Commentary: Maine’s renewable-energy industry gets a double shot in the arm

Opinion

Major new solar and offshore wind projects help position us as a hub to start, grow and maintain energy businesses.

Maine has incredible natural energy resources that can and should be an engine of its economy. New solar and offshore wind projects help position Maine as a hub to start, grow and maintain energy businesses in a global market. This week, Maine put out the welcome mat and opened the door to being a leader in clean energy.

First, two solar development companies on both sides of the Atlantic joined forces to advance projects to generate 350 megawatts of renewable energy capacity across eight Maine communities. The international partnership between European Union-based BNRG Renewables and Portland’s Dirigo Solar LLC is moving forward with large-scale solar projects to produce enough electricity to power 78,000 homes.

The next day, a $100 million joint venture publicly emerged to develop floating offshore wind technology off the coast of Maine, potentially bringing tremendous economic, energy and environmental benefits to Maine’s coastal regions and the state. The public-private partnership includes Maine’s flagship educational institution, the University of Maine, and New England Aqua Ventus LLC, a collaboration between technology giant Mitsubishi Corp. and the second largest offshore wind company in the world, RWE Renewables. According to a joint statement by Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden: “Maine’s offshore wind resource potential is 36 times greater than the state’s electricity demand, making this project so significant for Maine’s clean energy future.”

Read the full Op-Ed in the Portland Press Herald here.

Stop investing in natural gas. Invest more in renewable energy.

Opinion

With increasing renewable energy mandates in almost every New England state and growing amounts of imported power, there is only so much of the energy pie left for natural gas. Ten years ago, some might have called natural gas a “bridge fuel.” But it’s 2020. A better analogy is that we’re already halfway across the river.

That’s based on the results of a recent study from Acadia Center, The Declining Role of Natural Gas Power in New England. It shows that new natural gas power plants like NTE Energy’s proposed plant near Killingly — and the pipelines to supply them — are going to be hard to justify.

My colleagues and I who wrote the report question the value and economic rationale for additional gas plants, with our scenarios suggesting that by the end of the decade, natural gas would only be needed to meet about a quarter of the demand that it does now.

We looked at two scenarios: continued expansion of natural gas supply and generation capacity, and no additional investment in gas infrastructure. Both show similar reductions in the amount of natural gas-fired electricity, leading eventually to the region’s gas power plants being used at less than 10% of their capacity by the end of this decade.

Read the full Op-Ed at The Hartford Courant here.

Sea Change: Maine should act more like the renewable energy dynamo it is

The fastest-growing sources of electricity generation in the coming two years will be solar and wind, a federal report projects, as prices keep dropping and new projects come online.

These power sources are gaining ground wherever they’re allowed to take hold. In a vivid example of “what’s possible when you infuse a can-do spirit with policy,” Massachusetts has “blown past” goals once thought unrealistic, says John Rogers, a senior energy analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit science advocacy organization. Massachusetts now has nearly six times more solar power installed per person than Maine, according to the Acadia Center, a nonprofit promoting clean-energy efforts (see chart).

Read the full article from the Times Record here.

As solar grows in Rhode Island, so does the need for smart siting policies

One of Rhode Island’s newest renewable energy installations is being celebrated as a model of solar siting, repurposing contaminated land that is unlikely to be developed. The solar array’s 6,700 panels spread across 12 acres in North Providence that comprise an old landfill.

The rapid expansion of renewable energy projects in Rhode Island – and across the region – is bringing new and pressing land-use challenges. Because of the urgent threat posed by climate change, it is important to accelerate the pace at which clean energy resources replace polluting fossil fuels. At the same time, we must protect Rhode Island’s diverse ecosystems.

With collaborative work on smart siting policies – and solar projects like the one in North Providence – Rhode Island is demonstrating a commitment to doing both: creating a low-carbon energy system and serving as responsible stewards of our landscapes and habitats.

Solar’s role in the clean energy future

The deep greenhouse gas emissions reductions demanded by the rapidly changing climate will require an energy system that looks a lot different than today’s. Our vehicles and home heating systems will need to transition from gasoline, propane, and natural gas to electricity, which has the flexibility to run off the sun, wind, and other clean sources. That means our electricity supply must move away from fossil fuels and become significantly cleaner itself.

Solar energy will play a key part in the clean energy future. According to the State Energy Plan, Rhode Island could develop over 1,800 MW of solar by 2035, compared to the current 105 MW. Determining how much solar is needed to meet the state’s climate goals under the Resilient Rhode Island Act is only one part of the equation. We must work together to determine how best to site it, including on what types of land and at what scale, to minimize land-use conflicts in local communities.

First, Rhode Island must harness the potential of rooftop solar, which gives residents and businesses more control over their energy use and production, lowers utility bills, and helps avoid the siting of projects in sensitive environmental areas. Acadia Center’s EnergyVision 2030 Rhode Island Progress Report finds that Rhode Island is lagging regional leaders on locally-sited solar resources. While rooftop solar is not the only answer, we can do more to support it.

