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Solar and wind power are pushing down electricity prices in New England, but carbon fuels still dominate

The capacity market is separate from the larger energy market in which generators and others compete daily to provide power. To Deborah Donovan, senior policy advocate at the Acadia Center, a clean energy advocacy group, the prices in the most recent auction are a “leading indicator” of trends to come.

Read the full article from the Hartford Courant here.

Our Turn: Erika Niedowski and Meg Kerr: Addressing rural concerns about clean energy development

Renewable energy siting challenges are not unique to Rhode Island, but they are particularly pronounced given the state’s small size and high population density. Rhode Island has made ambitious commitments to clean energy deployment and carbon emissions reductions, including 45 percent reductions by 2035 and 80 percent by 2050.

As the state progresses towards its renewable energy goals, pressures are increasing to develop land with solar or wind resources, causing concern in some communities, especially rural ones. With smart local siting policies, both “green” goals of clean energy and land conservation can be achieved: Rhode Island communities can enjoy both the benefits of renewables and be good stewards of our landscapes and habitats.

The Renewable Energy Siting Stakeholder Committee is discussing ways to prioritize the siting of renewable energy in places that minimize environmental impacts, including rooftops and previously altered environments like landfills. Unlike Massachusetts, Rhode Island does not have policies that specifically encourage siting in such places.

Read the full article from the Providence Journal here.

Eversource Energy proposing wind farm off Connecticut coast

Company officials say the other benefits of the project include reducing winter power costs by $80 million annually and generating $16.1 million in state, local and federal taxes.

Emily Lewis, a policy analyst with the Acadia Center, said wind power needs to be an important part of Connecticut’s energy future. The Acadia Center is a regional environmental group with offices in Hartford.

“We’re expecting there will be other offshore wind bids being made, including one from Deepwater Wind,” Lewis said, referring to the company that launched the nation’s first commercial offshore wind farm off Block Island at the start of 2017. “Massachusetts and New York already have mandates for wind power (as part of their overall energy mix) and if Connecticut doesn’t get involved, all of the other wind power capacity being developed will go to other states.”

Read the full article from the New Haven Register here.

EnergyVision 2030 for Massachusetts

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.

Electrify Heating

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.

This post was also published on CommonWealth magazine.

EnergyVision 2030: What the numbers tell us about how to achieve a clean energy system

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:

 

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.

Clean Energy:

 

Electric Vehicles:

 

Lower-Cost Heating:

 

Electric Grid:

 

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

Clean energy intrigue alleged

Peter Shattuck, the Massachusetts director of the Acadia Center, an environmental advocacy group, said the RFP should be changed. “As written, the RFP would favor large hydro over the wind and solar that we need to diversify the energy mix, drive in-region economic development, and achieve renewable power requirements,” he said.

Read the full article from Commonwealth Magazine here.

New farmland harvest – solar energy – creating political sparks

But asked whether he’d favor a moratorium, Miner laughed and took a long pause. “I don’t personally like moratoriums,” he said. “Is there a real hardship with some period of a moratorium so you could figure this out? I don’t know.”

But Bill Dornbos, who heads the Connecticut office of the environmental advocacy group Acadia Center, does. “I’ve been contacted by utility-scale developers who are expressing great concern and nervousness about this because they heard the word moratorium,” he said. “They were worried we were going to go to a place like we were with the wind-power issue.

“Legislation that restricts solar incentives on the basis of land type is probably not the optimal solution in the long term,” Dornbos said.

Read the full article from the CT Mirror here.

Can New England Steal California’s Storage Thunder?

Clean energy rivals New England and California are racing toward a new prize: leadership on energy storage. Both coasts have been leaders on energy efficiency, renewables deployment, and electric vehicles (EVs), and storage is the logical next step to improve system efficiency and back up intermittent wind and solar as they are increasingly adopted.

The benefits of storage are clear and increasingly well-recognized. Storage deployed at scale will serve the same purpose as warehouses and refrigerators in our food system by rationalizing an energy grid that is massively overbuilt to match supply and demand every second of every day. This logic is backed up by analysis from the Massachusetts’ Department of Energy Resources (DOER) showing that the top 10% of peak demand hours drive 40% of energy costs, and storing energy to meet these peaks would provide $3 billion in energy system benefits each year. According to a recent study from UC Berkeley, storage can also produce significant public health benefits by avoiding reliance on dirty ‘peaking’ power plants that are often located in marginalized urban areas.

