Clean Energy Being Derailed by Messy Process in Connecticut?

Mar 22, 2013 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

On a sloppy March 19, while our changing climate threw a late winter storm of ice, snow, hail, sleet and rain at New England, a legislative hearing room in Hartford Connecticut was the focus of regional energy policy attention. The  Energy and Technology Committee of the Connecticut Legislature was holding a hearing on a bill to revise the Renewable Energy Portfolio standard of Connecticut – the Nutmeg State’s piece of the regional effort that has inspired a rising tide of wind and solar energy development across New England.

The bill before the committee that day, which bears the spine tingling and exciting name of “SB 1138 – An Act Concerning Connecticut’s Clean Energy Goals” was a complex piece of legislation making a whole series of changes to the important law that is Connecticut’s part of a successful regional effort to build new clean energy facilities.

An odd and disturbing subtext was this: at the very same moment that the hearing was going on the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEEP) announced and released online a study of the very program being revised by the proposed law.  This meant that as DEEP Commissioner Dan Esty was introducing and explaining a law to change a critical energy and environmental program his Department was releasing a draft study, which would go through two months of public process, to decide whether to make the very kind of changes that the bill he was introducing would make. This is very similar to a group of kids playing baseball in front of plate glass window while promising to have a really focused conversation about where (and where not) was a safe place to play ball, vowing to do so right after their game ended.

To be fair, there is a real urgency to one part of the bill: the provision that would enable Connecticut to move quickly, perhaps in cooperation with other states, to enter into long-term contracts with windfarms and take advantage of the limited extension of the federal renewable energy incentives that (unless Congress changes its mind yet again) only apply to projects that are in construction by the end of 2013 – a deadline that seems like a long ways away, unless you are trying to build a large facility like a windfarm, in which case you understand that getting contracts in place as soon as possible is needed to have shovels in the ground and construction underway by the end of the year.

But another topic was the main focus of the hearing: the proposal to allow large Canadian hydroelectricity to participate in the program, a change long sought by Canadian provinces who seek to import money in exchange for power – and a change long opposed by those who wanted to keep the program focused on building new wind and solar resources for New England.

The hearing brought forth a flood of testimony. While there were over 100 pieces of written and in-person testimony presented to the committee it appears that only the state-owned Hydro Quebec utility, who would likely handsomely benefit if the bill became law, and Northeast Utilities, who are trying to build the infamous Northern Pass transmission line to bring that power to market, testified in favor of the very controversial change in eligibility benefiting large Canadian hydropower.

CLF’s testimony on Bill 1138 criticized that change in the law as disrupting a very successful renewable energy program, as did the testimony of business leaders and labor unions and many, many others. Our testimony graphically illustrated the ever-rising progress of wind power in New England as RPS-inspired projects came on line and fed clean power into the regional grid.Rise of wind energy in NE 2009-13

Some members of the committee, including Rep. Brian Becker, actively raised the question of whether the urgent portion of the bill that would allow Connecticut to move forward with procurement of wind and solar this year, in tandem with other states, could be severed from the other controversial portions of the bill that could be reviewed and discussed separately. No real response was ever given to this very legitimate concern.

In the aftermath of the hearing some of the environmental and business groups who testified delivered a letter to the legislative leadership summarizing the situation and, extraordinarily, officials in Massachusetts state government expressed concern about the bill – telling reporters that:

Massachusetts has taken the lead, working very closely with other New England states, in putting together a regional procurement plan for renewable energy. While we embrace a wide range of clean energy initiatives, we have serious concerns about how Connecticut’s proposed changes to its renewable portfolio standard will affect the region’s renewable market

Undeterred by this criticism and controversy and ignoring the clear issues of good government and process, as well as the need to foster business development through clear and consistent rules adopted after careful process, the Committee met and considered a very slightly revised version of the bill on March 20 in a meeting recorded in an online video.  Eight members of the Committee expressed real concern about the deep and systematic changes being made to a critical clean energy program. They, once again, aired the idea of severing the one small provision that needed to be moved rapidly, considering the rest of the bill after the study, already underway, was completed. Again, they did not get a public response.  The final vote of 16-8 shows who on the Committee stood where.  It is indeed striking not one of the 16 who voted “yea” was willing to defend their vote.

