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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.

Advocates say Massachusetts needs to do more to promote electric vehicles

“This is absolutely necessary,” said Jordan Stutt, carbon programs director at the Acadia Center, a climate change advocacy organization. “The MOR-EV program provides critical momentum toward achieving our emissions reduction targets.”

Read the full article from Energy News Network here.

Clean energy advocates push for aggressive electric vehicle roadmap

The Connecticut EV Coalition advocates for solidifying the Connecticut Hydrogen and Electric Automobile Purchase Rebate (CHEAPR) program at least through 2025. The program offers incentives up to $5,000 for state residents who buy or lease a new battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric or fuel cell electric vehicle.

At least 35 vehicles are eligible for the program, and industry leaders say more electric cars — with longer mileage ranges — are coming to dealerships every year. The CHEAPR program is not funded through taxpayer or ratepayer dollars but through merger settlement funds set aside to help the state meet clean energy goals.

“Electrifying and modernizing transportation is key to a consumer-centric clean energy future,” said Emily Lewis, a senior policy analyst at Acadia Center, in a recent statement. “Electric cars and transit buses are healthier, free of tailpipe pollutants, and cheaper to operate.”

Read the full article from The Day here (article may be behind paywall).

Another fleet of EV chargers approved in Mass.

National Grid can also collect on a performance incentive of $750,000 if 75 percent of the target number of chargers are successfully installed, and $1.2 million for 125 percent of the target. That feature drew criticism from groups including the state attorney general and the Acadia Center, which said the bonuses should be tied to metrics like increased electric vehicle adoption, emissions reductions and reduced costs.

Massachusetts is aiming to get 300,000 zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025, and the number of EV chargers has been ticking steadily upward. As of a year ago, 1,158 Level 2 ports and 128 fast chargers were available, according to the DPU, compared to 963 Level 2 ports and 83 fast chargers in the prior year.

Read the full article from E&E News here (article may be behind paywall).

Op-Ed: Raise the Renewable Portfolio Standard

“As the legislative session draws to an end, state lawmakers are considering bills that would increase the annual growth rate of the Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). As these proposals move ahead, it is important that decision-makers not be deterred by unsubstantiated claims made by opponents that an RPS increase is incompatible with procurements of hydroelectricity required by statute (Section 83D) or will undermine compliance with the state’s Clean Energy Standard (CES). This argument against an increase is a red herring based on a mischaracterization of the relationship between clean energy policies designed to fulfill different, but complementary objectives.”

Read the full article from CommonWealth Magazine here.

Op-Ed: Climate policy could boost R.I. transportation

While the millions of dollars in VW settlement money is a promising start, building a clean, modern, resilient and equitable network of transportation options will take much larger – and longer-term – investments. A number of policies could provide funds and market signals to accelerate and guide transportation investments; one such policy would be a regional cap-and-invest program. In Rhode Island and regionally, a cap-and-invest policy can reduce emissions while raising revenue for local reinvestment in transportation improvements to better serve residents and businesses.

Read the full article from Providence Business News here.

Natural gas is not a clean fuel

Altemose is correct that the Globe overstates the environmental impact of this winter’s reliance on old coal- and oil-fired generating plants.  A May 2018 report from the Acadia Center states  “annual GHG emissions from electricity generation in New England have continued to trend strongly downward since the early 2000s, even when taking the 2017-18 winter into account.”

An even more worrisome aspect of the Globe’s stance on the use of coal and oil on especially frigid winter days is the message that natural gas is a clean fuel.  That is the unrelenting drumbeat of the fossil fuel industry, and it is disturbing to watch the Globe amplify it.

Read the full article from Commonwealth Magazine here.

Clearing the Air: Long-Term Trends and Context for New England’s Electricity Grid

Some entities and stakeholders have raised concerns about the environmental performance of New England’s electricity system during a particularly cold multi-week period in December 2017 and January 2018. Specifically, they have called attention to emissions due to the amount of oil and coal used for electricity generation during that time. Acadia Center takes these concerns very seriously and advocates strongly for reducing pollution that hurts public health and the climate in order to meet the region’s science-based requirements.

In addition, some of these stakeholders are advancing a specific proposal that they argue would solve the region’s emissions issues, a multi-billion-dollar electric ratepayer-funded investment in new natural gas pipeline capacity. Public investments in natural gas pipelines would have significant consequences for the region and the claimed benefits of such an investment should be scrutinized closely.

To provide perspective on the grid’s environmental performance this past winter and the impacts of a proposed major expansion of natural gas pipeline capacity, Acadia Center has developed a fact sheet which takes a comprehensive look at several different regional trends for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, electricity generation, and fuel consumption across all sectors. The results demonstrate that the selective statistics used by pipeline advocates are incomplete at best and significantly misleading at worst.

Policymakers in the region should not be misled by pipeline advocates and must consider a full set of options to ensure that New England continues to progress toward a clean, reliable, and affordable electricity system in the coming years. Eight charts on relevant issues are presented in the fact sheet, but the most important points are included here.

New England is making significant progress reducing GHG emissions from the electric sector over the long-term. New England GHG emissions from electricity generation from March 2017 through February 2018 were 53% lower than in 2001-02, 26% lower than in 2012-13, and 8% lower than in 2016-17. Progress reducing GHG emissions in the electric sector is undeniable, even accounting for emissions related to the cold snap in December 2017 and January 2018.

