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.
With the winter solstice just around the corner, the Northeast’s heating season is in full swing and greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from buildings are at their seasonal high. About 85% of homes in New England and New York rely on fossil fuels for heating, and this consumption accounts for about 30% of total regional GHGs. Fossil fuel use for heating also poses health and safety dangers like carbon monoxide poisoning and risk of explosion. The average home in the Northeast spends $1,000-$2,600 on heating fuel every winter, and because the Northeast imports all of its fossil fuels, this money flows out of local economies and the region is beholden to price fluctuations out of its control.
A clean alternative to fossil fuel heating is efficient, electric heat pumps.
What is a Heat Pump and What Are Its Benefits?
A heat pump is an electric heating and cooling technology for buildings that works by moving heat between the inside and outside of a building. A standard air conditioner is a type of heat pump that extracts heat from inside a building and moves it outside. A heat pump uses this same cooling process in the summer, and it is able to reverse the process in the winter for heating.
Heat pumps offer many benefits over fossil fuels, including:
Pollution reduction and improved health and safety – Full replacement of an existing heating system with heat pumps can reduce greenhouse emissions 60-70%, depending on the fuel being displaced. In MA, HVAC improvements in low income homes led to $265 in annual health and safety savings per household.
Winter fuel savings – Fully converting an oil or propane-heated home to heat pumps can save residents between $800-1600 on average.
Avoided natural gas infrastructure – Customers can access greater fuel savings and cut pollution more by converting to heat pumps rather than natural gas. Plus, converting homes to heat pumps does not require addition of new gas pipes, which lock in higher greenhouse gas emissions for decades and increase costs for all gas customers because the utility passes on these infrastructure costs.
Clearing the Path for Clean Heating
No state or city can reach its climate and clean energy goals if fossil fuel heating continues. With their significant pollution and consumer benefits, heat pumps deserve to be more widely adopted in the Northeast. Acadia Center supports 7 key solutions to overcoming barriers to heat pump adoption:
Educating consumers and vendors
Coupling heat pumps with home efficiency
Installing only clean electric heating in new homes
Decreasing operating costs through smart electricity pricing
Removing incentives to promote natural gas
Aligning retrofit incentives with state policy objectives
Acadia Center is in the final stages of developing a report called “Clean Heating Pathways” that identifies supportive policies across New England and New York to accelerate these 7 solutions and compares state progress to advance clean heating.
The 2019-2021 energy efficiency plan, approved by the Department of Public Utilities on Jan. 29, would cut aggregate retail electricity sales by 2.7 percent and cut natural gas sales by 1.25 percent within the three-year period.
The plan provides new tools for Mass Save, the energy efficiency program run by the state’s utilities. Homeowners will see incentives to switch from oil and propane furnaces to electric heat pumps. Commercial and industrial energy storage will be encouraged; “strategic electrification” will get a boost; and “demand response” — where customers save money by curtailing or shifting consumption during periods of heavy power demand — will gain greater footing.
The significant investments required in the energy infrastructure of the impacted communities present an opportunity to re-think what energy options are available to best meet the needs of these communities, not only for this winter but for many years to come. Doing so can lead to practical, cost-effective actions that will provide a host of benefits for the residents and businesses in these communities: reduced energy costs for ratepayers; safer, more resilient homes and businesses; improved indoor air quality; and, meaningfully, less climate pollution.
Read the full article from CommonWealth Magazine here.
While utilities are still gung-ho on natural gas conversions, Emily Lewis, policy analyst at the nonprofit Acadia Center, says Connecticut should shift its incentives away from the heating fuel and toward heat pumps, which in colder months capture outdoor heat energy and transfer it inside a home or building.
Technological improvements in heat pumps have made them more efficient than natural gas heat in many instances, she said, as well as more effective in cold winters.
And according to Acadia’s projections, Connecticut simply cannot meet its emissions-reduction targets over the next three decades without a big increase in the number of households using heat pumps (it’s about 2 percent or less currently, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection).