All signs point to the bill continuing to move ahead at a very rapid clip – in fact it may come to the floor of the legislature for a vote as soon as March 27 – when new gun laws being considered in the wake of the Newtown tragedy will be absorbing public interest.

If you live in Connecticut, or know someone who does, please use our action alert to urge the legislative leadership to stop the rush towards changing this important energy and environmental program.  Instead, very specific and timely action to join with other states to enter into long term contracts with new windfarms is needed and the rest of the changes to the renewable energy program should be carefully studied and considered.

CLF Proposes Clean Energy Incentive for Electric Vehicle Purchases

Mar 21, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Government officials, industry representatives, and environmental advocates agree: it’s time to increase the number of electric vehicles (EVs) on the road in Massachusetts. EVs emit significantly less carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other pollutants into the air we breathe. Yet the market for EVs in Massachusetts is currently small, due largely to higher price tags, lack of incentives and little infrastructure. Thankfully, the enthusiasm at the recent Massachusetts Electric Vehicle Roundtable indicates that we are poised to do more for EVs in Massachusetts.

Earlier this month at the MA EV Roundtable, I described a new idea for encouraging EV purchasing in the Commonwealth that CLF has developed with Sonia Hamel of Hamel Environmental Consulting. The Clean Energy Bundle Incentive would provide purchasers of EVs free renewable electricity for charging their EVs at home. To achieve this, the state would purchase bulk renewable electricity and distribute it to interested customers as free energy. The state could ensure that the renewable energy, or the funds used to purchase the renewable energy, flows from existing Massachusetts renewable programs and efforts like the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (RPS). The state could choose to distribute the energy as either a direct rebate, in the form of a debit card, or as part of a contract. While the amount could be adjusted, we think that $2,000 is in the right ballpark for an amount to distribute per customer.

Bundling free, clean energy with the purchase of an EV stands out as an excellent option to incent EV purchases in Massachusetts. CLF believes that purchasing incentives are key to meaningful deployment of EVs in Massachusetts, and  we favor incentives that set new energy use paradigms, increase market alignment, and are educational for consumers. The Clean Energy Bundle Incentive achieves all three of these goals.

CLF believes the Clean Energy Bundle Incentive will be an effective incentive in the current EV market, and is bolstered by a study by McKinsey and PlanNYC on EVs in New York City. That report found that due to the still-fledgling market of EVs, lack of infrastructure, and small number of potential purchasers, incentives should target “early adopters,” a group committed to investing in green technology and being recognized for their investment. The Clean Energy Bundle Incentive targets these “early adopters” by doubling their investment in green technology, as their EV will run on renewable energy.

While the Clean Energy Bundle Incentive is a new concept for EVs, the idea has been piloted in the realm of natural gas vehicles. Honda is currently offering a $3,000 debit card for use at any Clean Energy brand gas station with the purchase of a Honda Civic Natural Gas, which gives the average owner about three years worth of fuel.

If you are interested in learning more about the Clean Energy Bundle Incentive or joining our advocacy efforts, I encourage you to contact me at jrushlow[at]

CLF Holds Successful Massachusetts Electric Vehicle Roundtable with Patrick Administration

Mar 20, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Last week, CLF co-sponsored the Massachusetts Electric Vehicle Roundtable with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Clean Cities. The invitation-only event resulted in 90+ RSVPs from government officials, business and utility representatives, advocates, and others, and was very well attended despite the ever-worsening weather forecast. Opening remarks from Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan and CLF President John Kassell set the tone for a productive day, and clearly established the Patrick Administration’s commitment to promote Electric Vehicles (EVs) in Massachusetts. You can watch their opening remarks here. We were also joined by several environmental and energy agency commissioners: Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Ken Kimmell, Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Mark Sylvia, and Department of Public Utilities Commissioners Dave Cash and Jolette Westbrook. Key staff from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation also attended.