Massachusetts Leadership
In the race for energy storage in the Northeast, Massachusetts is taking an early lead. Under energy diversity legislation passed this summer, DOER can act to meet the storage target it recommended—600MW by 2025—which proportionately would be far larger than California’s mandate. The legislation also cleared an important practical hurdle by authorizing utilities to own storage, and, so long as third-party owners are protected to ensure competition, political support for energy storage should remain strong.

An overall mandate would build on efforts already underway in the Commonwealth. DOER is offering $10 million for demonstration projects through the Energy Storage Initiative. The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center has invested $9 million in storage-related initiatives and is serving as a match-maker for storage developers and potential customers. Under the new solar incentive mechanism being developed, bonus incentives for storage are being considered in the range of two to seven ¢/kWh, based on storage duration (kWh) and power (kW) relative to solar capacity. Within energy efficiency plans that invest $700 million per year, utilities are piloting demand management programs integrating thermal and battery storage, and attention to demand resources is likely to increase as peak demand flatlines, overall consumption declines, and the focus on improving system efficiency at all levels grows.

New Tool in the Energy Toolbox
Across the Northeast energy storage is gaining favor as an alternative to more expensive and often difficult-to-site transmission and distribution (T&D) system upgrades. In Boothbay Harbor, Maine, cheap energy available at night is stored in ice that is then used to cool buildings on hot summer afternoons. In conjunction with targeted efficiency, solar, and demand response, storage is being deployed instead of an $18 million transmission upgrade.  At a larger scale, in New York ConEd is investing $200 million in storage, targeted energy efficiency, distributed generation and demand-response in lieu of a $1.2 billion substation upgrade. The potential for eye-popping T&D savings (in addition to other energy system benefits) contributed to a proposed rule from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that would require all Regional Transmission Operators to remove barriers impeding storage from providing energy, capacity, and ancillary services.  This clear directive will help drive the grid operator ISO-NE to take necessary steps to enable storage, including compensating storage for rapid response capabilities, opening markets to smaller storage facilities, and allowing storage to provide multiple services simultaneously. Large scale energy storage could additionally help replace retiring nuclear and coal capacity in Southeast Massachusetts/Rhode Island (potentially pairing directly with offshore wind in a coal-to-clean energy conversion at the soon-closing Brayton Point plant) and address expected load growth in the greater Boston area.

Complementing top-down reform, several states are pursuing grid modernization processes in order to capitalize on declining costs and technology advances for energy storage and other distributed energy resources.  New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision has received the most attention, but REV does not stand alone.  Massachusetts utilities filed Grid Modernization plans including energy storage projects and pilots in August of 2015, and while the plans need improvement to ensure unified progress toward truly modern grids, the process has begun.  Meanwhile, Rhode Island is pursuing a truly bottom-up approach by using distributed resources to meet energy system needs, and grid modernization proceedings were recently initiated in New Hampshire.

Resiliency and Preparedness
Because of its resiliency and preparedness, storage is increasingly recognized for its security advantages. The vulnerability of the grid to cyber-attacks was made clear in Ukraine, and physical attacks on critical grid infrastructure have recently increased.  Weather-related outages will also increase with climate change-fueled extreme weather. As we grow ever more dependent on electrical devices, the importance of grid security expands accordingly.

Storage alone can provide backup power, and pairing storage distributed generation offers steady supply when the grid is down.  In recognition of these benefits, Massachusetts put $40 million into the Community Energy Resiliency Program to support solar plus storage projects at schools that double as emergency shelters, hospitals, and other critical facilities.  Following storms that caused major power outages, Connecticut established a microgrid grant and loan program that is currently deploying $30 million in funding.

And the Winner Is…
California receives the most attention for energy storage, and with real progress toward a bold procurement mandate the attention is deserved.  However, unique conditions in the Northeast—aggressive renewable energy targets, relatively high energy prices, and difficulty siting traditional infrastructure—make the region ripe for storage.

At this stage the race for energy storage leadership is just getting started, and the ultimate winners will be customers and the climate, as storage deployment ramps up, costs decline, and our entire energy system becomes more efficient and cleaner.

 

This blog post also appeared as a guest post on UtilityDive.com. See it here.