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Commentary: Maine’s renewable-energy industry gets a double shot in the arm

Opinion

Major new solar and offshore wind projects help position us as a hub to start, grow and maintain energy businesses.

Maine has incredible natural energy resources that can and should be an engine of its economy. New solar and offshore wind projects help position Maine as a hub to start, grow and maintain energy businesses in a global market. This week, Maine put out the welcome mat and opened the door to being a leader in clean energy.

First, two solar development companies on both sides of the Atlantic joined forces to advance projects to generate 350 megawatts of renewable energy capacity across eight Maine communities. The international partnership between European Union-based BNRG Renewables and Portland’s Dirigo Solar LLC is moving forward with large-scale solar projects to produce enough electricity to power 78,000 homes.

The next day, a $100 million joint venture publicly emerged to develop floating offshore wind technology off the coast of Maine, potentially bringing tremendous economic, energy and environmental benefits to Maine’s coastal regions and the state. The public-private partnership includes Maine’s flagship educational institution, the University of Maine, and New England Aqua Ventus LLC, a collaboration between technology giant Mitsubishi Corp. and the second largest offshore wind company in the world, RWE Renewables. According to a joint statement by Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden: “Maine’s offshore wind resource potential is 36 times greater than the state’s electricity demand, making this project so significant for Maine’s clean energy future.”

Read the full Op-Ed in the Portland Press Herald here.

Stop investing in natural gas. Invest more in renewable energy.

Opinion

With increasing renewable energy mandates in almost every New England state and growing amounts of imported power, there is only so much of the energy pie left for natural gas. Ten years ago, some might have called natural gas a “bridge fuel.” But it’s 2020. A better analogy is that we’re already halfway across the river.

That’s based on the results of a recent study from Acadia Center, The Declining Role of Natural Gas Power in New England. It shows that new natural gas power plants like NTE Energy’s proposed plant near Killingly — and the pipelines to supply them — are going to be hard to justify.

My colleagues and I who wrote the report question the value and economic rationale for additional gas plants, with our scenarios suggesting that by the end of the decade, natural gas would only be needed to meet about a quarter of the demand that it does now.

We looked at two scenarios: continued expansion of natural gas supply and generation capacity, and no additional investment in gas infrastructure. Both show similar reductions in the amount of natural gas-fired electricity, leading eventually to the region’s gas power plants being used at less than 10% of their capacity by the end of this decade.

Read the full Op-Ed at The Hartford Courant here.

Massachusetts expands electric vehicle rebates to nonprofit, business fleets

Massachusetts has expanded its electric vehicle incentives to include nonprofit and business fleet vehicles, a move intended to maximize the environmental impact of the program at a time when a slumping economy has slowed vehicle sales across the state — and progress toward the state’s carbon emissions goals.

“It’s a big step forward,” said Jordan Stutt, carbon programs director at the Acadia Center, a nonprofit focused on the clean energy economy. “There’s no pathway in which we hit our climate targets without rapid electrification of vehicle fleets.”

“We really need to be working to address equity directly in every facet of our clean transportation plan,” Stutt said.

Read the full article from Energy News Network here.

Critics say Rhode Island report overlooks potential of heat pumps

That go-slow recommendation comes as some environmental groups are advocating for widespread heat pump adoption in the Northeast to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Acadia Center, for example, recently put out an overview of specific policy measures that states can put in place to develop the market for and accelerate the transition to heat pumps.

Such programs are growing rapidly in the U.S., with current year budgets of nearly $110 million, a 70% increase over the prior year, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

“We know that heat pumps are the most straightforwardly carbon-free way to heat and cool a house, and there are also a number of health benefits associated with them,” said Matt Rusteika, a senior policy analyst in Acadia’s Boston office. “We’re focused on building up the policy interventions that are going to bring down the cost of heat pumps, which are still a pretty new technology.”

Rusteika co-wrote a commentary on the Natural Resources Defense Council blog criticizing the Rhode Island report for not recommending firm targets for heat pump acceleration. He and co-author Alejandra Mejia, a building decarbonization advocate for NRDC, argued that the report overstated the technology’s drawbacks using two “incorrect assumptions.”

The other is the report’s prediction that the high upfront cost of the technology, including installation, will only drop by about 2% per year. Mejia and Rusteika called that estimate too conservative, and said that state incentive programs and other market development activities would drive down the cost more quickly.

“We’ve seen it with solar,” Rusteika said. “A number of overlapping policies have created a favorable atmosphere, with net metering being a big one, as well as renewable portfolio standards. That’s how you get the ball rolling.”

Rusteika expressed hope that the state still might set specific targets for heat pump adoption, as Maine has done.

“We’ve been really impressed with the Raimondo administration’s willingness to tackle this issue in particular,” he said.

Read the full article from Energy News Network here.

