Gas Pipelines — Misinformation and High Costs

Mar 26, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The high cost and pollution from new gas pipelines are no secret. They deliver a clear reminder that investing in new fossil fuels is a bad bet for our energy future – bad for the environment and bad for our pocketbooks.

When costs ballooned for Vermont Gas Systems’ proposed new pipeline, the company failed to tell regulators, or the public, until months later. Vermont Gas is now facing penalties for the failure.

photo courtesy of Tom @ flickr.com

photo courtesy of Tom @ flickr.com

Unfortunately for the public, only the Public Service Department and the Company were allowed to present information during the hearing

to evaluate the penalty. Since the two of them already agreed to a penalty, the proceeding took on an air of the sound of one hand clapping. A few concerned citizens resorted to waiving posters in the back of the room with questions they’d like answered.

At the hearing, a Vermont Gas executive acknowledged the loss of faith and lost credibility that resulted from not disclosing the cost increase sooner. Sadly that credibility was not restored when the same executive had to acknowledge that cost figures reported to regulators were not accurate.

A new gas pipeline is a big energy project. All big energy projects need to demonstrate that they advance the public good. With high costs and misinformation, confidence is sure waning on this project.

Smart Moves for Maine’s Electricity Grid

Mar 10, 2015 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Several years ago, Maine took a small but significant and unprecedented step toward modernizing its electric grid. Rather than implement a traditional “poles and wires” transmission build out to address growing electricity needs in the Boothbay Harbor region, the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved an innovative pilot project.

GridSolar's Boothbay Pilot program is finding innovative ways to meet electricity demand without an expensive transmission rebuild.

GridSolar’s Boothbay Pilot program is finding innovative ways to meet electricity demand without an expensive transmission rebuild.

The Boothbay Pilot relies on so-called non-transmission alternatives, or NTAs, to reduce electric load in the region by 2 megawatts (MW). Using these alternatives eliminated the need for an $18 million transmission rebuild, while also improving energy efficiency, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and saving ratepayers approximately $3 million per year. A smart move. Now, the PUC has the opportunity to take many of the pilot’s concepts statewide.

Non-transmission alternatives are, as the name implies, alternatives to the traditional way of distributing electricity. For most of Maine’s power grid, state-regulated transmission and distribution utilities, such as Central Maine Power, transmit bulk electricity from a generation source – for example, natural gas, oil, or hydro – through power lines, substations, and distribution lines to your home. To ensure reliable and constant energy flow the power grid must be continually maintained and at times rebuilt or upgraded to meet demand.

Instead of expending ratepayer dollars on expensive transmission solutions, electric power needs can be met by various NTAs, including energy efficiency, passive electric power generation closer to the consumer (like solar panels or wind turbines), and active devices that can be switched on when needed to reduce load on the grid. These alternatives create a more efficient grid and reduce total power needed.

For the Boothbay regional Pilot program, GridSolar developed just such an NTA solution. In a case before the PUC, GridSolar has petitioned to become the state’s lead developer of smart grid technologies – a new entity allowed under the Maine Smart Grid Policy Act. While PUC staff recently recommended that the Commissioners deny GridSolar’s petition – in favor of putting the coordinator’s role out to bid for proposals – their report nonetheless recognizes the value in having an incentivized actor forwarding non-transmission alternatives to utilities’ business-as-usual transmission projects.

CLF is an intervening party to this case and has advocated for the PUC to create just such a statewide NTA Coordinator. Designating this role is another small but critical step toward a more efficient and modern energy future for Maine. Another smart move on which we should all agree.

Time to Act: Guest Post by Olivia Gieger

Mar 6, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Last fall, CLF, Mass Energy Consumers Alliance, and four youth plaintiffs filed suit against the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection for failing to fully comply with the Global Warming Solutions Act. In this guest post, one of the teen plaintiffs, Olivia Gieger, explains why she’s joined the court fight to defend her climate future.