Figure 1 – Annual GHG Emissions (Mar. to Feb.) from Electricity
Generation in New England

The region has historically seen significant monthly variation in GHG emissions from electricity generation. While GHG emissions from electricity generation in New England were higher in December 2017 and January 2018 than some other months, seasonal and monthly variation in GHG emissions is normal. Monthly GHG emissions from electricity generation in New England are typically higher in hot summers and cold winters. January 2018 was the 10th highest month of GHG emissions dating back to the beginning of 2014, while February 2018 was the lowest in the 21st century.

Figure 2 – Monthly GHG Emissions from Electricity Generation
in New England

GHG emissions from electricity generation are falling in New England because of several drivers, including energy efficiency, increased renewables investment, and a major decrease in the amount of electricity generation from coal and oil. Annual electricity generated by coal and oil from March 2017 through February 2018 was 91% lower than the levels in 2001-02 and 49% lower than just five years ago in 2012-13.

Figure 3 – Annual Electricity Generation from Coal and Oil (Mar. to Feb.)
in New England

New England is rapidly approaching the limit of the GHG reduction strategy of replacing electricity generation from coal and oil with natural gas. As might be expected, coal and oil generation has been reduced in part through increases in natural gas generation. However, as a long-term strategy, shifting from one fossil fuel to another will not allow for the GHG emissions reductions the region needs to meet its science-based commitments.

GHG emissions from natural gas combustion across all sectors, including those from gas delivered through two recent regional pipeline expansions, will be an increasingly significant percentage of overall regional GHG emission limits over time. Looking at combustion emissions in isolation also understates the overall impact of emissions from natural gas because it ignores the significant GHG emissions during extraction and delivery. Adding a major new regional pipeline would only exacerbate this issue, potentially increasing combustion emissions from natural gas to 49% of the overall regional GHG emissions target in 2030, and that would rise to 72% in 2040, and 135% in 2050.

Figure 4 – Natural Gas Combustion Emissions in New England from All Sectors Versus Overall Regional GHG Emissions Requirements

Of course, emissions are not the only important policy consideration for the successful operation of New England’s grid. Other serious considerations are reliability and consumer costs. Some stakeholders have argued that there is a medium-term reliability risk, which could lead to rolling blackouts or other harms. However, a recent report from Synapse Energy Economics demonstrates that, with reasonable expectations for growth in demand for electricity and natural gas and accounting for planned investments in renewables and transmission for clean energy, the risk of major reliability issues is close to zero. Keeping on this path will take some effort but should be achievable.

On the consumer costs side, using hard-earned ratepayer dollars for major new natural gas pipelines would not have any impact on electricity prices until construction is finished, which could be in 2022 or even later. Furthermore, there are good reasons to think that purported consumer benefits would not outweigh the guaranteed costs that ratepayers would have to pay. Major investments are currently being planned for offshore wind and new transmission lines for clean energy that would come online in the same timeframe as a pipeline, and these investments undercut many of the alleged benefits of a pipeline. Additional pipeline capacity would also increase the chances of exporting natural gas out of New England, which would drive up natural gas prices.

In the shorter term, many other available policy options can help improve the reliability of New England’s grid and reduce costs, while simultaneously lowering emissions. This year, ISO-NE is implementing “pay-for-performance” market reforms, which provide additional incentives to generators to respond during times of high demand and high prices. Additional investments in energy efficiency for natural gas and electricity, fixing leaks in the natural gas distribution system, advanced energy storage, local renewables, and grid modernization will start to help right away with energy prices and reliability, while simultaneously advancing the region’s long-term emissions requirements.

The usefulness of using natural gas as a “bridge” over the last two decades is at an end and the region needs to avoid further long-term public investments in fossil fuels. New England’s economic and environmental future depends upon building a clean, reliable, and affordable modern energy system. Acadia Center’s EnergyVision 2030 shows a path to meet economy-wide GHG emissions reductions of 45% from 1990 levels by 2030 using market-ready technologies, with no additional natural gas pipeline capacity needed.  It’s time to move forward with a smart portfolio of investments to benefit consumers, create well-paying local jobs, improve public health, and lower the risks of climate change.

N.Y. grid operator floats carbon price

The document is meant to get power-sector stakeholders down to brass tacks on how, in practical terms, New York can put a price on carbon if the U.S. government won’t.

Parties are digesting the proposal as they prepare for a May 14 meeting. The minute details will be heavily debated, but so far, many just seem glad the process is underway.

“NYISO’s draft proposal for a carbon adder would send an important and overdue price signal to the market necessary for New York to achieve its ambitious carbon reduction policies in place to meet long-term greenhouse gas reduction targets,” said Deborah Donovan, Massachusetts director for the Acadia Center, an advocacy organization focused on clean-energy issues in the Northeast.

Read the full article from E&E Energywire here (article may be behind paywall).

How big can New England’s regional cap-and-trade program get?

Acadia Center, an environmental and renewable energy advocacy group, has been part of RGGI’s development since its inception. Its assessment, based in part on work by the Duke Nicholas Institute, found 2017 emissions were 51% below levels in 2008, at the beginning of RGGI auctions, Stutt told Utility Dive.

That includes an 18% year-on-year drop from 2016 to 2017, the biggest drop-off in emissions since the region’s use of coal leveled off, Stutt added. The newest cuts in emissions come from the accumulating potency of the energy efficiency and clean technology investments made with auction proceeds.

The RGGI states have also seen significant cumulative economic benefits, according to the Analysis Group’s review of RGGI’s 2015 to 2017 compliance period, released April 17.

Read the full article from Utility Dive here.