The Declining Role of Natural Gas Power in New England

By 2030, reliance on natural gas for electricity could decrease to only 10% of New England’s consumption

Existing gas-fired electricity plants would be underused and any new gas infrastructure would be unnecessary, according to new study from Acadia Center

A new report from Acadia Center entitled “The Declining Role of Natural Gas Power in New England” concludes that under current plans and laws, New England’s reliance on natural gas to fuel power plants could drop from 45% to approximately 10% of its electricity needs in 2030, making any investment in new gas pipelines or plants unnecessary and therefore costly.

The enormous shift away from natural gas would result from environmental policies in every New England state to promote renewables, as well as planned electricity imports from outside the region.

Connecticut has committed to reducing its 2050 greenhouse gas emissions by 80%, relative to 2001 levels, and Massachusetts has committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. Similar targets have been established by other states throughout New England.

The impacts from the region’s reliance on natural gas are disproportionately felt by low-income households and communities of color. The report calls for action to redress this ongoing inequity at every level of decision-making.

“This report underscores that continuing to invest in new gas infrastructure throughout the upcoming decade adds unnecessary expense, leaving us with plants and pipelines that we won’t need but could be forced to pay for,” said Daniel Sosland, President of Acadia Center. “It doesn’t make sense to build new gas-fired plants that we can’t use if we’re going to have a hope of avoiding the worst outcomes of climate change.”

In the meantime, the cost of generating wind power has dropped 70% in recent years, and utility-scale solar costs have dropped even further — by 90%, according to sources cited in the report.

The Acadia Center report studied two scenarios through 2030 — continued expansion of natural gas supply and generation capacity versus no additional investment in gas infrastructure. Under either scenario, dependence on gas-fired electricity would drop from about 45% to 10% of New England’s electricity needs.

“If natural gas is only needed to a meet a tenth of New England’s needs, then planned gas plants, and possibly existing ones, are going to be severely underutilized, and that could present problems for their finances,” warned Taylor Binnington, Senior Policy Analyst at Acadia Center.

From now until 2030, the expansion of renewables without additional investment in natural gas would result in a cumulative cost savings of about $620 million, clearly challenging the assumption that natural gas is the least expensive option, according to the study.

Furthermore, more reliance on natural gas means more dollars flowing out of Connecticut, Massachusetts and other New England states. For example, the report points out that in 2017, spending on imported natural gas by the electric power sector amounted to $1.4 billion. Recapturing some of those dollars to invest within the region could result in a net job gain.

The Acadia Center study offers several additional recommended actions and implications, including:

1. Construction of new natural gas plants should be opposed under all circumstances, since additional fossil gas generating capacity is unnecessary. New fossil gas plants may be unable to sell their electricity, potentially leaving stranded costs for ratepayers to cover.

2. Natural gas delivered to power generators in New England through expanded or upgraded pipelines would not be used enough to justify their investment costs. States should strongly consider whether new gas projects should proceed if they are misaligned with public policy.

3. Renewable electricity will play a huge role in helping states meet their carbon reduction goals. If ISO-NE’s markets continue to work against public policy goals, states should follow Connecticut’s lead and hold the ISO accountable – or find ways to work around it.

The report concludes, “the future of fossil gas power in New England will be a challenging one. Many decisions influencing what the grid will look like in the next ten years have already been made, which makes the remaining decisions even more important.” The long-term impacts of climate change – on human and ecosystem health and on the economy – have a cost, too, and decision-makers should be aware that these costs and benefits can make an even clearer case against expanding fossil gas infrastructure.

The full report is available here: https://acadiacenter.org/document/the-declining-role-of-natural-gas-power-in-new-england/


Media Contacts

Amy McLean, Connecticut Director & Senior Policy Advocate
amclean@acadiacenter.org, 860-246-7121 x204

Nancy Benben, Director of Communications & External Engagement
nbenben@acadiacenter.org, 617-742-0054 x104

Everett power plant does not have a place in a clean energy future

Letter to the Editor

Exelon, the corporate owner of the Mystic Generating Station, wants to keep the fossil fuel-burning plant open beyond its scheduled 2024 retirement date, flying in the face of the future we must demand: a reliable energy grid centered on clean resources that benefit everyone (“Plan to keep using Everett power plant fuels climate, health fears,” Page A1, June 15).

ISO New England, operator of the regional power grid, is already propping up the plant with hundreds of millions of ratepayer dollars, revealing a decision-making structure that perpetuates the status quo and ignores considerations of justice, equity, and sustainability for the affected communities. Extending Mystic’s life is not only dangerous for residents of Chelsea, Everett, and other surrounding communities; it is also indefensible, as shown by viable alternatives such as Somerset’s Brayton Point.

Once the site of the largest coal-fired power plant in New England, Brayton Point is now headed for repurposing as a hub for the burgeoning offshore wind industry. Rather than looking backward at familiar, but failed, practices, we must look forward to the innovative, clean-energy solutions that our planet and our communities need to thrive. To get there, Acadia Center is calling for energy market stakeholders, states, communities, and ISO New England to reimagine a clean, equitable energy future.

Deborah Donovan
Massachusetts Director and Senior Policy Advocate
Acadia Center
Boston

Read the Letter to the Editor in the Boston Globe here.

