THE MASSACHUSETTS HOUSE AND SENATE are to be commended for passing important energy legislation in recent weeks.  Both bills represent the most important steps forward to date to further the landmark 2008 Green Communities (GCA) and Global Warming Solutions Acts (GWSA).  As a conference committee of House and Senate lawmakers moves to develop consensus legislation, I offer my perspective on some of the key provisions.

Greenhouse gas reductions:  A major increase in hydropower was a central element of the 2010 implementation plan for the GWSA and remains the most important single step Massachusetts can take to reach its 2020 emissions target.   A few key details are important.  First, the Supreme Judicial Court appears to have made a short-sighted mistake in its recent decision on GWSA implementation by suggesting all emission reductions have to come from within the boundaries of Massachusetts. This makes no sense given our fully integrated regional electricity market and tends to kick important regional efforts (enacted by the Legislature also), such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, to the curb.  As it creates a mandate for more hydropower, the Legislature should clarify that the resulting electricity counts toward GWSA compliance.  Second, related to this, such power contracts should be for projects ready for the 2020 deadline – there are several teed up and they should be the focus.  Third, size matters and more is better.  I would encourage the Legislature to reach higher on volume of power mandated.

Natural gas:  In many parts of Massachusetts, notably Cape Cod and the Berkshires, there is a moratorium on new connections for gas service.  Gas remains the fuel of choice for home heating and cooking and is the key flexible fuel that will allow our fleet of electric generation units to provide reliable power for Massachusetts as we make the transition to a low-carbon future.  More little pipes to serve homes and businesses can’t happen without more, bigger pipes to bring gas to our region.  In addition, the winter electricity price spikes of two years ago are bad for consumers and give critics of renewable power the opportunity to grandstand about costs even if actual, more renewable power is the answer, not the problem!  Environmentalists make the inaccurate argument that “if we build more gas capacity and energy infrastructure, we will be stuck with it forever.” This is clearly not true.  For example, the Brayton Point coal generating unit spent some $1 billion on massive new cooling towers only to decide less than five years later to shut down.  Similarly, expensive new floating buoy systems off of Gloucester for importing more liquefied natural gas sat idle for several years before being used when market conditions required them.  My view is that the Legislature should resist the temptation to preclude the utilities from trying to find new ways to contract for natural gas capacity if those ways can be demonstrated to save money for ratepayers.  We need more gas in Massachusetts as our coal, oil and nuclear electric generation capacity goes offline and more people move off of home heating oil.

Wind power:  Let’s not overlook how cheap and prevalent land-based wind has become in Maine and many other places that serve the Massachusetts electricity market.  I am all for moving forward to develop an offshore wind industry in our state and the presence of new European players like DONG Energy open up the prospect for large scale offshore development and lower costs.  But this push for offshore wind should not shortchange the opportunity to also pick up a lot more other wind resources that are available today in abundance.  We are doing very nicely achieving our state’s mandates to steadily increase our percentage of power that gets Renewable Energy Certificates and the time is right, as the Senate bill suggests, to increase that annual requirement.

Energy efficiency:  Our state has now held the No. 1 national ranking on energy efficiency for five years in a row.  Energy efficiency should always be our top priority because it is the cheapest and greenest option out there.  It is very encouraging that the Legislature included a strong set of new incentives for energy efficiency in both pieces of legislation.  These include a new home energy rating system, a provision to start property tax-based financing (PACE) for energy retrofits, and other measures.  Ten years ago, the real estate broker lobby fought hard to kill a requirement that homebuyers be given basic energy audit information about a home they might buy.  Consider this: We require disclosures about lead, wastewater treatment, and other matters but energy use is going to be one of the biggest budget items for a homeowner.  When we buy a car, the miles per gallon are posted right on the window.  Shouldn’t we be giving the miles-per-gallon equivalent for a home – a purchase that is generally the biggest investment any family makes?  And, ideas like PACE, that are taking off in other states should be tried here as well.

The energy legislation passed by both branches of the Legislature represents a key push forward for our state.  I hope the conference committee takes the best features of each bill and gives us a solid new platform for years to come.

Ian Bowles is co-founder of WindSail Capital Group and served as Massachusetts secretary of energy and environmental affairs from 2007 to 2011.

5 replies on “Advice for Beacon Hill energy conferees”

  1. Sorry Ian. As a plaintiff in the Global Warming Solutions Act case, I’m disappointed that you are misrepresenting the SJC’s ruling as it relates to RGGI. They affirm the value of RGGI in helping our state achieve our goals and don’t kick it to the curb. RGGI will not be harmed when the Dept. of Environmental Protection finally writes the regulations that were required four years ago. I’m also dismayed that you would point to Brayton Point as justification for the pipeline tax. Brayton’s investment was made by corporate shareholders. You are advocating a long-term commitment of electricity ratepayer money to eliminate the risk to investor-owned monopolies.

