But Jordan Stutt, carbon programs director at Acadia Center, a clean-energy research and advocacy organization with offices throughout the northeastern United States, said those fears are unfounded.
“The doomsday concerns about electricity prices and competitiveness in the region have not come true,” he said.
Emissions from power plants have dropped 51 percent from 2008, a year before the program started, to 2017, he said. Electricity prices in the region have fallen nearly 6 percent, while they have increased by nearly 9 percent in the rest of the country.
The effort isn’t unprecedented: California already has a plan to curb transportation emissions, and many East Coast states are members of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Since 2009, the initiative known as “Reggie” has capped the overall carbon dioxide produced by power plants and required plant operators to buy permits for their emissions.
Power plant emissions have fallen by 51 percent in the region since the program began, according to an analysis of RGGI data by the Acadia Center, an environmental nonprofit with offices in five Northeast states. States have used the permit proceeds to weatherize homes and to give consumers rebates on their electric bills. But the region faces significant hurdles in replicating that reduction with transportation emissions.
“It’s gutting these foundational environmental laws,” said Emily Lewis, a policy analyst at the Acadia Center, an environmental advocacy group. “Transportation is the biggest chunk of emissions that we’re trying to deal with right now. We’ve brought down emissions significantly in the electricity generating sector. We really need to be addressing transportation. So this is just a complete 180-reversal from where we need to be going.”
Area environmental groups wasted no time expressing their displeasure with the EPA proposal, warning of the dire consequences on Connecticut but also pointing out that the proposals now face a 60-day comment period and could change.
“It certainly would be awful if it went through,” said Emily Lewis, a policy analyst at Acadia Center. “It would have a big impact on Connecticut emissions, but there are a lot of steps before we get to that point.”
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.
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.
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).
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.
“Millstone Power Station may play a role in the state’s transition to the clean energy future, but Connecticut needs a realistic, long-term plan to replace the plant with clean energy,” Acadia Center said this week.
In the absence of such a plan, Acadia Center argued new fossil fuel power plants eventually would replace Millstone. Ratepayers would be on the hook for new gas pipeline infrastructure to support them, which “would be almost immediately incompatible with the state and region’s mandatory greenhouse gas targets,” the environmental advocacy group said.
Read the full article from The Day here (article may be behind paywall).
“What we gain in return for that marginal additional cost is that we avoid 99 million [short] tons of CO2 emissions” from 2017 to 2031, Jordan Stutt, a policy analyst at the Boston-based Acadia Center, told HuffPost. “That’s more than a full year’s worth of emissions for this region. If the states are serious about acting on climate, they can’t ignore those kinds of emissions reductions at that low a cost.”
Read the full article from the Huffington Post here.