Going into this event, we knew that the stage has been set through strong state clean energy and climate policies, and that the time is right for Massachusetts to affirmatively promote a robust market for EVs. We have only 900 or so EVs registered in our state, so we have a long way to go to catch up to current leaders in this arena, such as California. In fact, Vermont has at least twice as many EVs as MA per capita. It’s not hard to understand why this is the case – while MA is usually a leader in environmental and energy policy initiatives, states like Florida, Georgia, and both Carolinas (and many others!) currently have more incentives for potential EV consumers than we have in Massachusetts. These types of incentives are critical to the success of new energy technologies such as EVs.

Given that electric vehicle deployment will be an important means of achieving our mandatory climate reduction goals in Massachusetts (25% below 1990 greenhouse gas levels by 2020, a third of which should come from the transportation sector, and 80% by 2050), we cannot afford to wait to do more. Throughout the Roundtable, CLF and other presenters articulated the many policy opportunities, and opportunities for industry and utility stakeholders, to make EVs viable in Massachusetts – from purchasing incentives, to convenience benefits like access to HOV lanes, to time-of-use charging to reduce impacts to the electric grid from increased EV deployment (and reduce charging costs even more).

Overall, the day was very energizing and inspiring, and we expect real outcomes in the near future. We regret that we couldn’t open up the event to the public, but in addition to watching the opening remarks here and below, you can review the agenda and powerpoint presentations from the Roundtable. We look forward to exciting developments coming out of this energizing day, and promise to report back here on our progress.




Tar Sands Oil Seen As Bad News All Around

Mar 18, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Vermont has a key role to play in keeping tar sands oil where it belongs — in the ground.

The increasingly imminent proposal to move tar sands oil from Canada through an existing pipeline in the Northeast Kingdom brings this issue very close to home.

At town meetings across the state earlier this month, 29 Vermont communities passed resolutions opposing the transportation and use of tar sands oil. This was a clear message that Vermonters don’t want to be complicit in the next chapter on climate destruction.

As with the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, President Obama can nix any proposal to bring tar sands through Vermont. Congressional members, including Vermont’s delegation, have called on the president to give any plan to bring tar sands through New England a searching environmental review.

We are a small state, but we have already borne more than our fair share of climate-change disasters. Stopping tar sands oil in its tracks and keeping it out of Vermont moves us in the right direction on climate change and helps avoid more climate devastation.

Tar sands oil, a gritty tar-like substance extracted from the sands of Alberta, Canada, is very different and far more damaging to our climate than conventional oil. It leaves behind a big mess and literally digs us deeper into the hole of climate change.

In a recent Scientific American article, editor David Biello reports that tar sands oil emits twice the greenhouse gas per barrel as conventional oil. As we seek newer and cleaner energy sources, using oil that is twice as dirty sends us hurtling at warp speed in exactly the wrong direction.

The nation’s leading climate scientist, James Hansen, says the exploitation of tar sands oil will mean “game over” for the climate. It’s not just that tar sands oil is twice as dirty — there is also a lot of it. The government of Alberta estimates that it has available proven reserves of over 170 billion barrels of tar sands oil. That makes it the third largest proven reserve in the world, enough oil to meet Canada’s current demand for four hundred years.

The tar sands oil in Alberta sits beneath an area that is roughly the size of Florida. The reserves are vast and bountiful — not what we want from a resource that is extra dirty.

Doubling down on tar sands keeps us sadly hooked on oil, hooked on climate disasters for centuries and delays efforts to move towards cleaner energy supplies.

Tar sands oil creates other problems as well. The oil is extracted in enormous open pits, leaving vast destruction in its wake. Large areas are left uninhabitable for wildlife. Migratory birds get trapped in the waste pits.

And tar sands oil is corrosive, meaning greater wear and tear on pipelines — many of which are more than 60 years old, like the one in the Northeast Kingdom.

Spills of tar sands oil are far worse and more difficult to clean up than ordinary spills. The 2010 spill of tar sands oil in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan is already the most expensive pipeline oil spill in U.S. history, and cleanup may never be complete.

In short, tar sands oil is bad news all around.

