IN THE NEXT TWO MONTHS, Massachusetts has the opportunity to reorient the energy system away from risky over-reliance on fossil fuels and toward a stable clean energy future.  The opportunity is created by two trends upending the electric power sector.  First, aging power plants have become increasingly uneconomical, prompting a turnover of almost one-third of the region’s power generation. Second, costs for renewable energy have plummeted, offering the potential to retool with clean energy at competitive, stable prices.

Grid-scale clean energy sources such as offshore wind, onshore wind, and hydroelectricity have zero fuel costs and can help take Massachusetts off the fossil fuel-price roller coaster and reduce the $20 billion that we spend on imported coal, oil, and natural gas each year.  Renewables will also help achieve greenhouse gas reduction requirements mandated by law and needed to address climate change.

The House of Representatives has passed a bill that takes steps toward clean energy, but lacks the necessary scale, scope, and balanced approach needed for an efficient and effective clean energy transformation. The bill calls for competitive bids to develop Massachusetts’ world-class offshore wind resources, and – like an earlier proposal from the Baker Administration – would enable imports of Canadian hydroelectricity. Support for offshore wind builds on remarkable progress that has enabled northern European countries to drive down technology costs and launch a new industry, but the scale in the House bill may be insufficient to spur the private sector investment needed to capture the full cost reduction and economic development benefits of developing a local supply chain and expertise in a sector projected to support 54,000 jobs and $200 billion of investment in the region by 2030.

Hydroelectricity imports can play an important role in achieving climate commitments and stabilizing electricity prices, but the proposed approach must be expanded to equally advance complementary renewable energy resources and maximize competition. Massachusetts utilities need to supply increasing quantities from renewable resources, and many of the best locations for grid-scale renewables such as onshore wind are in remote areas of northern New England that do not have access to the transmission capacity to reach customers. Transmission lines needed to carry hydroelectricity from Canada could be filled with wind to achieve renewable energy goals, and hydroelectricity could provide supplemental power to create a round-the-clock resource. Onshore wind is now one of the cheapest energy sources, and bundling wind with hydroelectricity would promote greater price competition than under a hydropower-only procurement. Competition also helps promote projects that minimize local impacts and thereby will be able to come online faster.

The House bill aims to grow the market for combinations of onshore wind, other renewables, hydro, and the transmission to bring this competitive clean energy to the Commonwealth, but again the scale of the bill’s solicitation is smaller than the market’s need to replace retiring generation and may limit the competitiveness of the opportunity for new clean energy combinations.

While this legislation can help transition large-scale power supplies from fossil fuels to renewable sources, we also need to focus on the demand side where innovative technologies, policies, and business models are empowering consumers and communities to participate in the energy system in unprecedented ways.  Electricity from rooftop solar panels avoids the need for energy from large-scale power stations, and reduces strain on a system built to meet peak energy needs on a handful of hot summer days.  Energy storage technologies can optimize renewable energy sources and the energy system as a whole – for example, by storing cheap wind or hydropower at night and feeding it back into the grid during hot afternoons when power is scarce and expensive.  Smart approaches to energy management can use refrigerators and water heaters to control demand on the grid while compensating customers for the services that their appliances are able to provide. These local, clean, consumer-friendly technologies must be enabled to play an increasing role in meeting our energy needs by updating outdated rules that favor large-scale, supply-side projects.

The amusing moniker of a “combo platter” has been used to refer to the mix of resources that will create a more affordable, cleaner, and reliable energy system.  A clean combo platter will offer servings of the main dishes – offshore wind, onshore wind, and hydroelectricity – while rounding out with offerings needed for a complete meal: distributed energy resources that empower consumers and increase competition.

Environmental, business, clean energy, health, and consumer groups have come together as a “coalition of coalitions” called the Alliance for Clean Energy Solutions to support an approach that diversifies our energy diet, promotes the Commonwealth’s capacity to innovate, and puts us on the path to the clean energy future that we need.

Daniel Sosland is President of Acadia Center, a research and advocacy organization committed to advancing the clean energy future.  Peter Rothstein is President of the Northeast Clean Energy Council (NECEC), the voice of businesses building a world-class clean energy hub in the Northeast. 

