Mold, asbestos may put Connecticut weatherization goal out of reach

State leaders are looking for funding sources for remediation work that needs to happen before many energy efficiency upgrades can be completed. 

Lorenzo Wyatt owns a Connecticut energy-efficiency contracting business focused almost exclusively on low-income residents — about 80% of his customers are eligible for no-cost energy savings services through the state’s residential efficiency programs.

But nearly a third of those customers are not able to weatherize their houses or apartments, and lose out on energy savings. That’s because mold, asbestos, and other health hazards discovered in their homes must be cleaned up before contractors can safely seal the space, an undertaking that easily runs into the thousands of dollars.

Those costs are not covered by the state’s efficiency programs. And very few of Wyatt’s customers can afford to pay themselves.

It’s a difficult problem that has hampered the state’s residential energy efficiency programs for years and prevents the most money-strapped households from obtaining services that could significantly reduce their energy bills.

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The barriers make it nearly impossible for the utilities to reach the weatherization target set by legislation: weatherize 80% of Connecticut residences by 2030.

To date, little has been done to deal with the barriers in any sustained way. But that may be changing. Last month, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), which oversees the ratepayer-funded efficiency programs, opened a proceeding on equitable energy efficiency. On the agenda is an exploration of funding sources for remediating health and safety barriers.

And on November 18, DEEP and the board that advises the state’s efficiency programs will co-host a workshop on weatherization barriers and possible resources for dealing with them.

“It’s very important to me that we change how we deal with these households that are not being served,” said Amy McLean, chair of the board’s residential subcommittee and Connecticut director at the Acadia Center, a clean energy advocacy organization. “We’re going to bring together stakeholders from all the different areas that serve residential customers — energy, housing, health — and identify some pots of money that are used separately that we might coordinate with.”

Read the full article from Energy News Network here 

Transportation & Climate Initiative would be a win for Vermont

TCI is a cap-and-invest program similar to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) that Vermont participates in to reduce carbon pollution from electricity generation. In 2005, Republican Gov. Jim Douglas signed on together with six other Northeast states. Vermont is still a part of it today, and it has been successful in multiple ways. Analysis from Acadia Center shows that since 2008:

  • GDP of the RGGI states has grown by 47%, outpacing growth in the rest of the country by 31%;
  • Electricity prices in RGGI states have fallen by 5.7%, while prices have increased in the rest of the country by 8.6%;
  • RGGI states have generated $3.4 billion in allowance auction proceeds, the majority of which have been invested in energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, including incentives for advanced wood heat and solar panels;
  • CO2 emissions from RGGI power plants have fallen by 47%, outpacing the rest of the country by 90%.

Read the full article from VTDigger here.

Maine’s bold climate action plan will require money, commitment

Flooded buildings and eroded beaches. More illness from ticks, mosquitos and high heat. A reduced lobster harvest, with crustaceans moving northward to cooler water. Down East weather that resembles present-day Rhode Island.

Those are some of the ways scientists say Maine will change over the next 30 years unless substantial steps are taken now.

To help slow the change, they say Maine urgently needs to slash greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the myriad impacts of a climate that’s changing so quickly, it poses a cascading threat to the health, prosperity and way of life of every resident and enterprise.

The primary way to do it is to encourage a quick pivot from gasoline and heating oil, Maine’s dominant, longstanding energy options for fueling cars and warming homes. In their place, electricity from renewable generation such as wind and solar, coupled with evolving storage technology, will power electric vehicles and efficient heat pumps.

These areas get special attention because transportation accounts for 54 percent of Maine’s climate-warming emissions, followed by 19 percent for home heating.

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Notably, the plan demurred on endorsing a compact of East Coast states including Maine called the Transportation Climate Initiative. That approach would require fuel distributors to bid into a shrinking limit, or cap, of greenhouse gas emissions. Money raised through the process would go to states to help fund electric vehicles, mass transit and other priorities.

Environmental advocates are for it. Acadia Center, a clean-energy advocacy group with an office in Maine, is pushing for Maine to support what it calls “the only policy proposal that would reduce emissions while providing a stable and sustainable revenue source.”

Read the full article in the Portland Press Herald here

Gas or clean energy? How should Aquidneck Island stay warm?

If anything, the natural gas outage on Aquidneck Island in January 2019 exposed the vulnerabilities of an area that is literally at the end of the pipeline network that sends gas around New England.

The interruption, which left thousands of people without heat on some of the coldest days that winter, was the result of an extraordinary set of circumstances — a malfunctioning valve on a transmission line in Massachusetts, a spike in demand caused by the frigid weather and the failure of a liquefied natural gas plant in Providence to pump much-needed supplies into the system.

National Grid, the only utility that distributes gas in Rhode Island, is looking at ways to shore up the system on the island to try to prevent another outage from occurring.

It may seem a simple matter but many of the options proposed by the company rely on some type of expansion of the gas infrastructure on the island. Environmental advocates, meanwhile, argue that the last thing anyone should be doing in an era of climate change is ramping up use of a fossil fuel that would lead to more greenhouse-gas emissions.

“Every time you light a new fire with a new gas furnace, that’s a fire that’s going to burn for the next 20 or 30 years,” said Hank Webster, Rhode Island director for the Acadia Center, a Boston-based group that specializes in clean-energy issues.

