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Hammering out Maine’s Climate Action Plan: Deep Dive into the BIH Working Group Recommendations

Maine’s Climate Action plan is being hammered out this year by the Maine Climate Council, convened by Gov. Janet Mills. The Climate Action Plan will be a roadmap to achieving Maine’s goals of reaching 45% greenhouse gas emissions reductions by 2030, and at least 80% by 2050. This blog takes you on a deep dive into the process of creating recommendations for the Action Plan, particularly for the Buildings, Infrastructure, and Housing Working Group. You can access more of the recommendations here.

In May, despite the coronavirus, the Acadia Center and its partners convened a (virtual) meeting of more than 400 people, including dozens of environmental, labor, and public health organizations, to learn about how the Climate Action Plan will be created. The webinar, titled “The Maine Climate Council: Everything You Need to Know” was hosted by over 30 entities dedicated to reducing carbon pollution and equitably transitioning Maine’s economy to clean, renewable energy. Acadia Center joined its partners to call for action that strengthens the economy, creates well-paying jobs, improves public health, and ensures equitable distribution of investments, benefits, and opportunities. The full webinar can be found at this link.

Speakers at the webinar demanded a Climate Action Plan with concrete legislative and regulatory actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Clear implementation timelines and targets are also essential. Acadia Center has been working individually and with its coalition partners to influence policy strategies being developed across seven working groups of the Maine Climate Council. These working groups have been created to tackle the topics of coastal and marine issues; community resilience planning, public health, and emergency management; electricity and utility innovation; natural and working lands; and transportation. The working group members include businesses, legislators, nonprofits and foundations, scientific and academic experts, state and local governments, and youth representatives, each of which provide a different perspective on the issues. In their decision-making process, working group members considered costs and benefits; impacts on low-income, senior, and rural residences; funding and financing mechanisms; and economic and workforce results. During the webinar, Jeff Marks of Acadia Center presented the results of the Buildings, Infrastructure, and Housing (BIH) Working Group.

Why is the buildings and infrastructure sector so important to Maine’s climate goals? In Maine, this sector comprises 39% of total greenhouse gas emissions, with the residential sector the second highest carbon-emitter overall at 19% of the state’s emissions (transportation is first at 54%). Maine also has some of the oldest building stock in the country (56% of Maine homes were built before 1980) and the highest reliance on fossil fuels for heating. Sixty percent of homes still heat with oil, and 19% with natural gas or propane.

The BIH Working Group moved forward strategies that lead to:

Acadia Center outlined six strategies to reduce emissions in buildings, infrastructure, and housing:

1. Improve the design and construction of new buildings through steadily and more stringent building codes, increased compliance and enforcement, and focus on both operational and embodied carbon.
2. Transition to cleaner heating and cooling, especially high-efficiency space and water heat pumps.
3. Enhance the efficiency and resiliency of existing building envelopes, including audits, deep retrofits, and weatherization.
4. Lead by example in publicly funded buildings, including affordable housing, government buildings, and schools.
5. Accelerate the decarbonization of industrial processes, including overcoming limited funding for industrial efficiency, combined heat and power, and microgrids.
6. Modernize and stabilize the electricity grid, including ways to meet new demand in parallel with beneficial electrification, decarbonization, electric vehicles, and authorizing state agencies to consider climate mandates in their regulatory processes and decisions.

 

The Working Groups submitted their recommendations to the Maine Climate Council in June 2020, with a final Climate Action Plan due in December 2020.

In addition, Acadia Center was part of an open letter calling on the Maine Climate Council to strategically prioritize specific recommendations – read the details here on our website.

Do you want to share your opinions with the Council? Fill out this survey on the Council’s website to share your thoughts!

