacted by its decisions. As Acadia Center has argued before, this needs to change.

Acadia Center is asking FERC to implement reforms that cement the requirement to take state input early on in all regional energy planning, and to help states meet their policy goals, not hinder them. Acadia Center is also asking FERC to instruct ISO-NE to weigh community input and environmental justice, so that New England’s energy systems start to serve the people who rely on them.

The bottom line is that regional energy planning must reflect the policy of the states that make up the region and must protect the interests of the people who live there. Regional energy planners can’t do an end run around democratically determined state policies by hiding behind FERC-delegated federal authorities. FERC should unambiguously direct all its planning organizations across the country, including ISO-NE, to work with the states for the benefit of our communities.

Another benefit of the changes Acadia Center recommends is that through increased coordination and improved planning of both the energy markets and transmission systems, the region can avoid wasting time and money on projects like Northern Pass or NECEC, only for those projects to be canceled. The region should be working toward energy solutions that benefit everyone. This should include energy markets that let clean energy compete on a level playing field, so that states can rely on the markets instead of going it alone when they’re in search of clean energy. It should also include a transmission infrastructure that meets multiple states’ needs and provides benefits for communities across the region, not just in one area.

Acadia Center looks forward to providing more feedback to FERC on what needs to change and working with state leaders to ensure that clean energy and equity no longer take a back seat in New England’s energy planning, including on the transmission grid and in energy markets. As the states work hard to address the climate crisis, it’s time for ISO-NE and FERC to stop standing in the way and start treating the states like real partners.

Governor Lamont strikes out on climate

HARTFORD, CT- Despite overwhelming support from Connecticut voters, Governor Lamont announced Tuesday that he is no longer backing the Transportation and Climate Initiative Program (TCI-P). In his remarks, Governor Lamont cited high gasoline prices as his reason for changing course on TCI-P, stating that this is “not the year” for climate action.

In September, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) released the dire warning that Connecticut is not on track to meet its 2030 and 2050 GHG targets and is failing to meet the goals laid out in the 2008 Global Solutions Warming Act. The primary culprit behind Connecticut’s climate failure is the transportation sector, which now accounts for more climate pollution than Connecticut’s electricity and residential sectors combined. Governor Lamont had previously pointed to TCI-P as a central component of his plan to reduce transportation pollution; apparently, he now thinks we can wait. We won’t.

Acadia Center and our partners in the Connecticut’s Transportation Future coalition have worked tirelessly over the last few years to build support for action on transportation pollution through TCI-P. “Businesses, mayors, community leaders, and public health professionals have come out in support of the program and its economic, public health, and climate benefits,” said Amy McLean, Acadia Center’s Connecticut Director and Senior Policy Advocate. Environmental justice leaders have worked closely with state agencies and the legislature to center equity and transportation justice in Connecticut’s implementation of the TCI-P. “While Governor Lamont appears content to press pause on that important work, we are committed to moving it forward,” said McLean.

“The climate and public health damages from transportation pollution aren’t going away, and the longer we wait, the costlier they get,” said Jordan Stutt, Acadia Center’s Carbon Programs Director. “By delaying action for another year, Governor Lamont is deepening our debt to the next generation.”

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Media Contacts:

Amy McLean, Connecticut Director and Senior Policy Advocate
amcleansalls@acadiacenter.org, 860-246-7121 x204, cell: 860 478-9125
21 Oak Street, Suite 202, Hartford, CT 06106

Jordan Stutt, Carbon Programs Director
jstutt@acadiacenter.org, 617-742-0054 x105

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Acadia Center is a nonprofit research and advocacy organization committed to advancing the clean energy future. Acadia Center advocates for an equitable clean energy future for Connecticut, tackling regulatory and legislative energy policy, transportation, energy efficiency, beneficial electrification, utility innovation, and renewable energy.