3 replies on “House energy bill must be scaled up”

  1. This is the kind of misunderstanding that has us marching straight to the poorhouse for nothing in return. Old reliable baseload nuclear and coal power plants are forced out of the wholesale market to satisfy legislated mandates for wind and solar energy. By law the electric supply system must reach 20% renewables by 2020 with projections for 50% to 80% by 2050. No matter how technically impossible the task, the Supreme Court rules we must obey the law.
    The fact remains that integrating intermittent and variable energy sources (wind and solar) into the system peaks out at about 10%. Beyond that limit, expensive wholesale infrastructure changes become necessary to stabilize the grid. Massive energy storage is a must. long distance transmission lines are a must, smart grids are a must. All very expensive and experimental with little assurance of success.
    Is the gamble worth taking?
    In the meantime, with less than 10% from renewable energy, baseload coal and nuclear power plants are forced into early retirement, to be replaced with dirty natural gas peaking plants, needed for firming the added variability of non-dispatchable ,and unpredictable, weather driven, wind and solar power.
    In the winter we run short on gas. So, let’s build a bigger pipeline to Pennsylvania and increase rates. But, burning gas to stabilize wind and solar is increasing CO2 emissions. So, build a transmission line to Canada to bring in clean hydro, and increase rates again. Here is the problem. In the winter Canada needs all the hydro it can get, and no matter how big the pipeline to Pennsylvania gets, there is no guarantee power generators will not run short.
    The fact remains that plastering the landscape with wind turbines and solar panels is not going to stop global warming. In Falmouth, Fairhaven, Kingston, and Scituate whole neighborhoods were destroyed with wind turbine noise in excess of state regulations. Wind turbine developers stand ready to ruin the Berkshire mountains like they did in Vermont and Maine. Birds and bats are illegally dying for nothing in return. Mountain tops are turning brown when rain water turns excess roads into rivers.
    Tell Beacon Hill to stop playing engineer. Repeal the Green Communities and the Global Solutions Acts, and let the engineers at ISO-NE do what they can to avoid carbon without raising rates sky high!

  2. Excellent post!

    A Wise man once observed:

    The road to renewable energy, particularly wind energy, is full of unintended consequences. In particular, wind energy fails to address the Climate Change issue because carbon avoidance has been found to be small to nonexistent, and in some instances carbon emissions are increased.

    We have come to understand the following about industrial scale wind turbines:

    • They are not environmentally friendly.
    • They do not reduce greenhouse gases.
    • In addition to being very expensive, wind turbines are an add-on to our system for providing electric power.
    • They are a net job loser.
    • The annoyance and degrading effects they cause for neighbors is for nothing in return.
    • Large numbers of birds and bats are dying for nothing.
    • They cannot and will not replace coal.
    • Even if they could replace coal, the coal they replace will go to China to create worse world pollution.
    • You cannot trade the health of wind turbine abutters for those affected by coal.
    • The high added cost will not decrease in time
    • The money wasted on wind can better be spent researching for real alternatives.

    We need to tell our political leaders and leaders of misguided environmental groups to STOP pushing wind energy – it is NOT clean and therefore NOT green

  3. Marie Jane says: The previous two “comments” are the reality of industrial wind turbines.
    I add the following reality ………..
    Subsidies to the wind industry are in excess of $176 BILLION dollars.
    ‘Relying on fossil fuels’ is not risky at all, they are dependable and stable and available 24/7/365 and can be stored ………. wind is risky and unstable and cannot be stored …….

    You say ‘aging power plants have become increasingly uneconomical’ …….. I say lets build new state of the art power plants to replace the old power plants that will far outlive the industrial wind turbine that has a 20(+-) year life expectancy and more important they work.

    ‘Costs for renewable energy have plummeted’ but only when compared with itself. They are cost prohibitive when compared with dependable and stable coal, oil, gas, nuclear.

    ‘Clean energy sources such as offshore wind and onshore wind have zero fuel costs’. I do believe because wind is just wind you may wish to factor in what it costs to make wind useful, starting with the $176 billion dollars +++ tax payers have paid in subsidies.

    …. ‘the $20 billion that we spend on imported coal, oil, and natural gas each year’ …. is a bargain for stable and dependable energy resources.

    ‘Energy storage technologies can optimize renewable energy ……. for example, by storing cheap wind’ ….. [after 30+ years] wind energy storage technology does not exist nor does “cheap” wind ……..
    Wind energy really is not a weapon against climate change….it is an ill-conceived vision/mandate which is harmful to people, the environment, the economy.

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