  2. Guys like Ian who crafted the Green Communities Act and The Global Warming Solutions Act are responsible for the current crisis in energy supply. Their dream of a clean energy future, based on legislated mandates for wind and solar energy, has forced the early retirement of coal and nuclear power plants, leaving the state and region unable to cope with winter peak demand for natural gas.
    Wind and solar energy is no substitute for coal and nuclear power. Wind and solar are variable and intermittent and can only function with firming from natural gas. Hence the need for more and more natural gas.
    All we got from Ian’s push from renewables is folks in Falmouth, Fairhaven, Kingston, Scituate, and the inland region of Florida/Monroe suffering from Wind Turbine Syndrome, which leaves people sick to their stomach. Similar stories have come from Maine, Vermont, and elsewhere where wind turbines are too close to people. Four new giant wind turbines are about to ruin neighborhoods on the Plymouth/Bourne border.
    In Maine and Vermont the ecology of whole mountains has been destroyed. I am sure that Ian and his friends have an eye out to do the same to the Berkshires.
    And, what have we got to show for all this damage?
    Little to no Greenhouse Gas emissions have been avoided. Last year CO2 went up after the closure of Vermont Yankee. When Pilgrim shuts down things will get even worse. Rates have increased and will skyrocket.
    We need to tell Beacon Hill to STOP!
    They are making things worse, NOT better!

  3. While I agree with NortheasternEE that it would be good for Pilgrim and Yankee to prolong their lifespans, even if this requires governmental support, blaming Beacon Hill for their closures is off the mark. Moreover, “wind turbine syndrome” is not a thing, as has been proved over and over again in medical studies, and the future is zero Carbon energy, meaning wind and solar PV. While I am a big fan of solar PV, I must admit the life cycle cradle-to-grave assessment of wind versus solar makes wind power about 10x to 20x more advantageous than solar PV (NREL study). Of course, cradle-to-grave, natural gas and worse are off the charts.

    The Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) is critical for our future. Pilgrim Nuclear is already impacted by cooling waters which are warmer than forecast, and the radioactive wastes at the installation are at long term risk due to sea level rise. Ultimately, if it were to keep operating, the intakes of its cooling waters could be contaminated with flora.

    Pilgrim and Yankee are particularly interesting candidates for extending, since the greenhouse gas emission contributions of their construction has already been made. New nuclear plants will impose additional huge burdens, because of the amounts of cement required.

    There are electrical power rates and “rates”: The cost per KWh in the pocketbook is less significant than losing a person’s job because Boston is no longer a working city, whether because its financial district has been abandoned or because Back Bay is inoperative. Sure, Boston and Massachusetts cannot control the entire future, but we are leaders, and we can set good examples.

    If we set poor ones, when these outcomes happen, we only have ourselves to blame.

  4. I heartily agree with Mr Chretien’s opposition to the pipeline tax. Further, the discussion demonstrates that energy policy and environmental policy in Massachusetts remains trapped in the mindset and language of the early years of this century, rather than embracing the new reality of risk and opportunity we have set before us.

    As people will realize in the next few months, we could lose Boston and, with it, the jobs and revenue and incomes that pay for lives lived in the suburbs. It could be worse, with many regions, like the town of Norwood, finding they are connected to the sea in ways they had not anticipated, because bedrock is latent. (Just look at sea level rise flooding maps, Norwood.) Sure, the problem cannot be solved by actions in Massachusetts alone. But as a technology powerhouse and a leader in policy and outlook, Massachusetts has an opportunity and a responsibility to build a global center for entrepreneurial excellence in zero Carbon energy and storage. We can show how intelligent governmental policy can go hand-in-hand with such economic growth. And we can show how we can adapt to coastal change. We have a *lot* of coast.

    Along with this, there are economic forces which are inexorable, including the transition to solar electrical power, back-stopped by energy storage and wind. Solar PV installations in the United States during this year are expected to grow by 90%. Globally, solar is on track to grow 40% year-over-year, meaning it doubles in a little more than two years. There are few reasons why, on a global scale, this should stop. Indeed, there are technological double-downs which could make it run faster. Facts are, eventually electrical energy from solar will be so widely available and so much cheaper than any other form that using any other energy source, no matter what the price, will be spending money your competitors do not need to spend. No matter what the price of natural gas, fracked or otherwise, oil or coal, these energy sources are simply doomed to be stranded.

    Whether or not Eversource and their minions like Spectra build Access Northeast, I have every confidence that there will come a time soon these will not be used, even if they are built. What Beacon Hill leadership can do is force a choice between an enlightened public which cooperates with a transition to a new order of decentralized energy, generated close to where it is consumed, or an enlightened public which sees utilities like Eversource as hostile and does everything in their financial power to defect from that altogether, in order to control their own energy costs and take advantage of the solar revolution. Naturally, those remaining behind after such mass defection will bear inconceivably high overhead costs, which will motivate them to switch to solar. But this is Beacon Hill’s choice: Like Pennsylvania, you are poised in a place in time where your “coal mines” may be abandoned. You can stick by them, or you can seize the future. YOUR choice. Whatever you choose, Massachusetts will be okay. Your legacy might not be.

  5. Skyrocketing rates for electricity will kill jobs and the economy much faster than the rising sea waters from global warming.
    I would rather face whatever global warming brings with a strong economy than a weak one with most everyone on welfare.
    If the promise of the clean energy future is real, then it does not need the heavy hand from Beacon Hill to push it.
    A competitive market, without political favorites, is our best bet.
    Tell Beacon Hill to stop passing laws interfere with ISO-NE ‘s charge to provide the most reliable electric grid at the lowest possible cost.

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