Halted: VT Gas Pipeline

Feb 10, 2015 by  | Bio |  1 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.

3 Things No One is Telling You About Rising Energy Costs

Oct 3, 2014 by  | Bio |  5 Comment »

Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s first White House chief of staff, was once quoted as saying “You never want to let a serious crisis go to waste,” referring to the opportunities to pass sweeping bills in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown. Over the past weeks, we’ve seen that sentiment put into practice by some of New England’s major energy industry players. They’ve been fanning the flames of fear over expected winter price spikes to support their continued push for building massive new gas pipelines, even though new pipelines have no chance of helping to address the risk of price spikes for this winter.

Here are 3 things you’re not being told about what’s really responsible for the increased rates and how to deal with rising energy costs now:

  1. New pipelines can’t and won’t address the rising rates for this winter (or the next three winters).
    • Even under the most optimistic scenarios, new natural gas pipelines of the scale that were being considered as part of the now-stalled New England Governors’ initiative could not be permitted and built earlier than November 2018. Even if they lived up to the Governors’ promises after that, they would do nothing for consumers this winter and the next three winters.
    • New England isn’t the only region of the country that experienced price spikes this past winter. New York, an area that had just expanded its pipeline capacity still experienced higher prices last winter, and the regional electric grid known as PJM (because it covers, in part, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland) also experienced price spikes even though it is located in the epicenter of abundant Marcellus shale gas supplies.
  2. The real problem isn’t a major deficit of pipeline capacity, but a failure to deal adequately with the increased use of natural gas for power generation.
    • We now use a lot of natural gas for power generation in New England, which helped modernize the system by moving us away from old, polluting, and inefficient sources like coal and oil. Because of this, and the way the regional grid’s electric market works, natural gas prices now generally set the price for electricity in New England.
    • Unlike natural gas utilities that supply homes and businesses with gas for heating, which buy gas on long-term “firm” contracts that guarantee access to gas, the companies that own natural gas power plants typically buy cheaper “interruptible” contracts because there isn’t currently a mechanism that allows them to pass-through the additional costs of buying firm supply.
    • In the winter time, people are often turning on the heat at the same time that they are turning on the lights, so the system experiences high demands on gas for both uses in the mornings and afternoons. These “coincident” demands led to price spikes between 10-42 days in each of the last winters, and retail electric prices are now catching up as the market is expecting a repeat of last winter’s high prices.
    • Now that natural gas makes up so much of the electricity we use, the volatility of gas prices has a bigger impact on electric prices and leads to higher rates. We have been far too slow in deploying demand-reducing energy efficiency measures in homes and businesses and in increasing the amounts of local renewable energy on the system, both of which would help reduce market prices for electricity and protect us from volatile gas prices.
    • The increased use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports should help to moderate the price spikes to some extent this year, but more can be done through market reforms without risking overbuilding gas capacity.
  3. Energy efficiency is the best way to reduce your bills and stay warm this winter.
    • Even though rates are going up, you can still lower your total bill by lowering your demand. Massachusetts has some of the best energy efficiency programs in the country which means that you can apply for rebates, incentives, and assistance to help you install efficient measures. Other New England states have programs as well.
    • If you don’t own your home or apartment, there are still some inexpensive steps you can take to cut your bills. There are many ways to conserve energy for a very small investment of time or money. Check back in for a look at how Senior Attorney Shanna Cleveland is getting her apartment ready for the winter.

Holyoke’s Coal-Fired Mt. Tom Power Plant Announces Formal Shutdown Date

Sep 24, 2014 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Mt. Tom’s owners announced this summer that they would retire the 54-year-old coal plant, and yesterday, GDF Suez filed the official request with the electric system operator to retire this last Massachusetts coal-fired power plant by June 2018. This is great news for the residents who have breathed the pollution from Mt. Tom since it first began operation in 1960. This follows the recent announcement by Somerset’s Brayton Point, the largest coal-fired power plant in New England, that it will retire by June 2017, and the final shutdown of Salem Harbor Station earlier this year.

This request to retire, if approved, will obligate Mt. Tom’s owners to retire the facility permanently, and marks the formal finish for coal in Massachusetts. Conservation Law Foundation has been fighting for decades to reveal the dismal economics of coal and to support an effective transition to sustainable clean energy in New England. This announcement comes only a year after Mt. Tom’s owners were required to install new monitors to measure soot from the facility as the result of a 2011 call by CLF for enforcement of more than 2,500 Clean Air Act violations at the facility.