New York State Moves to Tackle Grid Decarbonization

New York has some of the most aggressive electrical grid decarbonization goals of any state. In 2019, Governor Cuomo signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), a broad legislative mandate that requires the state to source 70% of its electricity from renewable resources by 2030 (70 by ’30 goal) and achieve 100% zero-emissions electricity by 2040. Meeting the 2030 goal requires a significant increase in renewable energy procurement from offshore wind, solar, and hydropower, as well as reforms to the regulatory structure of the state’s electricity markets. On June 18, 2020, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and the state’s Department of Public Service (DPS) published a report outlining how existing regulatory and procurement processes under the state’s clean energy standard (CES) can be used to meet the 2030 requirement and set the state on a path to meeting the 2040 goal, while proposing new policies and modifications to the CES to align the program with the CLCPA.
The New England states, much like New York, have ambitious climate change goals and strategies that require greater deployment of zero-carbon electricity sources. The table below outlines the economy-wide greenhouse gas reduction commitments in New England and New York. Since other sectors such as transportation and buildings will need to move to clean electricity, rather than burning fossil fuels electricity, it is crucial that the electric gird decarbonizes as soon as possible. The report notes that “decarbonization of the generation sector and electrification of other sectors – all while ensuring efficiency and cost-effectiveness – must be carried out simultaneously and vigorously.” Decreasing emissions from buildings and transportation through energy efficiency, electric vehicle (EV) adoption and home electrification will be critical, which will also require an increase in renewable electricity through growing offshore wind, solar, and hydroelectric resources. Many of the suggested market reforms laid out in the NYSERDA report are relevant to New England, especially as both areas plan for a dramatic increase in offshore wind and are concerned with the environmental justice issues of existing natural gas infrastructure. Meeting decarbonization goals will not be easy, but New York, as detailed in this report and mandated in the CLCPA, is a taking a wide-ranging and holistic approach to decarbonization from which other states and regions can learn.

Progress To-Date and Roadmap to a Cleaner Grid

NYSERDA lays out the progress that New York has made toward meeting its 2030 goal. The graph below illustrates that:

1. Even though New York expects increased electrification of home heating and cooling through air- and ground-source heat pumps, as well as increased demand for electricity due to EV adoption, overall electric demand is projected to decrease by 6% between 2020 and 2030 due to increased energy efficiency and behind-the-meter solar, such as residential rooftop solar panels.
2. Non-renewable generation will have to decrease from roughly 75% of total generation today to 30% by 2030 (orange wedge). Below, we estimate that non-renewable generation will retire in straight linear fashion, however, retirements are likely to be stepwise as large fossil plants are required to come offline before 2030.
3. Approximately 25% of New York power generation in 2018 came from renewable energy (dark blue wedge), a sizeable portion that counts toward the 2030 goal.
4. New York needs additional renewable energy procurement beyond existing contracted renewable resources (light-blue wedge) including the 1,826 megawatt (MW) Empire Wind and Sunrise Wind projects and the 6 gigawatts (GW) of community-scaled on-site solar through the state’s NY-Sun program, both expected to be operational by 2025. This leaves a gap of roughly 43,000 GWh, or 28% of projected 2030 load, of new renewable energy (green wedge) that the state must supply in order to meet its 2030 target, a substantial but achievable goal. This remaining renewable generation is split between the mandated 9 GW of offshore wind by 2035 as required by the CLCPA and new renewable generation that has not been built or contracted.

Existing Clean Energy Standard Challenges and Recommendations

In the report, NYSERDA details challenges that the state faces and presents a number of recommended changes to the state’s procurement processes for renewable resources to ensure that the state meets its 2030 goal.

Concluding Thoughts and Next Steps

In order to stave off the worst effects of climate change, the science indicates that we must decarbonize our electricity supply as quickly as possible. In fact, as we increasingly rely on the electric grid to power transportation and heating, it becomes even more important that those sectors electrify using renewable electricity. New York, like New England, has ambitious grid decarbonization goals, with this report illustrating that the transition to a clean energy future will require long-term planning, proactive state-wide policy, flexible renewable energy development timelines, and a focus on environmental equity and justice.

Opportunities to Take Action:

NYSERDA is currently taking comments on the report through August 18, 2020.

