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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

Law on governor’s desk helps renewables. But will it help climate?

Jordan Stutt, a policy analyst at the Acadia Center, a Boston-based environmental group, applauded the clean energy provisions of the legislation but said it represents a missed opportunity on transportation.

“This is all happening while the federal government is rolling back clean car standards and potentially challenging the California waiver for zero-emission vehicles,” he said. “In light of that backwards trajectory from Washington D.C., we really need Massachusetts and other states in this region to become leaders on transportation.”

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

MA Legislature Takes Measured Step Forward on Clean Energy

Further Action Will Be Required to Address New and Unresolved Issues

BOSTON – Yesterday evening, a conference committee of the Massachusetts House and Senate released a compromise clean energy bill, H.4857, which is expected to pass both chambers of the legislature today. The bill enacts several key policies for supporting clean energy in the Commonwealth and represents a significant accomplishment by the legislature, but it falls short in other areas that are equally necessary for swift progress toward clean energy goals.

“The compromise bill takes measured steps forward that will enhance Massachusetts’ ability to meet its climate commitments, but future progress will be necessary to ensure that programs are administered equitably and clean energy resources are prioritized,” said Deborah Donovan, Massachusetts Director for Acadia Center. “This bill continues to advance renewables, offshore wind, and energy storage, and these technologies are poised to revolutionize the Commonwealth’s and the region’s electricity system and eliminate the need for expensive bailouts for aging fossil plants or new fossil fuel infrastructure. However, details of the legislation also raise concerns.”

The bill includes an increase in renewable energy requirements from 25% to 35% by 2030, provides for a ramp up in energy storage, expands the scope of energy efficiency programs to promote strategic electrification and renewable energy technologies, removes unfair charges on new solar customers, allows solicitations of local clean energy resources to replace infrastructure investments, and could double the Commonwealth’s offshore wind procurements to 3,200 megawatts by 2035. However, the bill does not include significant measures previously passed by the Massachusetts Senate to advance solar equity or implement carbon pricing. In addition, the new clean peak standard could potentially incentivize burning trash to generate electricity, which damages public health.

Similarly, other provisions mark steps both forward and sideways. “Today’s bill helps address one major issue for the future of local solar generation in Massachusetts by eliminating the unfair and inefficient solar charges introduced by Eversource earlier this year, but it leaves several important questions unanswered for solar,” said Mark LeBel, staff attorney at Acadia Center. “It risks leaving out low-income residents and other groups requiring additional focus by failing to increase the net metering caps and implement a new requirement to distribute the benefits of solar incentive programs equitably. Acadia Center will closely monitor the types of projects built under the new solar incentive program and work to ensure that the program benefits all communities in the Commonwealth.”

“Acadia Center has long called for expanded use of clean technologies such as electric heat pumps in Massachusetts’ energy efficiency programs to give residents greater ability to move away from expensive oil, and with the Legislature’s action on this bill, it advances strategic electrification and renewable resources,” said Amy Boyd, senior attorney at Acadia Center and member of the Energy Efficiency Advisory Council.  “Acadia Center is also very pleased to see the full legislature pass the House’s provision requiring the electric companies to identify reliability issues and solicit local, clean energy resources to fill those needs, rather than spending more and more on infrastructure.”

“Massachusetts’ continued progress in the electric sector provides a blueprint for success in the transportation sector, where we are falling behind,” said Jordan Stutt, carbon programs director at Acadia Center. “Our outdated transportation system now accounts for twice as much CO2 as any other sector, and we are in desperate need of new investments to modernize and decarbonize how we get around. A price signal to reduce transportation sector carbon emissions, as called for in a bill that the Senate passed, would set us on the right track to a cleaner, modern and more accessible network of transportation options.”


Media Contacts:

Deborah Donovan, Massachusetts Director & Senior Policy Analyst
ddonovan@acadiacenter.org, 617-742-0054 x103

Mark LeBel, Staff Attorney
mlebel@acadiacenter.org, 617-742-0054 x104

CT’s natural gas expansion plan well behind schedule

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.

Region’s leaders pitch New London to offshore wind suppliers

Monday’s session came a few days after the state Bonding Commission backed Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s push to revitalize State Pier with a $15 million investment. Hosted by RENEW NortheastAcadia Center and the CT Roundtable on Climate and Jobs, the discussion was part of an offshore wind roadshow organized by the Trade Council of Denmark in North America and featuring about 15 companies across the supply chain.

[…]

As a deepwater port with no overhead obstructions, New London could, with upgrades, accommodate some assembly of wind turbines, foundations and substations while providing space for staging the large components for delivery to wind farms, state and local officials say. No turbines are planned for off the southeastern Connecticut coastline.

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

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.

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.

Advocates seek more momentum for Massachusetts offshore wind

Boston-based attorney Mark LeBel says the clean energy non-profit Acadia Center where he works “strongly supports going big on offshore wind all across New England,” but recognizes that the appeal of hydropower is its low price.

“There are plenty of questions about hydropower. It’s not a perfect resource,” he says. “Hydro-Quebec has been building out new dams for roughly the last decade with the idea of selling to new customers.”

LeBel emphasizes that the more renewable sources Massachusetts can bring online, the less additional natural gas infrastructure it will need.

Read the full article from Energy New Network here.