Vermonters are not idly standing by. In addition to the town meeting resolutions, the Legislature is considering a bill that would require a review of any proposal to move tar sands oil through Vermont.

And a number of environmental groups and citizens recently filed a legal action requesting that any plans to use the existing pipeline for tar sands oil be reviewed though Vermont’s land use development law — Act 250 — to protect our land, water and air resources threatened by this dirty fuel.

The resolve of Vermonters can help keep tar sands oil in the ground and show how responsible action to tackle climate change can leave a clean legacy for our children.

This article was originally published as a Weekly Planet column in the Environment Section of the Rutland Herald/Times Argus newspapers on March 17, 2013. You can find a copy here.

Mapping Food Accessibility: a New Tool for Urban Farming

Mar 12, 2013 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »


A new interactive map released by USDA shows where the greatest challenges, and potentially the greatest opportunities, exist for the growing urban agriculture movement.

In many communities across the country, availability of fresh food is low, or even non-existent. A grocery store may be several hours away on foot, leaving families with little to no access to fresh fruits and vegetables, or other elements of a healthy diet. These areas, known as “food deserts,” usually exist in low-income regions, and they will present stark challenge as we face climate change, an obesity epidemic, and a fragile economy.

USDA’s map undoubtedly presents a sobering picture. However, it also provides a blueprint of opportunity. Areas lacking access to fresh food are exactly where inspiring urban farm initiatives are increasingly cropping up.

Across New England, there is a tangible sense of excitement around the possibilities for an urban agricultural vision. We at CLF believe that building urban farming infrastructure is not just possible—it’s necessary.

CLF is heavily involved in ensuring that such a vision takes root. Our recent study details the economic development potential for urban agriculture in Greater Boston. The report found that urban agriculture can play an essential role in creating a more livable, carbon resilient, healthier, economically vibrant, and environmentally sustainable city—if we put smart policies in place and encourage market development for Boston grown foods. Through our Food and Farm initiative, our advocates are working to build this important infrastructure.

Both challenges and great opportunities lie ahead for urban agriculture as we face a changing climate, and we at CLF are playing an active role in establishing policies that will increase healthy food production, accessibility and sustainability across New England.

Global Warming Conference – Saturday March 16 – Montpelier, VT

Mar 11, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Senator Bernie Sanders is hosting a Global Warming Conference – What does it mean for Vermont?  — on Saturday March 16 from 10am to 4pm at Montpelier High School in Montpelier Vermont.

Bill McKibben will be the Keynote Speaker and Senator Sanders will be joined by Vermont and national leaders for workshops and discussions about climate change and what it means for Vermont.

I am pleased to join Senator Sanders and Bill McKibben for this event. It is a great opportunity to learn more about how we can tackle climate change together.

The event is free and open to the public and lunch will be provided.

More information is available here.

Maine PUC Approves Plan to Lower Power Bills with Increased Efficiency; Now it’s Legislature’s Turn

Mar 8, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) took important steps this week to increase energy efficiency in the state and pass those savings along to Maine’s electric customers. On Tuesday, the PUC issued its final order unanimously approving the Efficiency Maine Trust’s Triennial Plan, the comprehensive document that outlines the strategies, programs, budgets and estimated savings for three years starting July 1, 2013.

Some of the more critical components of the approved Plan are its budgets for the Trust’s largest programs related to electric efficiency. The Trust had proposed and made the case for expanding its budget for these programs by almost three times what would otherwise have been available to the Trust, estimating over $650 million in achievable cost-effective savings. The PUC  took a more conservative approach, but acted meaningfully, doubling the electricity budget and affording ratepayers close to $500 million in savings from these programs.

With their decision, Maine’s energy experts have spoken and they unanimously agree that the Legislature should significantly increase funding for energy efficiency. We hope the Legislature will take the responsible course of action this time and claim a victory for Maine ratepayers and the environment.