As a sophomore in high school, I am all too familiar with procrastination. That group project assigned a month ago and now due tomorrow? We had a month; why start early? It’s a group project; won’t someone else do it? In my experience, I can tell you, those all-nighter–inducing group projects never turn out well.

Don’t be the sophomore in high school.

This 2015, we have the technology to know that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are rising at an alarmingly fast rate. We’ve had this technology since 1960 when carbon dioxide levels were at 315 parts per million (ppm). Now they’re at 395 ppm(1). We know that this carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, which captures heat energy and slows its release from air. While greenhouse gases are necessary in our atmosphere and are needed to keep us warm, an unnatural amount is strikingly dangerous. More greenhouse gases mean more heat held in the atmosphere, which means a hotter Earth.

Side effects of global warming are countless, and they are happening today. Sea levels are rising. Ice caps are melting. Forest fires are raging. Downpours are constant in the Northeast, yet droughts are ever more present in the West(2).

But, really, why should I care? Melting ice caps and a couple less polar bears don’t really affect me, right? I don’t live in California, so those wildfires don’t affect me, either. But other people are being impacted by the wildfires, the melting ice caps, the rising temperatures. The scary reality is that we all are. I may not know anyone who lives in California, but that’s where my food is grown. If there are droughts and wildfires, how is my family supposed to get some of our favorite fruits and vegetables that don’t grow here in Boston during the winter? And those melting ice caps affect a whole lot more than polar bears. When they melt, sea levels rise – not just at the North Pole, but globally. This means my favorite beaches on Martha’s Vineyard will be washed away. It means my favorite restaurants and museums – even my neighborhood – here in Boston will be underwater in my lifetime.

In order to do something about these concerns, I have filed a lawsuit, along with three other youth plaintiffs, against the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), because DEP has been procrastinating in fully complying with the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA). The GWSA requires DEP to pass regulations establishing declining greenhouse gas emissions limits for Massachusetts. But DEP has not done so. The purpose of the lawsuit is to force DEP to comply with the law, because it appears unwilling to do so on its own. Thanks to the support from my lawyers at Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak, & Cohen and Our Children’s Trust, we will ensure that DEP complies with the law.

So now my question is why? Why are we as a society being sophomores in high school about this? Why are we just waiting for someone else to solve this massive problem? We know the problems, and, better yet, we know the solutions. Using clean, renewable energy is one solution. Enough energy from the sun enters the Earth in one hour to power it for an entire year(3). This energy is unlimited, harmless to the environment, and virtually free. Sounds to me like it tops fossil fuels any day. It’s not just solar energy, however – wind power and hydropower are also unlimited and harmless to the environment. So why then are we oblivious to this? Why are we so incapable of making a change? We need to stop procrastinating. It is long past the time to include, encourage, and execute programs with wind and solar power as the energy of America. We cannot afford to be sophomores anymore; it’s time to graduate.

Works Cited:

  1. Pieter Tans, NOAA/ESRL (www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/) and Dr. Ralph Keeling, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (scrippsco2.ucsd.edu/).
  2. “The Current and Future Consequences of Global Change.”Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. National Air and Space Association, n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.
  3. “Solar Power Energy Information, Solar Power Energy Facts.”National Geographic. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.

Halted: VT Gas Pipeline

Feb 10, 2015 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

courtesty of Axel Schwenke @ flickr.com

courtesy of Axel Schwenke @ flickr.com

Welcome news from Vermont Gas Systems that it will not proceed with Phase 2 of its expensive and polluting natural gas pipeline.

Over recent months, project costs have skyrocketed and pollution impacts increased. New gas pipelines lock us into continued fossil fuel use for decades into the future are a bad bet for our climate and our pocketbooks.

It is encouraging that Vermont Gas recognized the serious problems with this project and pulled the plug.

In December, just weeks before regulatory hearings were to begin, Vermont Gas announced it would hit the reset button and re-examine the project. Now Vermont Gas will no longer seek regulatory approval for that project, which would extend a natural gas pipeline through sensitive natural areas and underneath Lake Champlain to serve the Fort Ticonderoga mill in New York.