Massachusetts must fill void left by U.S. withdrawal from Paris Agreement (Guest viewpoint)

Op-ed by Daniel Sosland and Peter Rothstein in Mass Live.

Since President Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, business leaders, environmental organizations and public officials across the nation have expressed concern for the impact on our climate and economy. The momentum we’ve achieved in building our nation’s renewable and clean energy sector must now be picked up by forward-looking states, cities and businesses around the country. Massachusetts is in a unique position to be a leader in this effort.

Massachusetts has a long history of using policy to bolster renewable and advanced clean energy deployment and innovation. Massachusetts was one of the first states in the nation to enact a comprehensive regulatory program to address climate change with 2008’s Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA). Last year, the Commonwealth built upon this leadership with the Energy Diversity Act, supporting offshore wind and other clean energy generation.

These progressive policies and investments in the state’s growing clean energy hub have paid off with strong economic results. A report from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center found that the Commonwealth’s clean energy economy currently employs more than 105,000 people at over 6,700 companies, representing $11.8 billion in investment.

We know the policy tools and technologies needed to reduce climate pollution and accelerate clean energy adoption. Acadia Center’s EnergyVision 2030 shows that deploying a range of market-ready consumer technologies such as electric vehicles and efficient heat pumps to warm and cool buildings can deliver deep emissions reductions over the next 13 years when paired with policies to clean up the power grid.

A report from NECEC found that strengthening one of these policies – a requirement for utilities to purchase clean energy under the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) – would create thousands of jobs across the region, lower wholesale electricity prices and put us on track to meet our ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. Boosting the RPS will also provide long-term market stability and position the Commonwealth to build on its strengths in innovation and advanced manufacturing to capture a significant part of the trillion-dollar global clean energy market.

Massachusetts also needs to modernize its energy grid to support the growth of renewables and empower consumers and communities to control energy usage and costs by adopting clean technologies. Customers need to be provided with information on building energy usage to inform decisions. Barriers to electric vehicles, clean heating technologies and solar energy (in the form of net metering caps) must be removed. And policies must make the benefits of these technologies accessible to all consumers, including low-income families. Pricing carbon will unleash the power of the market to reduce emissions, particularly in the transportation sector, which is now Massachusetts’ largest source of climate pollution. For new and promising technologies such as energy storage, meaningful targets must be paired with enforcement mechanisms and tax incentives to speed deployment.

Policymakers are not solely responsible for driving the clean energy economy. The private sector recognizes that renewable energy is not only good for the planet – it’s good for a company’s bottom line. Renewable energy saved Boston-area hospitals $15 million in just a four-year period – enough to pay for 1,357 of the state’s Medicare enrollees. Big energy consumers like Cambridge-based cloud computing service Akamai are choosing renewables, which will power half the company’s global network operations by 2030.

Here in Massachusetts, we’ve already shown the rest of the country and the world what we can do when city and state governments work hand-in-hand with the business community and the support of the public to pursue clean and cost-effective energy solutions. Given the diminishing support from the federal government to advance a clean energy future, we must work even harder to implement smart energy policies at the state and regional level that grow jobs, drive regional competitiveness and build on the Northeast’s reputation as a clean energy and climate leader. With the leadership void left by our federal government, this work is more important than ever.

Peter Rothstein is president of the Northeast Clean Energy Council.

Daniel Sosland is president of Acadia Center.

Massachusetts Bills Create New Opportunities for Microgrids, Non-Wires Alternatives

The Alliance for Clean Energy Solutions (ACES), a coalition of environmental and industry groups, discussed the bill and its other legislative priorities in an interview Monday, as it prepares for energy hearings at the state capitol this week.

“The appetite for local energy and microgrids continues to grow in Massachusetts because of declining costs for solar, progress on energy efficiency, and the attention the Baker administration has given to energy storage,” said Peter Shattuck, Massachusetts director for the Acadia Center and ACES co-chair.

[…]

The non-wires alternatives proposal is within a new grid modernization bill, H. 1725/S. 1875, that would “reset” a proceeding now before the state Department of Public Utilities, Shattuck said. The legislation puts greater emphasis on modernizing the grid via local energy than does the existing grid modernization docket.

[…]

At the same time, the bill would limit how much energy storage a utility or retail supplier could own. Shattuck said that the legislation places emphasis on securing more behind-the-meter – as opposed to utility-scale – energy storage than did last year’s energy storage bill.

“We’re glad to see utilities entering the energy storage market. Eversource, in their rate case, has a significant $100 million of storage proposed across four projects. But there is a clearly a big market for behind the meter storage as well,” Shattuck said.

[…]

Among the several green energy proposals, ACES’s top priority for this year is a bill that increases the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) to 40-50 percent by 2030, with annual increases running two to three percent after that.  The state’s current RPS requires that 12 percent of electricity come from renewables this year, rising to 15 percent by 2020. RPS requirements benefit microgrids because they create a revenue stream – renewable energy credits – for green energy development. New microgrids often include renewables, solar in particular.

“Given the federal government’s retrograde energy policies, it’s critical that states show a willingness to embrace clean energy solutions,” said Shattuck. “We’re proud of the direction our ACES members have taken in ensuring that Massachusetts remain a leader in the nation’s clean energy future.”

Read the full article from Microgrid Knowledge here.