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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.

The Declining Role of Natural Gas Power in New England

By 2030, reliance on natural gas for electricity could decrease to only 10% of New England’s consumption

Existing gas-fired electricity plants would be underused and any new gas infrastructure would be unnecessary, according to new study from Acadia Center

A new report from Acadia Center entitled “The Declining Role of Natural Gas Power in New England” concludes that under current plans and laws, New England’s reliance on natural gas to fuel power plants could drop from 45% to approximately 10% of its electricity needs in 2030, making any investment in new gas pipelines or plants unnecessary and therefore costly.

The enormous shift away from natural gas would result from environmental policies in every New England state to promote renewables, as well as planned electricity imports from outside the region.

Connecticut has committed to reducing its 2050 greenhouse gas emissions by 80%, relative to 2001 levels, and Massachusetts has committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. Similar targets have been established by other states throughout New England.

The impacts from the region’s reliance on natural gas are disproportionately felt by low-income households and communities of color. The report calls for action to redress this ongoing inequity at every level of decision-making.

“This report underscores that continuing to invest in new gas infrastructure throughout the upcoming decade adds unnecessary expense, leaving us with plants and pipelines that we won’t need but could be forced to pay for,” said Daniel Sosland, President of Acadia Center. “It doesn’t make sense to build new gas-fired plants that we can’t use if we’re going to have a hope of avoiding the worst outcomes of climate change.”

In the meantime, the cost of generating wind power has dropped 70% in recent years, and utility-scale solar costs have dropped even further — by 90%, according to sources cited in the report.

The Acadia Center report studied two scenarios through 2030 — continued expansion of natural gas supply and generation capacity versus no additional investment in gas infrastructure. Under either scenario, dependence on gas-fired electricity would drop from about 45% to 10% of New England’s electricity needs.

“If natural gas is only needed to a meet a tenth of New England’s needs, then planned gas plants, and possibly existing ones, are going to be severely underutilized, and that could present problems for their finances,” warned Taylor Binnington, Senior Policy Analyst at Acadia Center.

From now until 2030, the expansion of renewables without additional investment in natural gas would result in a cumulative cost savings of about $620 million, clearly challenging the assumption that natural gas is the least expensive option, according to the study.

Furthermore, more reliance on natural gas means more dollars flowing out of Connecticut, Massachusetts and other New England states. For example, the report points out that in 2017, spending on imported natural gas by the electric power sector amounted to $1.4 billion. Recapturing some of those dollars to invest within the region could result in a net job gain.

The Acadia Center study offers several additional recommended actions and implications, including:

1. Construction of new natural gas plants should be opposed under all circumstances, since additional fossil gas generating capacity is unnecessary. New fossil gas plants may be unable to sell their electricity, potentially leaving stranded costs for ratepayers to cover.

2. Natural gas delivered to power generators in New England through expanded or upgraded pipelines would not be used enough to justify their investment costs. States should strongly consider whether new gas projects should proceed if they are misaligned with public policy.

3. Renewable electricity will play a huge role in helping states meet their carbon reduction goals. If ISO-NE’s markets continue to work against public policy goals, states should follow Connecticut’s lead and hold the ISO accountable – or find ways to work around it.

The report concludes, “the future of fossil gas power in New England will be a challenging one. Many decisions influencing what the grid will look like in the next ten years have already been made, which makes the remaining decisions even more important.” The long-term impacts of climate change – on human and ecosystem health and on the economy – have a cost, too, and decision-makers should be aware that these costs and benefits can make an even clearer case against expanding fossil gas infrastructure.

The full report is available here: https://acadiacenter.org/document/the-declining-role-of-natural-gas-power-in-new-england/


Media Contacts

Amy McLean, Connecticut Director & Senior Policy Advocate
amclean@acadiacenter.org, 860-246-7121 x204

Nancy Benben, Director of Communications & External Engagement
nbenben@acadiacenter.org, 617-742-0054 x104

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.

Examining Raimondo’s goal: Can R.I. reach 100% renewable power by 2030?

In a series of tweets, Hank Webster, Rhode Island director of the Acadia Center, described the plan as “a bold challenge, and one that RI can meet.”

“We are ready and looking forward to working with you to achieve this important mission,” he said.

Read the full article from Newport Daily News here.

Park City Wind

Bridgeport looks to become a hub for offshore wind in Connecticut, with its Park City Wind project expected to deliver 14% of the state’s electricity supply. That is, if the offshore wind farm can get federal approval. Our guests:

Listen to the episode from The Full Story here.

As Baker Admin Seeks to Allow Dirty Fuels to Qualify for Renewable Energy Subsidies, Clean Energy Advocates and Scientists Demand More Transparency and Accountability

BOSTON – Last Friday marked the close of a three-month public comment period on the Baker Administration’s proposal to overhaul rules that establish what electric power generation resources qualify for renewable energy subsidies. Massachusetts clean energy advocates sent a letter yesterday to Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides sharply criticizing these proposed regulatory changes that would, among other things, significantly increase rate-payer subsidies for wood-burning power plants and garbage incinerators.

The letter, signed by Acadia Center, Conservation Law Foundation, Green Energy Consumers Alliance, the Massachusetts Sierra Club, Partnership for Policy Integrity, and RESTORE: The North Woods, states:

“[T]he Department of Energy Resources (DOER), which is now under your purview, has led a deeply flawed rulemaking process for an even more deeply flawed proposal to rewrite regulations implementing the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). …These regulations are currently the linchpin of Massachusetts climate policy; numerous other policies of the Commonwealth incorporate RPS-eligibility in their implementation, including the Clean Peak Standard now under development. Changes to the RPS regulations must be grounded in environmental and climate science.” 

The organizations signing today’s letter commit to “help[ing] the Baker administration correct course and to ensure that the RPS assists the state in complying with the Commonwealth’s climate mandates, rather than promoting technologies that will actually increase emissions.”  The groups are requesting stakeholder input into a study that the Baker Administration is only now conducting on the impacts of the proposed regulations, and the opportunity for environmental advocates and climate scientists to meet with decision makers to share their information.

Throughout the public comment period, DOER’s proposals to substantially roll back science-based standards governing the eligibility of biomass power plants for subsidies raised the most extensive concerns. Nearly one hundred organizations signed on to a letter to DOER calling on the agency to withdraw its proposed rule changes, which also impact subsidies for hydroelectric power and other areas of renewable energy. Signers included local, state and national environmental groups, public health advocates, consumer protection groups, local governments, and municipal groups, including the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission.

Dozens of scientists, doctors, environmentalists, and concerned citizens testified at public hearings across the state, and more than a thousand written comments were submitted in opposition. In addition, nearly 40 state legislators submitted a letter raising concerns about the proposed biomass eligibility rollbacks, and Attorney General Maura Healey also weighed in, flagging multiple ways in which the proposal may violate state law and undermine efforts to meet climate change goals.


Media Contacts:

Laura Haight, Partnership for Policy Integrity
lhaight@pfpi.net, 518-949-1797

Deborah Donovan, Acadia Center
ddonovan@acadiacenter.org  617-742-0054 x103

Jake O’Neill, Conservation Law Foundation
joneill@clf.org Press Secretary 617-850-1709

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.