But, as I wrote last week, going forward, these efficiency funding decisions should reside with the experts at the PUC. The Maine law implemented last year shifting final say on certain energy efficiency funding from the PUC to the Legislature must be amended to direct that authority back to the PUC where it belongs. The Legislature will have the chance to make that change this session. The Legislature should look to the PUC’s actions this week as a demonstration of its keen understanding of the facts and the value of energy efficiency to the people and the state of Maine, and should follow the lead of our energy regulators.

The press release announcing the PUC’s decision is here.




Familiar Cautionary Tale Unfolding at Mt. Tom

Mar 7, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Mount Tom power plant in Holyoke, MA.

A familiar story appears to be unfolding at the Mt. Tom coal plant in Holyoke, Massachusetts. According to recently released documents, the owner submitted what is known as a Dynamic Delist Bid with ISO New England (ISO-NE), the operator of the New England electricity system and markets, and ISO-NE accepted the bid.

This means that during the 2016-2017 capacity commitment period the plant will not be obligated to run and will not receive any capacity payments. The plant could still run and be paid for the electricity it makes, but the act of de-listing means that Mt. Tom’s owner thinks there is a significant chance it will not be economic for the plant to run during that year.

This is not surprising given the sharp decline in how often the plant has been running over the past few years:

This news is particularly significant for two reasons:

  • First, submitting a de-list bid to leave the market for one year has been the first step on the path to retirement for two other coal-fired plants in Massachusetts, Somerset Station and Salem Harbor Station;
  • and Second, the fact that ISO-NE accepted the de-list bid means that it determined that Mt. Tom can exit the capacity market for that timeframe without any impact on reliability. That’s a good indication that Mt. Tom could permanently retire without impacting the system, although some additional analysis would need to be done.

Although this is welcome news, because it means the end of a long legacy of pollution, it is not surprising. Even Brayton Point, New England’s largest power plant is facing desperate financial circumstances. Coal-fired power plants have been faltering across the country over the last two years, and CLF, Coal Free Massachusetts and local allies have been warning that Mt. Tom is not only a polluting, outdated relic but that it is also an unprofitable, unstable source of revenue for the City of Holyoke and that now is the time to plan for a cleaner, brighter future.

A task force created to examine the issue of retiring, demolishing, and eventually redeveloping the sites of aging coal-fired power plants in the Commonwealth will be visiting Holyoke on March 6 for a meeting with ISO-NE and a tour of the Mt. Tom plant.  CLF and its local allies are urging the task force to open this meeting to the public and to solicit more public input on the process.  Thus far, although meetings have been open to the public, there has been little effort to engage local community members.  Engaging the public is critical to an open, fair, transparent process that will create results that the entire community can get behind.



Offshore Wind Energy: Europe and Asia Have It, and We Should Too

Mar 6, 2013 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

An offshore wind farm off the coast of the Netherlands. Image courtesy of Nuon @ flickr

As of June 2012, the world boasted 4,619 megawatts of installed offshore wind energy capacity, while the United States had none. President Obama and other national leaders like Susan Collins want to change that statistic. The public also increasingly supports clean renewable energy in the wake of frequent severe weather events like Hurricane Sandy caused by climate change.

The biggest barrier to developing offshore wind energy has been criticism of its cost compared to other forms of energy. But offshore wind technology is in its infancy; it must be tested and supported much like subsidies were provided for the testing and development of oil and gas exploration. A recent study by the Brattle Group contained two findings that I found interesting.

– First, the study estimates the total investment needed to develop a U.S. offshore wind industry and how that investment would affect the price of electricity. The study showed that offshore wind could cost less to develop than subsidies paid for coal, oil and gas over the last 50 years.

– Second, the study estimates that offshore wind would result in an average monthly-rate increase for American consumers ranging from 0.2 percent to 1.7 percent.

Considering the huge amount being added to our tax bills to finance natural disaster relief from increased hurricanes, tornadoes and other weather events caused by global warming, this modest increase in electric rates to switch to cleaner power is a no brainer.

Here in New England, we have several potential opportunities for offshore wind: Cape Wind in Massachusetts, DeepWater Wind projects in Rhode Island, and the Hywind Maine pilot project in Maine.

What do you think? Would you pay a little more for electricity tax to reduce our dependence on fuels that add to global warming?