Governor Shapiro Can Champion Climate and Consumer Benefits from RGGI and Benefit Pennsylvania’s Future
For Release: November 2, 2023
Rockport, ME – In the wake of a pivotal Commonwealth Court decision finding Pennsylvania’s involvement in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) unconstitutional, the state’s commitment to combating climate change has been put into question. Governor Josh Shapiro is presented with a unique opportunity to become a climate leader and safeguard the state’s environment, economy, and public health by supporting an appeal of the Court’s decision.
“Numerous studies confirm that participation in RGGI by Pennsylvania will provide large climate benefits, reduce criteria pollutant emissions, improve health outcomes, reduce energy bills for consumers, and create jobs and economic growth in the Commonwealth.” stated Paola Tamayo, Policy Analyst at Acadia Center and co-author of the organization’s RGGI Third Program Review Report. “Participating RGGI states have seen their economies grow faster than states that do not limit climate pollution and proceeds from RGGI have enabled these states to invest more than $6.7 billion to help move their states to a healthier clean energy future,” she added.
“If Pennsylvania fails to participate in RGGI moving forward it represents a significant missed opportunity for generating revenue that could be used for critical investments, including upgrades to housing in environmental justice communities, that the state desperately needs.” said Ben Butterworth, Director of Climate, Energy & Equity Analysis at Acadia Center. “If Pennsylvania had participated in RGGI the last several years, the state would have generated nearly $1 billion per year to make investments in their economy that simultaneously address the climate crisis and improve the quality of life for residents.”
A coalition of environmental organizations in Pennsylvania have emphasized the importance of Governor Shapiro appealing in the next 30 days. Failure to appeal the decision would have significant negative consequences for both the state and the region as a whole.
Implications for Pennsylvania:
- Public Health: RGGI reduces carbon pollution from power plants, mitigating the harmful health impacts of air pollution in Pennsylvania’s communities. Governor Shapiro’s appeal can protect the well-being of residents from the devastating health consequences of poor air quality and save hundreds of Pennsylvanian lives. According to Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), RGGI would prevent 639 premature deaths from respiratory illnesses, reduce hospital visits by 30,000 and deliver over $6 billion in public health benefits.
- Economic Prosperity: By staying in RGGI, Pennsylvania can reap substantial economic benefits, including program payments totaling approximately $1 billion annually, which could be directly invested in projects that benefit Pennsylvanians. This funding would promote job creation, stimulate the state’s economy and benefit both public health and environmental justice communities. Additionally, the public health improvements from reductions in criteria air pollution as a result of RGGI participation would result in 83,000 avoided lost workdays according to analysis by DEP.
- Environmental Stewardship: Remaining a part of RGGI would bolster Pennsylvania’s commitment to environmental sustainability. It enables the state to reduce its carbon emissions, limit climate impacts, and protect the environment for future generations. According to DEP, RGGI could help Pennsylvania avoid between 97 and 225 million tons of carbon pollution by 2030.
Implications for the Region:
- Collective Emission Reductions: Pennsylvania’s involvement would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality throughout the region. An exit from the program would undermine the collective effort to combat climate change in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region.
- Strengthening the RGGI Coalition: If both Pennsylvania and Virginia had participated in RGGI auctions in 2022, Pennsylvania alone would have represented 44% of total regional power sector emissions covered under the RGGI program. Given the sheer amount of power sector emissions coming from Pennsylvania, the importance of keeping the state in RGGI to bolster the strength of the overall coalition cannot be understated.
Governor Shapiro’s appeal would demonstrate a commitment to protecting Pennsylvania’s climate, public health, and economic future, especially considering that there is no alternative program waiting on his desk. By appealing, he has the opportunity to champion clean energy and job creation for the state. Governor Shapiro can be a beacon for a cleaner, greener future by appealing this decision and solidifying Pennsylvania’s dedication to RGGI.
Ben Butterworth, Director: Climate, Energy, and Equity Analysis
email@example.com, 617-742-0054 x111
Paola Moncada Tamayo, Policy Analyst
firstname.lastname@example.org, 860-246-7121 x204
With a $400 million infusion, Massachusetts shifts transition to electric vehicles into drive
In a move hailed as a major step in the state’s climate battle, Massachusetts has approved a $400 million plan to install tens of thousands of electric vehicle chargers as part of an effort to encourage larger numbers of drivers to switch from gas cars to electric.