Vermont Gas still plans to pursue approval for Phase 1 even though the cost has nearly doubled and regulators announced they undertake a thorough review of the Phase 1 project in light of the new cost information.

The cancellation of Phase 2 is great news for Vermont. It helps reduce our reliance on polluting fossil fuels and allows Vermonters to move forward more quickly to rely on cleaner and lower cost energy solutions.

 

MA Senate Committee says there’s “No Time to Waste” to Tackle Climate Change

Jan 12, 2015 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

When the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change released a new report last week called “No Time to Waste,” CLF knew it was one we could get behind. The report is a message from the legislature to the new Republican administration containing recommendations for how the state can achieve its greenhouse gas reduction goals quickly and with the resources it already has on hand.

The report warns of the drastic impacts climate change will have on the state’s robust agricultural economy and of the harmful public health impacts that will result if the new administration fails to act fast to address this growing threat. In particular, the report urges Governor Baker to take assertive executive action on several causes that CLF has long supported – including putting in place regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions as required by the Global Warming Solutions Act (“GWSA”).

As the Senate report states, “By declining to promulgate regulations according to the GWSA, the administration is depriving the state of a powerful tool to fight climate change.” The Global Warming Solutions Act, enacted in 2008, required the Department of Environmental Protection to put regulations in place that would establish legally binding emissions reductions on greenhouse gases. The Commonwealth clearly needs these regulations, given that it’s on track to miss its 2020 greenhouse gas reduction goal. The GWSA provided the Department with ample time to develop the regulations, setting a deadline of January 1, 2012. Now, six years later, that mandate remains unmet. For years, CLF and partner organizations have called upon the Department to comply with the law. In light of the Department’s continued inaction, CLF went to court to force the Department to follow the law. The Senate Committee has it right: there’s no time to waste on getting these regulations established.

The report includes other recommendations familiar to those who follow CLF’s work: calling for the adoption of a clean fuel standard; encouraging energy efficiency efforts; balancing any increased hydropower imports with renewables and ensuring that the greenhouse gas emissions from hydro are counted; more investments in and planning for adaptation to climate change; incentivizing smart meter use and modernizing the grid; embracing smart growth; and more.

Senator Marc R. Pacheco, the Taunton Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, said, “We’re basically saying to the new administration, we’d like you to embrace these environmental initiatives.”

CLF couldn’t agree more.

End of Nuclear in Vermont

Dec 30, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo courtesy of David Jones @ flickr.com

photo courtesy of David Jones @ flickr.com

The end of a nuclear power era arrived in Vermont on December 29, 2014.

The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant in southern Vermont stopped producing power.

This is indeed the end of an era. And the beginning of a new one.

The shuttering of Vermont Yankee marks a significant passage – for CLF, for Vermont, and for New England. Our energy supply is undergoing transformation. As we move away from older and polluting coal and nuclear plants, we rely more on cleaner and lower cost supplies paving the way for a brighter energy future.

I’ll admit, with Vermont Yankee’s troubled history, I was not entirely convinced it would actually shut down. Old habits die hard. In the past, Vermont Yankee’s owners went to court rather than comply with promises to close the plant in 2012. The plant had leaks and its owners failed to provide truthful information about the leaks to regulators. The tired, old, polluting plant on the banks of the Connecticut River was forced to operate well past its previously planned retirement.

From the sale of Vermont Yankee in 2002 to the regulatory proceedings and litigation about its continued operation and leaks, CLF has shown that reliance on Vermont Yankee is an expensive and bad bet.

The plant proved to be a bad deal for Vermont. Other power was less expensive and the needed safety repairs required after Fukushima would be costly. Too costly. As renewable power supplies continue to grow, we have the ability to provide power with low or zero fuel costs. The need for these large, expensive older plants declines. It feels a bit like moving away from massive centralized computers in the era of smaller laptops and smart phones.

The lights are still on after Vermont Yankee shut down. And they will stay on. There is no question it will take continued effort to build the clean energy future we know we need. It is within our reach.

