Cleaner Cars, Cleaner Air

Oct 1, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo courtesy of dklimke@flickr.com

Cleaner cars are on the way. In an important step for climate change and air pollution, Vermont is updating its vehicle air emission rules so we can all have cleaner cars and breathe easier.

The rule follows California’s standards and reduces the allowed emissions and greenhouse gases from cars beginning with the 2015 car models.

The greenhouse gas reductions contained in the proposed amendments are expected to reduce new passenger vehicle carbon dioxide emissions by about 32-36% by model year 2025.

Cars that are 1/3 cleaner. That’s a huge step in the right direction. Transportation is responsible for nearly half of Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions. These emission controls are vital to achieve Vermont’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.

CLF and Vermont have a long history of support for cleaner transportation. In a lawsuit where CLF provided key support, Vermont defeated a challenge from the automobile industry to previous emission rules. The decision was followed in other states and continues to pave the way for reduced emissions.

Conservation Law Foundation joined with other organizations and submitted these comments in support of Vermont’s rule.

CLF is working in other New England states to advance adoption of these important rules.

Winds of Change: The Promise of 3 Offshore Wind Farms in New England

Sep 21, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Photo courtesy of phault @ flickr

This is an exciting time for clean energy in New England. Why? Because our region could have not one but three offshore wind farms constructed by 2016.  Not only that, these would be the first three in the nation!

The Cape Wind Project, off the coast of Cape Cod, will site 130 wind turbines between 4–11 miles offshore and produce an average of 170 MW of electricity, or about 75% of the average electricity demand for Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket Island. Block Island Wind Farm is scheduled to be constructed in Rhode Island state waters next spring. It is a 5 turbine, 30 megawatt demonstration-scale wind farm about three miles off of Block Island which will generate over 100,000 megawatt hours annually, supplying most of Block Island’s electricity with excess power exported to the mainland. And on a very exciting note, here in Maine, international energy company Statoil’s proposal to build a four turbine floating wind park is moving forward. For recent news coverage, read here.

Clean energy is sprouting up all around New England. For some projects, it’s about time. Recent FAA approvals on Cape Wind, for instance, come after more than a decade of exhaustive reviews and strong opposition from dirty energy-funded opponents. Each of these projects has enormous potential. Together, if built, these three offshore wind farms would transform New England’s energy mix.

Here in Maine, Statoil’s unsolicited bid to develop the floating wind farm is moving through the federal review process. The Bureau of Ocean energy Management (BOEM) has published a notice to determine if there are other developers interested in competing to use the area and to solicit comments about the proposal. The notice is published here.

CLF will provide comments that balance our commitment to helping New England develop clean renewable energy with protecting the ocean environment. BOEM published a second notice that it will prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) when Statoil submits its construction and operations plan (COP). The EIS will consider the environmental consequences associated with the Hywind Maine project. BOEM will accept public comments about the environmental issues that should be considered in the EIS until November 8. For more, read here.

In addition, the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is reviewing the proposed terms of a long-term contract that would permit Statoil to sell the energy generated from the wind farm  into Maine’s energy grid over the next 20 years. The PUC’s authority to approve this contract flows from Maine’s 2010 Ocean Energy Act, which supports research and development of offshore wind energy technology. The PUC may decide whether to accept the proposed contract terms within the month.

For a current and accurate summary of the state of offshore wind off the Atlantic Coast, please read the National Wildlife Federation’s report released on September 24, “The Turning Point for Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy.” CLF helped write sections of the report and co-sponsored it.

There’s no question we’re making incredible progress – but there is more to be done. If you support this work, sign up to become a CLF e-activist to keep informed about our work. And check back in regularly for updates as we try to get these projects built!