The order from the state’s Department of Public Utilities, issued last week, allows electric utilities Eversource, National Grid, and Unitil to put a surcharge on ratepayers’ electricity bills to support the build-out of needed infrastructure. Under the plan, the utilities over the next four years will upgrade and lay wires to support chargers and offer rebates to individuals and businesses looking to install them at homes, apartment buildings, workplaces, and public locations like retail parking lots. The plan reserves money for charging hubs in poor and minority neighborhoods, as well as for marketing the rebates.
Amy Boyd, vice president of climate and clean energy policy for Acadia Center, a clean-energy advocacy group, said she was glad to see the order, but said she would rather “have it be more of a strategic, government-led, undertaking, as opposed to industry-led.” That would allow for the planning process to take into account the bigger climate picture, she said, like whether to co-locate solar or battery storage along with chargers, or to think about upgrading transformers at the same time to facilitate increased energy demands from the electrification of heating.
Read the full article in The Boston Globe here.
Advocates say Massachusetts clean heat policy needs focus on heat pumps, equity
Massachusetts climate advocates say a clean heat standard proposed by state officials could fail to create meaningful progress toward decarbonization if it overvalues alternative fuels and doesn’t prioritize equity.
“The devil is in the details,” said Amy Boyd, vice president of climate and clean energy policy at the nonprofit Acadia Center, one of several environmental groups closely following the developing state policy.
In January 2022, then-Gov. Charlie Baker convened a Clean Heat Commission to develop strategies for decarbonizing the state’s building sector, which accounts for about 40% of its total emissions. Among its final recommendations released in November was the adoption of a clean heat performance standard.
The policy would create a system similar to a renewable portfolio standard but for heat instead of electricity. Heating fuel suppliers would be required to contribute to clean heat projects, likely by buying credits generated from activities such as heat pump installations and weatherization improvements. Over time, the amount of clean heat credits required would increase.
Read the full article at Energy News Network here.
The winter energy crunch, what it costs, and what it will take to fix it
Connecticut’s first-ever Comprehensive Energy Strategy, released 10 years ago, was built around natural gas. Gas was cheap, plentiful and cleaner than oil or coal. It was touted as a bridge from those fuels to renewables for electric power, and better than oil for heating. The CES set out to convert hundreds of thousands of homes to gas heat.
But that strategy came with a big red flag, now all too familiar.
“The interstate pipeline system that supplies Connecticut’s natural gas is already constrained, and there is limited liquified natural gas (LNG) capacity in Connecticut. At current use rates, there will not be enough interstate pipeline, storage, or peaking capacity to serve a large-scale addition of new customers,” the CES said. “Underestimating and purchasing too little capacity could lead to reliability issues (i.e., a shortfall in supply during peak winter season).”
And that is precisely what happened. Ten years later we are facing another winter of price-spiking, hand-wringing and finger-pointing over the current shortfall.
“Because this is an urgent situation now that we haven’t resolved in the past decade, we need all of the parties to come to the table. And we need the federal government, ISO New England and the New England states to work cooperatively to craft a set of solutions that can keep the lights on,” Birchard, formerly of Acadia Center said. “Those solutions have to start with clean energy.”
She singled out demand response, which alters the power need through systems such as control of thermostats, lighting, industrial processes and even the number of elevators that are operating in buildings.
“They don’t require the huge transmission lines. They don’t require the huge infrastructure and time processes that some other types of investments do,” Birchard said.
And there’s storage that allows for collection of excess power. Eversource fired up it first storage project a few months ago – 25 megawatts of battery capacity in Provincetown.
“We had three or four outages this summer,” Nolan said. “11,000 customers never knew we had an outage. It rolls right through it with that battery.”
Read the full article in CT Mirror here.
Gov.-elect Healey taps EPA’s Melissa Hoffer as state’s first climate chief
Gov.-elect Maura Healey announced Monday that she’ll appoint Melissa Hoffer to become the state’s first “climate chief.” Hoffer currently serves as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s principal deputy general.
“Melissa Hoffer has an incredible track record as a fierce climate advocate,” said Kyle Murray, the Acadia Center’s Massachusetts senior policy advocate. “She has proven again and again that she has what it takes to both listen and lead, and she knows the urgency of the climate crisis. I am confident that she will hit the ground running immediately and help guide our Commonwealth toward our decarbonization goals.”
Read the full article in WBUR News here.