Read the full article from Hartford Business here.
Massachusetts has a strong record addressing climate-changing pollution. In the early 2000s, Massachusetts was a founding partner in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a multi-state, bipartisan cooperative that has contributed to a 50% drop in power plant emissions. Passage of the Green Communities Act in 2008 led to nation-leading energy efficiency policies that reduce energy waste and save consumers billions of dollars. Last year, the Baker Administration and Legislature collaborated on landmark legislation to launch the U.S. offshore wind industry, enable further growth of onshore wind and solar power, import Canadian hydroelectricity, and place the Commonwealth at the forefront of the booming energy storage industry. Most recently, Gov. Baker committed Massachusetts to the United States Climate Alliance, a partnership of 13 states honoring the tenets of the Paris Agreement.
The Commonwealth must follow through on policies and commitments to achieve a 25% reduction in carbon pollution by 2020, which is legally mandated under the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA). The GWSA additionally requires an 80% reduction by 2050, which will require the replacement of virtually all fossil fuels with clean, renewable electricity to power and heat buildings, and to ‘fuel’ electric vehicles.
Acadia Center’s recently-released EnergyVision 2030 describes the technology and policy benchmarks that Massachusetts and the broader region will need to achieve over the next 13 years to stay on track for deep emissions reductions. Massachusetts is already making progress toward most of these goals, aided by declining technology costs, changes in consumer preferences, and policy leadership.
Here’s what needs to happen next:
Set Ambitious Renewable Energy Targets
The Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) determines the share of renewables in Massachusetts’ (and the region’s) energy mix, and should be doubled from the current 25% requirement by 2030 to 50% or more. Renewables displace carbon pollution from fossil fuel power plants and stabilize costs, and cleaner electricity provides greater emissions savings from electric vehicles and heat pumps (more below).
Bulk Up on Clean Energy
Large-scale long-term contracts are needed to finance the up-front cost of developing clean energy projects and move energy to demand centers. Massachusetts is implementing separate procurements for 1) land-based renewables and hydroelectricity, and 2) offshore wind. Partnering with neighboring states to implement these procurements will achieve greater economies of scale, and encouragingly, Rhode Island and Connecticut have taken steps to join the solicitation issued by Massachusetts utilities to develop the region’s world-class offshore wind resource. Additionally, Massachusetts should jump-start efforts to build a renewable-ready bulk transmission grid to unlock potential for onshore wind in northern Maine and New York, and to facilitate continued development of offshore wind as more states commit to harvesting the abundant energy resource and capturing a share of the economic development that will follow.
Set Solar Free
Caps on solar net metering (the rate compensation mechanism for solar energy sent back to the grid) are stifling deployment and should be removed. 2016 legislation made changes including reducing solar incentive payments to account for lower technology costs and providing options for the Department of Public Utilities to establish payment mechanisms to support grid maintenance. Acadia Center takes issue with some of these changes, but regardless of policy details, lower incentives and assured payments for grid upkeep mean that net metering caps are no longer justified.
Put a Price on Pollution
Climate pollution imposes significant costs on society, and pricing pollution to reflect these costs will drive changes in market behavior while raising revenue to reinvest in complementary programs and/or rebate to consumers. By charging power plants for pollution permits, the successful RGGI program has helped clean up the air while raising billions of dollars for Massachusetts and other states to reinvest in energy efficiency programs. Building on this success, Massachusetts should continue leading regional partners to set ambitious targets for the program through 2030. Pollution pricing must also be expanded beyond the power sector. This can be achieved through innovative carbon pricing proposals that packed a Statehouse auditorium at a recent hearing. Regional progress on transportation emissions can simultaneously be achieved through the Transportation Climate Initiative, a multi-state collaborative to reduce transportation climate pollution through market-based policy and other means.