Read the full article from the Providence Journal here

Massachusetts drivers are starting to buy electric cars again

Clean transportation activists are praising Massachusetts’ efforts to expand its electric vehicle incentives while also arguing for changes that would put vehicles within reach for more households.

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Electric vehicle sales are slowly rebounding in the state: In September, the number of new purchases submitted for an incentive payment more than doubled from the previous month, from 156 to 339. In October, the number edged up to 345.

These totals fall well short of the peaks reached in 2018, but those who follow the industry are cautiously optimistic, noting that vehicle sales across the board are starting to edge back up from COVID-driven slumps. And the electric vehicle market, they said, is recovering at a slightly faster rate than traditional internal combustion vehicles.

“There is some degree of recovery going on from COVID,” said Jordan Stutt, carbon programs director at the Acadia Center. “Obviously we have a long way to go there, but some people are buying cars again and a lot of those are [electric].”

Read the full article from the Energy News Network here

Maine must plug in to fight climate change, study concludes

“Usually, the bigger the problem, the more attention you need to pay to get to solutions,” said Jeff Marks, Maine director at the Acadia Center, a regional group working on climate change issues. “And transportation is it.”

Acadia Center supports the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a collaboration of states from Maine to Virginia working to reduce carbon emissions on the road. But part of that effort envisions raising money through a surcharge on gasoline and diesel fuel, with some of it going to EV rebates and new charging stations. That’s a non-starter for opponents such as the Maine Heritage Policy Center, which said the tax would hurt low-income residents.

Read the full article from Portland Press Herald here.

Maine Company Looks to Tidal Power as Renewable Energy’s Next Generation

After years of development, tidal and river energy supporters say the technology is on the cusp of wider commercial deployment, especially if it can win federal support.

With much of New England’s attention on offshore wind, a Maine company hopes to put itself on the map with tidal energy.

Portland, Maine-based Ocean Renewable Power Company recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the city of Eastport on a five-year plan to develop a $10 million microgrid primarily powered by tidal generation.

The project will be an opportunity for the small port city to expand its workforce and build its appeal for younger residents. It’s also an opportunity for ORPC to expand its reach as the company’s leaders try to find a viable market for ocean- and river-based generation in an industry largely dominated by solar and wind.

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“Tidal energy generally has been a bit of a background player in Maine’s energy world,” said Jeff Marks, Acadia Center’s senior policy advocate and Maine director. “But as far as Maine’s entrepreneurial energy world, it’s been pretty prominent over the last decade, and ORPC has been leading that.”

“Solar and wind are getting the attention now because they’re commercially viable and available today,” Marks said, but those resources spent a long time in development. “This is kind of how decarbonization and clean energy progress works in New England and throughout the country and throughout the world.”

Read the full article from Energy News here

Northeast governors are slow to embrace regional climate pact

Jordan Stutt, the carbon programs director of the Acadia Center, an environmental research and advocacy nonprofit, said states understand the need to address transport emissions. The initiative could also help improve air quality, boost economies and improve transport, especially in rural areas, he said.

According to information on the TCI website, modeling has showing public health benefits of as much as $10 billion annually by 2032, including over 1,000 fewer premature deaths. It would also generate up to $7 billion annually that could be invested into expanding transport choices for rural, urban and suburban communities.

“Without any viable alternative to this program, the states will not be able to achieve their climate goals,” Stutt said.

Read the full article from Adirondack Daily Enterprise here.

Energy Bill Takes on Storm Response and Grid Reform Challenges

Energy legislation wasn’t on the radar for any special legislative sessions called to deal with critical issues lost to the COVID-cancelled session from this winter. Even the annual July electric rate adjustment –- which this year contained big increases that sparked public outrage — would not have warranted legislation.

That was until Tropical Storm Isaias strafed Connecticut on Aug. 4, leaving close to 1 million customers without power and enduring the slow recovery that followed.

As legislators meet this week, a bill aimed at holding Eversource, especially, and the state’s other electric utility United Illuminating to account for future storm responses  is taking center stage. The legislation also contains provisions touted by Gov. Ned Lamont as: “Establishing a performance-based regulation to hold the state’s electricity, gas, and water companies accountable for the critical services they provide to customers.”

Well, sort of.

What’s in the latest version of the bill is eliciting few objections. It’s what it doesn’t contain that may cause problems.

What didn’t make it into the bill – now down to a mere 20 pages from its 40-page original – is a way to help stabilize the state’s solar industry as COVID continues its economic slash and burn. Also MIA is expansion of a wildly popular program to help municipalities benefit from clean and renewable energy even if they can’t site it in their own town.

Read the full article in the CT Mirror here

Massachusetts State Senate Unveils Next Generation Climate Policy

“With the bill released today, President Spilka and Senate leadership are setting the Commonwealth on a meaningful pathway to a net-zero carbon economy by 2050”, said Deborah Donovan, Acadia Center’s Massachusetts Director. “The strong interim target of a 50% reduction by 2030 ensures that Massachusetts will make the next decade count. The ambitious provisions of this bill will boost our economy and protect the health of our most vulnerable residents and our planet.”

Read the full release from MA State Senate President Karen E. Spilka here.