Scientific journal investigating UMass hydrogen study after revelations of gas industry influence
A peer-reviewed scientific journal has begun investigating a study it recently published on the use of hydrogen as a heating fuel in Massachusetts, citing a Globe investigation that found the authors failed to disclose gas industry funding and the role of a lobbyist aligned with the industry.
A research integrity specialist for the journal Frontiers in Energy Research, which published the study in September, said in an e-mail that the Globe’s account led the journal to open its “own internal investigation into the aforementioned manuscript to assess the situation and establish the facts of the matter.”
If the investigation finds conflicts that call into question the study’s findings, it could lead to a retraction.
The study, by scientists at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, endorsed the use of so-called green hydrogen for heating buildings in Massachusetts and recommended the state consider adopting hydrogen as a clean fuel. The American Gas Association and gas interests in Massachusetts have been promoting hydrogen as a climate-friendly alternative to carbon-emitting gas. Adopting such a plan on a large scale would allow gas utilities to continue operating and profiting much as they do now but with a different fuel.
But many scientists say using green hydrogen as a replacement for natural gas — or mixing it with natural gas or other fuels, as the gas industry has also proposed — isn’t feasible for reasons that include high cost, safety risks, and hydrogen’s potential to harm the climate. What’s more, they say, continuing to push green hydrogen as a climate-friendly option could delay progress on more realistic climate solutions.
Beyond that, many experts say there simply isn’t enough of either gas available to feasibly heat homes.
A report by National Grid found there is ample renewable natural gas in the Eastern United States, but Ben Butterworth, the director of climate, energy and equity analysis at the clean energy advocacy organization Acadia Center, said he has not seen any independent research supporting that conclusion. Studies including a 2021 Princeton report called “Net Zero America” have found that similar supply issues face green hydrogen, because producing it at scale requires so much wind or solar power.
“It makes absolutely no sense that we would be talking about using this for residential and commercial uses,” he said.
Read the full article in The Boston Globe here.
5 takeaways from R.I.’s climate update report
PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island on Monday released a draft report outlining the progress it’s made and the progress it will need to continue to make in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to curb climate change.
The report is part of the state’s landmark Act on Climate law of 2021, which sets binding climate emission reduction targets starting in 2030. By 2050, the state must reach net zero emissions. A final version of the draft report is expected later this month, but this is pretty much what you’ll see in final form.
As noted, based on the models in this report, Rhode Island will still miss its emission reduction targets by 2030 even if it adopts certain efforts to curb climate change. So what more can be done that the report isn’t suggesting? Well, here’s one example: Advocates have called for the state to fully fund the state’s Transit Master Plan and its Bike Mobility Plan.
The report says those contain good ideas, but that’s “not possible at this time.”
“I would say that like any other policy priority, it’s not accurate for the administration to say that fully funding those plans is not possible,” said Hank Webster, Rhode Island director of the Acadia Center. “It’s a choice, a policy decision not to fully fund those well vetted and approved plans that have been collecting dust.”
Still, Webster describes himself as an optimist, and was overall sanguine about the report and the state’s ability to get to where it needs to go.
“We have the technology and policy solutions that we need to get there,” Webster said.
Read the full article in The Boston Globe here.
Solving the Winter Energy Problem with Acadia Center
Year after year, the operator of New England’s electric grid, ISO-New England (ISO-NE), announces a risk of blackouts during the winter. New Englanders are stuck in a Groundhog Day scenario, asking: if this threat to the region’s electric grid happens every year, why hasn’t it been fixed by now? At a recent webinar for the Acadia Center community, our staff took on these vital questions.
Melissa Birchard, Acadia Center’s Director of Clean Energy & Grid Transition, explained how ISO-New England operates the region’s power grid and electricity markets. ISO-NE, with the backing of the federal government, has the power to institute measures like rolling blackouts to keep the electricity system safe during the winter. Although rolling blackouts would only occur if winter weather were to be unusually severe and prolonged, state utilities have been asked to plan for this possibility.
The region’s overreliance on natural gas is the root cause of these problems. New England has increased its use of natural gas to generate electricity by a massive amount in the last 20 years. New England relies on natural gas for over 50% of its fuel mix each year, which is risky both because an overreliance on any one fuel creates a liability and because natural gas is not produced locally in New England and is, therefore, more difficult to have on hand and subject to price spikes. Because natural gas is a fossil fuel, it also contributes to extreme weather, perpetuating the risk of blackouts. Our targets for climate health all involve eliminating the use of fossil fuels like natural gas now and in the coming years.