Get Off Gasoline
With current sources of electric generation, driving on electricity already reduces pollution, and as the share of renewable generation increases the climate benefits of electric vehicles increase in step. Massachusetts has committed to putting 300,000 EVs on the road by 2025. To achieve this target and accelerate uptake of EVs through 2030, the Commonwealth will need to ensure long term funding for consumer rebates, implement a robust public charging network, and enact discounted “off-peak” electricity rates, which will both reduce strain on the grid and lower fueling costs for EV drivers.
Modern, efficient heat pumps—a form of efficient electric heating for residential and commercial buildings—are now capable of heating buildings during the coldest New England winters, providing a substitute for natural gas and oil. Heat pumps are also more efficient than traditional air conditioners, providing year-round savings. Heat pumps are offered within MassSave energy efficiency programs and through state grants, and the benefits of this mature clean technology should be extended to more customers through targeted low-income programs, contractor education, and through inclusion in the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard. Switching from oil to heat pumps does not require expensive and disruptive construction of natural gas mains, and by drawing ‘fuel’ from an increasingly clean grid, heat pumps produce significant GHG reductions.
Modernize the Grid
Massachusetts needs a modern, flexible grid that can accommodate new consumer-based resources and can rely on clean local technologies over centralized power stations and traditional utility infrastructure. Utility financial incentives set by regulators should be structured to promote innovation, consumer empowerment, and reduction in overall energy system costs. Forward-looking utility proposals for electric vehicle charging infrastructure and energy storage should be encouraged within the context of broader efforts to modernize the grid. Massachusetts’ existing Grid Modernization proceeding has produced inadequate and inconsistent utility proposals. Legislation to promote local energy investment and infrastructure modernization would ensure consistent state-wide planning for a modern grid and level the playing field for clean, local energy resources.
Avoid Unnecessary Pipelines
Putting Massachusetts and the region on the EnergyVision 2030 track would reduce demand for natural gas heating and demand for electricity from natural gas power plants such that no additional pipeline capacity would be needed. By lessening the region’s dangerous overreliance on natural gas, the Commonwealth would reduce pollution and protect consumers from risks of cost overruns, price volatility, and stranded expenditures associated with subsidized natural gas pipelines.
We have the technologies, and we know the policies needed to achieve a sustainable, low-pollution energy system. 2030 will be here before we know it, so let’s get to work.
A group of local officials and environmental groups have also raised concerns about Eversource’s proposal, which they say would reduce the compensation paid to cities and towns for solar projects by about 40 percent.
“The Eversource proposal that impacts these municipal solar projects is part of broader rate proposals to reduce customer control over bills and lower incentives for local clean energy,” Acadia Center staff attorney Mark LeBel said in a statement. “Eversource’s proposals would set back efforts to promote energy efficiency, electric vehicles, storage, and efficient electric heating too. The DPU should be looking for economically sensible ways to advance innovative clean energy efforts and should not roll back the progress the Commonwealth has made to date.”
Read the full article from State House News Service, published in the Berkshire Eaglehere.
What impact will current efforts to expand clean energy markets in the Northeast have over time? Where can we do more to advance these markets? What specific increases in clean energy are needed to adequately reduce carbon pollution and meet targets for deep reductions in climate pollution? What does the data show about claims that more natural gas pipeline capacity is needed?
A few years ago, Acadia Center released a framework entitled EnergyVision, which shows that a clean energy future can be achieved in the Northeast by drawing on the benefits of using clean energy to heat our homes, transport us, and generate clean power. Many studies have shown that a clean energy future will improve public health, increase consumer choice, and spur economic growth by keeping consumer energy dollars in the region. States have started to move towards the future put forward in our EnergyVision framework supporting key clean energy technologies like rooftop solar, electric vehicles, and wind, and increasing investments in energy efficiency and upgrades to the grid.
But other voices have tried to slow or even block progress toward a clean energy future. Claims that the region needs more natural gas capacity continue to be made, most recently by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and states are not uniformly moving forward in all areas of clean energy development. Efforts to reform the power grid vary from state to state, and the data needed to identify what our energy system could look like in a few years and what contribution clean energy can make has not been gathered.