 

by Stefan Koester, Policy Analyst

 

E-Bikes: Another Path to Clean Mobility

Since 2015, the Massachusetts Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Commission has been working to expand access to non-polluting vehicles and chart a course towards a cleaner transportation future. At last Thursday’s ZEV Commission meeting, Acadia Center, Conservation Law Foundation and Sierra Club delivered recommendations to accelerate that transition to a clean transportation future (on behalf of 17 Massachusetts organizations) which included recommendations to increase access to another electric mobility option: e-bikes.

E-bikes (electric bicycles) are bicycles equipped with a battery, giving riders an electric assist as they pedal. The boost from an e-bike’s battery helps riders cover longer distances and climb hills more easily than they could on a standard bicycle. That makes cycling to work, school, transit, and other destinations a possibility for more people, including those who would otherwise be unable to make those trips due to physical limitations.

Research shows that increased use of e-bikes can significantly reduce vehicle miles traveled. In a recent survey of e-bike users conducted by the University of Tennessee and Portland State University, respondents most frequently cited replacing car trips as a reason for their purchase of an e-bike. One survey response said, “Before the e-bike I would normally only commute to work 2-3 days a week (because of the weight of my laptop, clothes, lunch, etc.). The extra weight, combined with the amount of elevation gain, would leave my legs too tired to commute more than that. However, I can now easily commute 5 days a week.”

That holds true for a new convert to e-bikes: Acadia Center’s Connecticut Director, Amy McLean-Salls (pictured below). She’s already ditching the car for trips to the grocery store, and once the Hartford office re-opens she can ride the e-bike 12 miles instead of driving to work. Amy saves on gas money and gets more exercise, and everyone else benefits from the avoided tailpipe pollution and one fewer car sitting in Hartford traffic.

However, our policies need to encourage widespread adoption of this mobility option. While e-bikes can take their riders farther than traditional bicycles, they also tend to cost more. That cost gap can be addressed, in part, through rebates, similar to the state and federal incentives currently in place to help address the cost gap between electric vehicles and traditional cars.

Cyclists, clean transportation advocates and other stakeholders are calling on states to deliver support for e-bikes. Last Monday, Acadia Center joined our partners at the Transport Hartford Academy at the Center for Latino Justice in calling for the expansion of Connecticut’s CHEAPR EV rebate program to include rebates for e-bikes. And at the Massachusetts ZEV Commission meeting last Thursday, Acadia Center called for a $300 rebate for e-bike purchases, and a $500 rebate for low-income consumers and those living in environmental justice communities. Those communities suffer from inequitable exposure to transportation pollution and have less access to transit; delivering improved transit service and more mobility options should be a top priority.

Though there are many significant benefits to e-bike usage, Massachusetts currently has outdated laws that were created before the technology that is now widely used in these devices. These laws make it difficult for consumers to maximize the benefits of e-bikes by limiting access to bike paths, requiring licenses, and preventing anyone under 16 from riding legally.

Our friends at MassBike are leading an effort to bring Massachusetts e-bike regulations up to date with other states’ more modern laws. S.2071 and H.3014, which are currently sitting in the Joint Committee on Transportation, would classify e-bikes by their maximum assisted speed and whether or not the motor provides assistance if the rider is not pedaling. Classifying e-bikes as bicycles instead of mopeds is much more consistent with the technology that they use and will allow Massachusetts residents to take advantage of this innovative transportation option at a time when creative mobility solutions are desperately needed to prevent an uptick in car usage.

As offices re-open and the Commonwealth’s residents start returning to work, Massachusetts should do whatever possible to help them get to work safely, sustainably, and in ways that help avoid a return to Boston’s worst-in-the-nation traffic congestion. E-bike rebates should be part of that plan, as should updating the Commonwealth’s outdated regulations that treat low-speed e-bikes the same as high-powered mopeds. With a first-in-the-nation, state-sponsored e-bike rebate program and the passage of H.3014/S.2071, more Massachusetts residents will have access to electrified mobility options.


What you can do:

 

by Rachel ZaffEnvironmental Policy Intern, and Jordan StuttCarbon Programs Director