Many workers will remain at Vermont Yankee overseeing the safe decommissioning of the plant, which will take decades. They remain part of the transformation that is marked by Vermont Yankee’s closing.

Mapping the Road to a Low-Carbon Future for the Northeast

Dec 23, 2014 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

“All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination.”
–Radio legend Earl Nightingale (1921-1989)

How do we, efficiently and effectively, complete the transition from an energy system rooted in fossil-fuel generation to a much-needed clean energy system for our region? As participants in last week’s Lessons for a Climate & Energy Roadmap 2050 Process for the Northeastern US learned, it takes courage to embark on the collective journey to a low-carbon future, and it helps to bring a map.

Hosted by CLF, CLF Ventures, and The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy’s Center for International Environment & Resource Policy, and sponsored by The Oak Foundation and German Consulate General of Boston, the December 16 event at Tufts University brought together business and government leaders and environmental advocates from the Northeast with their counterparts from Germany and the European Union (EU), Canada, California, and beyond. The goal: explore how the EU’s experience pursuing renewable energy, energy efficiency, and climate protection policies and targets could offer lessons for our region’s clean energy and climate transition.

The Northeast Roadmap 2050 event drew inspiration from the EU Roadmap 2050 process, which convened key stakeholders to shape a shared vision for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the EU at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Here in the northeast US/New England, we have a very similar opportunity. The New England states and New York, along with the Eastern Canadian provinces, have adopted climate goals and mandates that mirror the EU mandate. We have a core of business leaders that can be mobilized, and a number of key energy players here are the same companies that sat at the table for the EU Roadmap 2050 process. Though the questions underlying a similar planning process for the Northeast are simple, the challenges are anything but: Can the leaders of our region articulate the vision of a sane energy transition that leaders and decision-makers in Washington have not? If so, how do we achieve essential buy-in from key regional decision makers, like executives and regulators, to move from a shared vision to an implementable course of action?

During the daylong event, participants joined in person and over videoconference to begin to build a foundation of shared knowledge upon which a Roadmap 2050 process can be built for the Northeast. Among the day’s highlights:

  • Tufts emeritus professor of international environmental policy and lead author on several Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports William Moomaw urged participants to accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources and emphasized that such a transformation is essential.
  • Mike Hogan, Senior Advisor to the Regulatory Assistance Project, shared several key lessons learned from the EU Roadmap 2050 process, including:
    • Derive legitimacy from a very broad base of stakeholder participants, including industry, governments, NGOs, governments, and technical experts.
    • Start from a point of broad consensus about the destination. Participants don’t need to agree on how to get there or even if they can get there, as long as they agree on the destination.
    • Focus on shifting the public narrative about what makes sense and re-defining the “middle ground.”
    • Keep everything on the table and take nothing for granted (except the destination).
    • 90 percent of the success of the Roadmap process is just getting people to sit in the room and stay in the room to work together on the process.
  • Dr. Patrick Graichen, Executive Director of Agora Energiewende, a German energy think tank, and Graham Weale, Chief Economist, RWE AG, a leading European utility, presented insights from Germany’s energy transition (Energiewende) and from the German energy industry, including the key role of wind and solar energy, and the importance of building both supply- and demand-side flexibility and strong market mechanisms into a low-carbon energy system.
  • V. John White, Executive Director, Center for Energy Efficiency & Renewable Technologies, offered insights from the ongoing California 2030 Low Carbon Grid Study. Among the Phase I findings:
    • The importance of balancing California’s energy portfolio both technologically and geographically;
    • The need to modernize California’s currently inefficient gas fleet and use gas differently;
    • The increased role of bulk storage and demand response to shift energy demand to different parts of the day and reduce demand on the overall system;
    • The emerging need for California to take a more regional approach to its energy grid.
  • Michael Jasanis (HotZero, LLC and former CEO of National Grid USA),Phil Giudice, CEO and President of Ambri, and Cindy Arcate, CEO and President of PowerOptions, contributed the perspectives of Northeast utility and energy industry leaders.