To fill these important information gaps and help answer these questions, Acadia Center undertook a comprehensive analysis of the Northeast’s energy system. Using a data based approach, we looked at where current state and regional efforts to expand clean energy stand and what emissions reductions and growth in markets for clean energy technologies those efforts will produce. We then examined what expansions in clean energy are needed to attain state goals to reduce climate pollution. The result is EnergyVision 2030, an analysis of the energy system that provides a clear pathway towards a clean energy future that empowers consumers in the Northeast.
EnergyVision 2030 demonstrates that the Northeast region can be on track to a clean energy system using technologies that are available now. In the last several years, clean technologies have advanced rapidly, and they offer states an unprecedented opportunity to transform the way energy is produced and used. For example:
The nation’s first offshore wind project has recently come online in Rhode Island
Electric heat pumps that work in the cold climates of the Northeast are now readily available
There has been a dramatic increase in the number of electric vehicle options on the market
Efforts to modernize our electric grid are underway in several states
Onshore wind is now the lowest-cost electric resource in some reports
Massachusetts and Rhode Island have redefined the levels of energy efficiency that can be consistently achieved.
And the list goes on.
To determine what growth in key clean energy technologies is needed, Acadia Center used a well-respected model1 to analyze the energy system as it might look in the year 2030 under different conditions. First, EnergyVision 2030 shows what the energy system would look like under current trends, and then if policies were put in place to expand markets for newer technologies more quickly—at rates leading states are already achieving.
With this approach, EnergyVision 2030 finds that the first generation of climate and energy policies has successfully built a foundation for progress. Energy efficiency, renewable portfolio standards, and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) have all contributed to declining emissions since the early 2000s.
To be on track to meet state targets for emissions reductions the region needs to achieve a 45% emissions reduction by 2030.2 We used this 45% reduction as a target to develop our “Primary Scenario,” which features individual targets for clean energy technologies that together would reduce emissions 45%. We also modeled what it would take to get to a 50% reduction, in our “Accelerated Scenario.”
Policy changes drive both of these scenarios, which would see lagging states catch up to leaders like Massachusetts in energy efficiency and other areas, expand and extend renewable portfolio standards as New York has recently done, and grow markets for newer clean energy technologies like electric vehicles and cold climate heat pumps. In other words, if all states did what leading states are doing in each area—if they expanded building heat pumps like Maine, electric vehicles and solar like Vermont, energy efficiency like Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and utility reform like New York—the Northeast would achieve its emissions goals.
The table below shows how much selected clean energy technologies will expand by 2030 under current trends and in the Primary and Accelerated Scenarios.
To foster these clean energy markets, states can redouble their efforts and create a second generation of clean energy policies building on their initial success. The following policy recommendations will help make this possible. A more complete list is available at 2030.acadiacenter.org.
Extend and increase rooftop and community solar
Expand Renewable Portfolio Standards
Strengthen market for electric vehicles through consumer incentives and better electric rate design
Increase the market for heat pumps through incentives and education
End policies that promote natural gas pipeline expansion
Modernize and optimize the energy grid
Reform utility incentives and regulation to better align them with state policy goals
EnergyVision 2030 combines detailed data analysis and policy recommendations to provide a tool for policymakers, advocates, and other stakeholders to demonstrate both why state-level policy changes are needed and what we can do to make those changes happen, putting us on the path to a clean energy system. As with the first generation of clean energy policies, results can take significant time to accumulate, so action is needed now to ensure the region is ready to meet 2030 goals. EnergyVision 2030 gives us the targets and tools we need to begin working toward those policy changes today.
EnergyVision 2030 is available as an interactive website and in printable formats at 2030.acadiacenter.org.
1 Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning (LEAP) system from Stockholm Environment Institute 2 45% emissions reduction from 1990 levels