In the winter, natural gas is in high demand not only in New England, but around the country and the globe. It’s this increased demand that threatens rolling blackouts and that causes consumer bills to rise, as gas supplies are preferentially delivered to utilities to provide heat, rather than merchant generators to keep the lights on. This winter has added challenges due to Russia’s war in Ukraine, restricting global imports from a major global supplier of natural gas. In addition, supply chain issues due to the pandemic and climate change are elevating risks. These factors have made prices skyrocket and the chance of blackouts rise.
Acadia Center’s answer to this problem, which we detailed in a recent explainer written with our partners, is clean energy. Clean energy provides solutions for near-, medium- and long-term problems.
These solutions include:
- Resource Diversity – Stopping the overreliance on gas.
- Demand Management – Managing consumer demand in smart and strategic ways. This can include using residential solar and batteries to support the electric grid, automatically adjusting lighting and device charging, or delaying energy intensive processes in industrial facilities to help lighten the load on the grid during key stretches of time.
- Bringing online clean, renewable energy – Resources like offshore wind are strong in the winter and healthy for our planet.
- Energy storage – Saving energy for the times of highest demand, in short, medium, and long duration.
To implement these solutions, we need to scale up clean energy and transmission lines for newly generated clean energy to travel across the region. We also need to get behind new technologies and modern energy markets. Many of these solutions need to be driven by the New England states and ISO-New England working together.
Amy Boyd, Vice President, Climate & Clean Energy Policy, detailed some solutions consumers can implement in the near term. The biggest thing consumers can do is make sure their homes are as energy efficient as possible and shop around to get off fossil fuels. Alternatives like community choice aggregation offer more options and often come in at a lower cost than traditional utility bills due to greater diversity and added renewable energy. Community solar can also be a great way to participate in clean energy located in your community, even if you can’t add solar panels to your own roof.
It’s important to remember that rising energy costs and the risk of blackouts can disproportionately affect renters, lower income people, non-English speakers, and environmental justice populations. These communities are most likely to live in homes that are not weatherized or connected to green energy, meaning they are on average 25% less efficient, cost five times more to heat, and create 50% of greenhouse gas emissions The winter energy problem is a threat to everyone but presents even more serious concerns for these communities, so we need green solutions to help these communities that need it most.
You can watch the webinar any time to hear more about this topic, find more for consumers looking to lower energy bills, and hear Amy and Melissa answer questions from the audience. This webinar was made possible by the Acadia Center donor community, and we’re so grateful for the support. If you’d like to join Acadia Center in the fight for the clean energy system of the future, please donate here.
Massachusetts Utilities Hope Hydrogen and Biomethane Can Keep the State Cooking, and Heating, With Gas
There is great uncertainty in Massachusetts’ path to decarbonization, and two conflicting visions are emerging for the future of the state’s gas system. Central to the conflict are questions over the role of alternative gases in the transition to clean energy, as well as the future of the gas industry as a whole. And as invisible as the gas is itself, some of the industry’s influence on the energy transition has been hidden from view, as underscored by emails released this week by a watchdog group.
As gas utilities and advocates debate the future of the gas system, state regulators have deferred to the utilities to construct the initial plans for decarbonization. In a variety of avenues throughout the state, utilities have used their influence to promote their preferred decarbonization options, often out of the public eye. Environmentalists argue this is putting the state’s climate goals in jeopardy.
“Is a gas utility going to plan against its best interests for the sake of the Commonwealth’s decarbonization goals, or for the sake of ratepayers in the Commonwealth?” asked Kyle Murray, a senior policy advocate at the Acadia Center, a nonprofit that focuses on climate and energy policy. “I’m not sure that’s even fair to them, as they have shareholders that they need to deliver a profit to. So there’s a fundamental problem with who draws up the plans.”
Read the full article in Inside Climate News here.
Heat Pumps in Real Life – Part 2
If you’ve been hanging around Acadia Center’s blogs for very long, you’ve heard about how air source heat pumps work by moving heat, rather than generating it – so they can be 3-4 times as efficient as gas, and how “a heat pump is probably the biggest thing that consumers can to do help fight the climate crisis.” You might have even seen my colleague Ben Butterworth’s multiple photos in the Boston Globe as the face of heat pumps, or read about the lessons I learned back in May when investing in seven mini-splits to electrify my 1880s house.