Larger-scale solar projects are also needed. Some municipalities in Rhode Island, especially rural ones where land is more readily available, are being inundated with solar proposals – some of which have resulted in widespread tree-clearing. In response, a number of communities are halting renewables development, at least temporarily, putting at risk continued progress towards a climate-safe Rhode Island. It is imperative that we find a new path forward that balances the need to deploy renewables with forest and habitat protection.

Consensus-based solutions

A stakeholder group of diverse interests began convening in August 2017 to address the siting issue. The committee, which includes Acadia Center, developed 13 consensus principles that reflect the priorities of conservationists, clean energy advocates, farm interests, municipalities, and renewable energy developers. State officials have also been holding public workshops all across Rhode Island to gather input from communities and residents. There has been widespread agreement on the need to influence the economics of siting to encourage cost-effective development of solar projects on already developed land like brownfields, commercial and industrial zoned land, and other environmentally disturbed sites.

There are no quick solutions, but progress is being made. Rhode Island is undertaking several initiatives designed to guide solar to preferred areas. An infusion of $1 million into the Renewable Energy Fund will support brownfields projects. A proposal before the Public Utilities Commission includes a 70 percent increase in small rooftop solar in the 2019 Renewable Energy Growth Program and a new category to promote solar carports. Between six and twelve solar canopies are expected to be developed as a result.

Much work remains. The stakeholder group is discussing additional strategies for the 2019 legislative session to encourage solar siting in least-conflict locations. The work being done in Rhode Island could serve as a model for the region as states grapple with a productive path forward that both reduces harmful emissions and protects our natural resources.

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.

Pacheco: ‘No excuse’ for House not to act on energy bill

Last week, the Northeast Clean Energy Council and the Acadia Center — organizations that co-chair the Alliance for Clean Energy Solutions — sent a letter to Golden, Sanchez and other members of House leadership, calling it “essential” that the House approve four bills: H 4575 to increase renewable energy and reduce high-cost peak hours; H 4576 to increase grid resiliency through energy storage; H 4577 relative to net metering; and H 1724 relative to energy efficiency.

“These four bills would greatly advance Massachusetts’ clean energy leadership and deliver economic, energy, environmental, and health benefits to residents, businesses and industries across the Commonwealth,” the coalition’s letter said. “Prompt action by the House is needed to ensure final passage of legislation on these topics this session.”

Read the full article from the Taunton Gazette here.

State Taps First-Ever Offshore Wind Power In Clean Energy Program

The Malloy administration on Wednesday directed the state’s first purchase of offshore wind power, joining Connecticut with southern New England’s drive to generate wind power from the Atlantic Ocean.

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Emily Lewis, a policy analyst at Acadia Center, said the clean energy advocacy group hopes the state builds on its commitment “by setting an ambitious offshore wind mandate that creates a sustainable offshore wind industry.”

Read the full article from the Hartford Courant here.

New London, state leaders push offshore wind development as Mass., R.I. projects move forward

Emily Lewis of the Acadia Center, which advocates for renewable energy, applauded Massachusetts’ and Rhode Island’s push for offshore wind.

“Today’s announcement should inspire all northeast states to set their own offshore wind commitments, and states with existing processes should keep things moving forward,” Lewis said.

Lewis noted New York had committed to producing 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind power by 2030, and New Jersey has called for projects totaling 3,500 megawatts by 2030.

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

R.I. Plays Catch-Up When It Comes to Solar Siting

Legislation also has bee filed at the Statehouse to address the issue. The Rhode Island Energy Resources Acthas the support of OER, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the Rhode Island Farm Bureau, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Rhode Island Builders Association, the Northeast Clean Energy Council, the Conservation Law Foundation, The Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society of Rhode Island.

Another bill was recently introduced that would severely hinder the construction of solar facilities and other renewable-energy projects on forestland. Environmental groups, such as the Audubon Society and the Conservation Law Foundation, have pushed back against this bill, saying it has several drawbacks, including paving the way for real-estate development and fossil-fuel power plants.

Read more from ecoRI News here.

After near derailment, energy bill heads to governor as fence-mending begins

This legislation effectively gets rid of net-metering, making Connecticut one of the first states to do that. For commercial projects, that would come in about a year and a half. For residential customers it will be in a few years. Existing customers would be grandfathered for about 20 years.

In place of net-metering consumers would have a choice. One would be rates – known as tariffs – and formulas for applying them that would be determined by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority. Some argue those unknown factors might be disruptive, if not downright stagnating for the solar industry in the state.

Along with many allies, Acadia Center has worked for months to fix this critically flawed bill, which will imperil the future of distributed solar in Connecticut,” Amy McLean Salls, Acadia Connecticut director, said in a statement. “Several improvements were made, but it is unfortunate that important progress on grid-scale renewables was paired in S.B. 9 with a severe setback on distributed solar.”

Read the full article from the CT Mirror here.