New England business groups make case to suspend energy efficiency surcharges

Clean energy advocates are pushing back against the proposal. Hank Webster, Rhode Island director at Acadia Center, said halting the programs would cause further harm to a sector that is already struggling as a result of a drop-off in home and business energy audits and efficiency improvements.

Efficiency programs help drive down energy bills for all customers, regardless of whether they participate, by reducing demand and avoiding the costs of procuring additional supply, he said.

Webster said he suspects the business groups are appealing to lawmakers, rather than the state entities that oversee the programs and set the rates, because “even in the midst of the pandemic, each of those bodies has been resolute in its support for the energy efficiency programs generally and would likely have rejected such a proposal on its face.”

He cited as an example a 6-1 vote by the Energy Efficiency and Resource Management Council in March in favor of more ambitious three-year targets for statewide energy savings. (Roberts cast the sole dissenting vote.) Those targets were subsequently approved by the state Public Utilities Commission.

Read the full article from Energy News Network here.

Statement of Acadia Center

Acadia Center joins the millions of Americans outraged and saddened by the unending violence directed at people of color in this country. The brutal, callous murder of George Floyd – like so many others before him — must cause us all to meaningfully confront the endemic racism and inequalities that pervade our institutions and culture.

Acadia Center is committed to fully participate and act with many partner groups and stakeholders. Our mission to build a clean energy future rises from a recognition that no solution is valid unless it contributes in a meaningful way to improving the lives of everyone, particularly those shut out and unfairly treated in our housing, employment, fiscal policy, health care, environmental protection, legal system, law enforcement and other areas.

Meaningfully tackling the climate crisis requires confronting systemic racism in this country and around the world. Acadia Center advocates for an equitable, clean energy future. That includes fully recognizing that the infrastructure our society has built – from large scale power plants, to highway routes, truck depots, refineries — overwhelmingly impact people of color and low-income communities.

As a staff dedicated to change, reform and improvement, we offer with humbleness but determination our dedication to stand with all communities and organizations advocating for racial and environmental justice to effect change. The promise of any civil society will only be realized when all have equal ability to live their lives with full human dignity.

“It’s up to all of us — Black, white, everyone — no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out.”
-Michelle Obama

The Maine Climate Council: What You Need to Know Webinar

May 27, 2020, 12:00 – 1:30 p.m.

Despite the public health crisis, the Maine Climate Council has continued its important work developing a climate action plan for Maine. The Climate Council’s six working groups have been meeting virtually over the last few months to develop their recommendations to reduce Maine’s greenhouse gas emissions at least 80% by 2050, a target set it Maine law.

Please join Acadia Center and our partners for a Zoom webinar to hear from Maine Climate Council working group members about strategies they are developing to help Maine meet its climate goals and how you can take action. In addition to Working Group updates on forests, power and utilities, transportation, Acadia Center’s Jeff Marks will be presenting on the strategies being considered by the Buildings, Infrastructure, and Housing Working Group. Register to attend here.

Implications for a Downward Trend in Emissions

Numerous news stories have documented how the pandemic and resulting economic crisis have reduced air pollution around the world , bringing emissions down globally by 17%. As Americans have been forced to shelter in place to stop the spread of COVID-19, the air around us has become noticeably cleaner and climate pollution has fallen. While no one would seek to lower emissions in this way, a recent article in the Boston Globe explored the extent of the pandemic-induced pollution reduction while highlighting opportunities to rebuild a cleaner, more equitable economy.

“[E]missions from cars, trucks, and airplanes have declined in metropolitan Boston by about 30 percent, while overall carbon emissions have fallen by an estimated 15 percent,” writes David Abel, the author of the article. That level of pollution reduction is unprecedented but offers a challenge to better envision and implement an economic recovery pathway that delivers a just transition to a sustainable future.

That’s why Acadia Center is pushing harder than ever for policies that will make that transition possible. One of the efforts discussed in the article is the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI). Through TCI, 11 states from Maine to Virginia are working to develop a regional program to reduce vehicle pollution and spur investment in a cleaner, modern, more equitable transportation future. In the Boston Globe, Acadia Center’s Jordan Stutt described it as “a public health program and an economic stimulus program wrapped in one.” The program would generate billions of dollars each year for investment in transportation infrastructure, helping the local workforce rebound while delivering better transportation options and cleaner air to communities across the region.

Acadia Center has long championed the point – supported by data and research — that well-designed efforts to reduce climate pollution provide many benefits for all citizens: improved public health, greater economic opportunity, safer, more efficient buildings, lower energy bills, and more accessible, less-polluting ways to get around. Those benefits are more important now than ever before, particularly in the communities that have been hit hardest by COVID-19. Those communities must be front of mind and at the head of the table as we look to build a resilient, sustainable economy. Acadia Center is committed to doing the research, providing the data and making the case for the large-scale reforms and investment in a cleaner future that will improve the quality of life, health and economies of this region.