From the wide range of opinions and insights shared over the course of the day, participants were left with a sense of urgency to accelerate a clean energy transition for the Northeast as well as many questions that remain to be explored. Next steps? Participants expressed interest in a second, follow-up convening that will likely be planned for early 2015, hosted by an organization that can provide a supportive yet outcome-neutral role in advancing a Northeast Roadmap 2050 stakeholder process. Once the process is underway, the group will develop a framework for the multi-sector analysis and modeling work needed to create a powerful vision that will shape governmental and business decision making and that will be owned by a broad and deep regional stakeholder group.

Reset on Vermont Natural Gas Expansion

Dec 21, 2014 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

It’s good news that Vermont Gas Systems announced they will hit the reset button on the planned new natural gas pipeline in Western Vermont. Global warming demands far greater scrutiny of new fossil fuel expansions.

The project costs keep ballooning. In July, cost estimates increased more than 40%. At that time CLF called for a full re-evaluation of the project. Costs estimates have now escalated another 27%.

And those cost increases don’t even look at the increased greenhouse gas emissions from continuing our reliance on fossil fuels.

courtesy of Lucky Larry @ flickr.com

courtesy of Lucky Larry @ flickr.com

In the wake of these cost increases, Vermont Gas asked regulators to put a hold on the hearings for the second phase of the project. These hearings were scheduled to begin in January.

At a time when global warming requires that we move quickly away from reliance on fossil fuels, it is hard to justify spending hundreds of millions of dollars on new natural gas pipelines that keep us dependent on polluting fossil fuels long into the future.

It is no surprise to CLF that costs are skyrocketing. Expanding reliance on polluting fossil fuels is a bad bet. These natural gas pipelines will be in place for 50 to 100 years. That’s long past the time we need to move away from fossil fuels. Saddling customers with the high costs and increased pollution for decades is irresponsible. We can do better than that.

Our region is undergoing a major transformation of our energy supply. We can seize the opportunities this transformation presents by moving away from polluting fossil fuels and their long-term climate impacts. Going forward we need to rely much more on cleaner renewable energy.

The reset called for by Vermont Gas is a good opportunity to steer our energy future in a cleaner and lower cost direction.

Coming Clean: Strengthening EPA’s Clean Power Plan

Dec 4, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Even if it’s hard for our brains to accept, we all know the impacts to come from climate change if we don’t significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions now and throughout the century: food insecurity, species extinction, and dramatically severe weather events. If that news isn’t sobering enough, we’ll also face a rapidly decreasing ability to adapt to these impacts by the year 2100. In spite of these dire predictions, the fact remains that there are actions that we can and must take to have a chance of slowing the effects of climate change and avoiding the most devastating impacts.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently proposing one of these necessary actions with the Clean Power Plan, a rule intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants that burn fossil fuels. Under the Plan, EPA will lay out the best system of emissions reduction and each state will devise a program to meet those required reductions.

Even before its Monday deadline, EPA had received more than 21,000 comments from interested stakeholders. Given the complexity of the rule and the many interested parties weighing in, CLF submitted a brief, targeted letter highlighting a couple of crucial areas where the Plan should be strengthened to be truly effective. We asked for:

  • a more accurate assessment of the cost-effectiveness of renewable energy sources, energy efficiency, and demand response against which to measure fossil fuel–burning plants, and
  • measures related to natural gas (including regulation of methane emissions from its production, transmission, and distribution).

Without a better strategy for dealing with these two issues, the Plan could backfire and end up fostering powerful economic incentives to simply substitute one polluting fossil fuel for another in our energy system.

Finalizing a strengthened Clean Power Plan would be a step toward fulfilling our country’s responsibility to ourselves and the rest of the world to mitigate climate change. But it’s only one step. Even as we all wait for meaningful federal action on climate change, CLF is continuing to lead crucial efforts to curb harmful greenhouse gas emissions at the state and regional level through smart economic and environmental policy.

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