Two Years Later and No Path Forward for Northern Pass

Sep 5, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Hands Across New Hampshire protest, Deerfield, NH, September 1, 2012 (photo credit, Wes Golomb, Bear Brook Photography)

After a summer when many in New Hampshire expected to hear about a revised route and a renewed public relations campaign for the Northern Pass transmission project, the current proposal, which surfaced almost two years ago, is facing new obstacles:

It is long past time for Northern Pass to acknowledge (contrary to Northeast Utilities’ recent sunny pronouncements to investors) that the current proposal – new route north of Groveton or not – is a non-starter in New Hampshire. Instead, we should be shelving this fatally flawed proposal, critically exploring whether and to what extent hydropower imports are needed, evaluating all the alternatives in an open and well-informed planning process, and continuing to pursue greater regional consensus and coordination to build a real clean energy economy with broadly shared benefits, on both sides of the border.

For more information about Northern Pass, sign-up for our monthly newsletter Northern Pass Wire, visit CLF’s Northern Pass Information Center (http://www.clf.org/northern-pass), and take a look at our prior Northern Pass posts on CLF Scoop.

Generating Clean Energy and Efficiency Across Massachusetts

Aug 28, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

How does a community balance the potential costs of siting clean energy projects with the economic benefits they provide? What are the local economic realities of hosting distributed clean energy generation facilities and energy efficiency projects in a community? CLF Ventures explored these questions and others in a recent webinar we co-sponsored with the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) and the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s (MMA) Massachusetts Municipal Energy Group.

The first in a three-part series CLF Ventures is co-hosting this summer and fall, the August 15 webinar featured a presentation by James McGrath, Park and Open Space Program Manager for Pittsfield, a Massachusetts Green Community that has hosted several large-scale solar projects and implemented robust, community-wide energy efficiency programs. He spoke about how to initiate clean energy projects, the advantages of clean energy at the local level, and strategies to manage the most common roadblocks in implementation.

The webinar series is targeted to municipal officials and volunteers who are already engaged in clean energy and energy efficiency issues or interested in learning more about how to site and finance clean energy facilities and programs in their communities. Building on themes explored in CLF Ventures’ earlier work with MassCEC on siting land-based wind energy projects, the webinar series gives participants an opportunity to learn first-hand from municipal leaders and technical experts as they share their experiences implementing clean energy and energy efficiency projects across Massachusetts.

Upcoming webinars on September 12 and October 24 will explore how to engage the public when siting solar and wind energy projects and the ins and outs of financing clean energy through power purchase agreements. For more information or to register for upcoming webinars, email liz.carver@clf.org.

Hats Off: Request to Step-Up Oversight for Vermont Yankee

Aug 20, 2012 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Hats off to Vermont regulators for requesting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to put an end to the string of mishaps at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

photo courtesy of shersteve@flickr.com

Vermont Yankee is an aging nuclear plant on the banks of the Connecticut River. It is increasingly showing its age and the time for stepped up oversight is long overdue. The request cites incidents that “continue to pile up”, including:

 “a misaligned valve in the pool where the plant stores highly radioactive spent fuel waste allowed 2,700 gallons of water to drain out of the pool. Another involved epoxy applied to a condenser to keep it from leaking; that interfered with the condenser’s operation and forced the plant to reduce its power output.”

It is time for the NRC to step in and show its willingness to exert more than lackluster oversight of the nation’s nuclear fleet.

With The New York Times reporting from Japan that “the nuclear accident at Fukushima was a preventable disaster rooted in government-industry collusion and the worst conformist conventions of Japanese culture,” it is important that similar problems not occur here in the US.

The NRC is responsible for matters concerning radiological health and safety at nuclear power plants. It is important that they provide real oversight and not have a cozy relationship with industry that lets problems “pile up” or human error and poor management continue.

Thank you Vermont regulators for keeping the pressure on the NRC.

PSNH Ratepayers Get Cleaner, Cheaper Power Choices

Aug 13, 2012 by  | Bio |  4 Comment »

If you have a greener, cheaper choice, make it! (photo credit: ilovebutter/flickr)

Most customers of Public Service Company of New Hampshire get one of the worst electricity deals in New England. Their ratepayer dollars subsidize the operation of PSNH’s outdated, inefficient coal-fired power plants; they live with the public health impacts of air pollution from PSNH plants; they have seen (and will see) their rates rise thanks to PSNH’s abysmal planning; and they won’t see much if any benefit from the billion-dollar transmission project – Northern Pass – that PSNH is spending so much time promoting. Meanwhile, electricity for other New Englanders is getting cleaner and cheaper.