Holyoke is better prepared than most communities for this retirement because of the work of a local coalition, Action for a Healthy Holyoke, and the statewide Coal Free Massachusetts coalition. These groups, along with CLF, have been working to create a better future for Holyoke for years, and, as a result, the City has been evaluating potential impacts of retirement and potential re-use options for more than two years. Recent legislation will help them further that work with a formal re-use study supported by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

Renewable energy is on the horizon for Holyoke. Earlier this year, based on CLF’s coal pant retirement work in Salem and Somerset, CLF garnered an important commitment from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to direct the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to offer host communities, like Holyoke, up to $2 million to develop a clean energy strategy, including the construction of a renewable energy project within the community. Thanks to that commitment, Holyoke will have the opportunity to work with DOER to move toward cleaner energy either on the site of the retired plant or elsewhere within the community.

CLF will work to ensure that Mt. Tom’s request to retire permanently is approved in the coming months to create an opportunity for new resources to come on-line, and will continue to work to build a clean and sustainable energy future for New England.

Fresh Air Ahead: Transition to Clean Energy Supplies

Sep 8, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

It is welcome news that the New England Governors are stepping away from a high-risk gamble with clean air and electric customers’ money. Shrouded in secrecy, the New England States Committee on Electricity (NESCOE) undertook efforts that were poised to tax electric customers – including customers in Vermont – to pay for bringing massive new gas pipelines into the region.

These pipelines would lock in polluting fossil fuel supplies for decades. The NESCOE efforts are now on indefinite hold. That’s good. The shoddy analysis supporting the plans collapsed after being exposed to the welcome sunlight of public scrutiny.

But as the region closes older and dirtier generating facilities – such as coal plants in southern New England, and Vermont Yankee here in Vermont – and as we move transportation and home heating away from gasoline and oil, we need to make sure we transition to cleaner supplies.

We still have homes to heat, lights to keep on and businesses to run. As a region, we have committed to reducing our greenhouse gases. Our efforts are a model for the rest of the country. Climate change demands that we reduce emissions at least 75% below 1990 levels by 2050. To meet this challenge, Vermont has set a goal of meeting 90% of all its power needs with renewable sources by 2050. If and how natural gas fits into this equation is one of the biggest energy challenges of the next decade.

Once touted as a panacea and a “bridge fuel,” the exuberance for natural gas is tarnishing. Pollution from gas leaks during transmission and extraction threaten to eliminate any of the possible climate benefits from natural gas burning cleaner than oil. But reliance on natural gas, at least in the short term, is not likely to go away. Most of southern New England relies on gas for heating. During the very cold days last winter, high demand for gas drove up short-term prices to record levels. These price spikes have fed a frenzy of cries for new pipelines.

The real challenge lies in reducing our overall reliance on gas. It is not an option to use as much gas decades from now as we use today.

The actions we take now in terms of gas pipelines or new gas supplies need to foster the transition to the next generation of cleaner supplies. Our clean energy transformation will not occur if all our energy dollars continue to prop up old technology and fossil fuels.

The model Vermont created with energy efficiency holds promise for our next clean energy transformation – transitioning away from fossil fuels. For pennies a day our investments in energy efficiency have saved money, reduced pollution and allowed us to avoid building expensive new electric power plants.

As we look at gas supply we can see that making wise use of our existing pipelines is a good place to start. We can make sure the pipeline capacity we already have is being well utilized before leaping to build expensive new pipelines as NESCOE contemplated. This starts with fixing leaks and creating opportunities for storage or contracts to address the few hours of a few days of high demand in the winter.

If new pipeline capacity is added, its lifespan should be limited. To move away from fossil fuels by 2050, any permit for a new or expanded pipeline should expire in 2050. We must recognize the useful life of a new pipeline and not allow it to saddle customers with costs and pollution for decades to come.

Any pipeline capacity increase should include a “system transformation charge.” Similar to the energy efficiency charge, this would recapture a portion of the expected economic savings and use those funds to enable more energy efficiency and renewable power supplies. These funds would allow customers to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels each year, making the possibility of using natural gas as a “bridge fuel” a reality.

A clean energy transformation is in reach. Vermont and New England can lead the way leaving cleaner air and a healthier planet for ourselves and for generations to come.

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