But have you heard that under the Inflation Reduction Act, starting in 2023, heat pumps will be eligible for rebates and tax credits of up to $8,000, in addition to the rebates already in place from state programs like MassSave?
Power Cool: Even though this August was the hottest on record, my heat pumps kept my family comfortable and well air conditioned. Last year, we had one AC unit and a ton of fans to see us through August, and it was miserable. We spent too much time and money at the movie theater, mall, water parks, and other desperate ways to keep cool. This year, we happily spent our days at home in comfort. My daughter even discovered a “power cool” setting that sounded like a jet engine but felt amazing as it rapidly cooled her room. We did use 38% more electricity in August than the year prior but were easily 100% more comfortable, and spent roughly the same, once you factor in the movies and water parks. Although my home isn’t a good candidate for solar, I’m going to look into a community solar program, to be able to reduce our bills for next summer.
Dehumidification settings matter: My son’s asthma was flaring up late this summer and his room smelled even funkier than you’d expect for a 9-year old’s bedroom. I had a mold inspector come check things out. He didn’t find any mold but did find that the humidity levels in most of the house were 68-72%. Way too high. After some frustration, I dug into the settings on my heat pumps and discovered that the dehumidification mode (rather than the auto-cool setting I originally chose) resulted in a much lower humidity home with a much cooler feel. Better idea all around! So, watch out for humidity weirdness and play with settings. You may be surprised by what you find. Also run a full dehumidification cycle when you’re switching from cooling mode to heating season to make sure that you clear out all the moisture and prevent mold in the air handlers.
Keep it Clean: Although my instruction manuals said that I should clean the air filters monthly (and other filters periodically), I have only done it twice in the 6 months the heat pumps have been part of our family. Both times, though, there has been a lot more dust than I predicted. These things really are filtering the air! It’s important to keep the filters clean to maximize air flow, reduce the amount of energy they need to expend, and keep your air quality high. I’m going to put an alert on my calendar to make it more of a habit. I’d also encourage folks to install indoor units where they can reach them for maintenance – 10 feet into the air (like two of mine are) isn’t a great spot unless you love hanging out on ladders.
Shoulder season: I have been loving the flexibility that my heat pumps offer to heat up one room at a time or turn them on just enough to take the chill out of the air. With our radiators, it’s all or nothing and that first burst of heating inevitably wakes up my kids with all the banging. Especially on these days when it’s cold in the morning, but lovely by mid-day, I appreciate having the option to micro-adjust the temperature in my office or bedroom while leaving the rest of the house to float (because it also holds its temperature well after upgrading our insulation). And on the surprise 70-degree days, it’s nice to just turn the units off and not deal with residual heat like we would have with the radiators. As climate change makes our weather weirder, I’m glad to have equipment that can handle extremes in both directions and change up quickly.
Be a New Englander, Wear the Sweater: The first few days I tried to switch to heating mode, my heat pumps would run for a few minutes, then pause seemingly mid-cycle and show me an icon like a water droplet on top of a snowflake. This error message wasn’t included in any of the instruction manuals, and after some googling, I determined that it means that the outdoor temperature and humidity levels aren’t different enough from the indoor temp I’ve requested. In other words, my heat pump was telling me to suck it up and put on a sweater. It was right. Indeed, on the days when the temperature fell further, the error went away, and the unit started cranking out toasty warm air. I also remembered to lock closed all my windows, and that helped immensely, too.
The Financials: I got my full rebate from MassSave two months after it was submitted by my vendor. I’ve heard that it’s taking longer than in recent months because there’s been such a flurry of activity and rebate requests. Stay patient and keep checking the online tracker to see what’s happening. As I mentioned, my summer electric usage was 20-38% higher than last year (but we got a lot more AC out of the deal), but my fall usage has been within 15% of what it was. My gas use, however, was down 77% for the month of October. The biggest portion of my gas bills is now the $10 a month customer charge – indicating that once I get an induction stove and heat pump water heater, I can save even more by ditching gas entirely.
The Bottom Line: For me, the investment in heat pumps was more about comfort and doing what we could to decarbonize than it was about saving money. We have not saved much from the summer, but that’s to be expected with so much added air conditioning. I am excited to see how much we’ll save this winter! Check out the MassSave heating comparison calculator if you want to see the potential savings for your home. This year, I’m even looking forward to snow, so we can really see how the heat pumps fare and hope to make it through the winter without turning on our backup system. I’ll let you know in the spring!