The good news for PSNH customers: they now have choices.

One of the more promising reforms associated with the restructuring of the region’s electric market in the late 1990s – “retail choice” – has been painfully slow to materialize for New Hampshire residents and small businesses. Most have been stuck with PSNH’s default energy service. (With their superior purchasing power, NH’s big businesses have been able to escape PSNH’s above-market rates for some time – either by buying power from the wholesale market themselves or through power buying groups organized by the likes of the Business and Industry Association.)

In the last few months, several companies – including Resident Power and Electricity NH – have started offering electric service to New Hampshire residents, and more companies are planning to do the same. Just last week, the Portsmouth Herald reported that USource (an affiliate of New Hampshire utility Unitil) is now working with chambers of commerce around the state to serve groups of small businesses. (UPDATE (8/14): Per today’s Union Leader, add Glacial Energy to the list.)

These companies’ rates beat PSNH’s energy service rate, and the savings are likely to increase as PSNH’s rate rises. And because these non-PSNH suppliers buy from cleaner, cheaper power sources, customers who switch do not pay to support PSNH’s dirty, uneconomic power plants. If you’re planning to switch, you should carefully read and understand the terms of your new contract. PSNH will continue to deliver your power and handle all billing.

It’s a win-win, a bit like finding that local, organic produce is priced less than conventionally-grown produce. (If you frequent one of New England’s many vibrant farmer’s markets or stop at a roadside stand this time of year, you often find yourself making exactly this discovery!)

But the competition is not good news for PSNH’s coal-fired business model  – or for the many customers who aren’t aware of their choices or are nervous about making the switch, whose rates will rise even faster as PSNH’s customer base shrinks. PSNH recently released its latest report on how many customers are making the switch – known as customer “migration” – and the numbers keep getting worse for PSNH. In June:

  • More than 86% of large commercial and industrial customers did not buy power from PSNH (accounting for 95% of the power delivered to such customers). Even though there was little room for them to grow, these numbers have climbed since last fall. 68% of medium-sized businesses also are choosing other suppliers.
  • With choices for New Hampshire residents and small businesses growing, PSNH’s numbers show that the percentage of residential customers who have left PSNH doubled (from a very small base) between April and June. This number is poised to increase dramatically. According to Electricity NH, which launched in June, it has already signed up 10,000 New Hampshire customers. We understand that Resident Power also is signing up customers at a fast clip.
  • Overall, 42% of power delivered to PSNH customers came from a supplier other than PSNH. This figure was 34% as of last July and has risen by almost a quarter in 12 months. Stated differently, since last July, PSNH has lost about 12% of its energy supply business.

These developments are only the latest signs that the writing is on the wall for PSNH’s coal-fired power plants and the disastrous public policy that keeps them in business. While CLF works to make sure New Hampshire policymakers get the message, PSNH ratepayers are getting the opportunity to send their own message to PSNH: no, thanks, we deserve better.

The Waste of Nuclear Power

Aug 10, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

A recent decision from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) offers hope that the nuclear industry’s free ride is coming to an end. The problem of what to do with the ever-growing amount of nuclear waste that is stockpiled at nuclear sites around the country has been vexing industry and regulators for years. It is a shameful reminder of poor management. Our nuclear reactors continue to operate and generate more waste when we have no real solution for its long-term storage.

Absent a permanent answer, the waste sits where it ends up when it is no longer useful. In the case of Vermont, it sits on the banks of the Connecticut River or in a spent fuel pool of the same style and vintage as was used at the Fukushima reactor.

On August 7, the NRC decided no new or extended licenses will be finalized until the Commission completes the environmental review of waste issues that a Federal Appeals Court required in a June decision. Specifically the NRC decided it will:

(1) suspend final licensing decisions in reactor licensing cases, pending the completion of our action on the remanded Waste Confidence proceeding; (2) provide an opportunity for public comment on any generic determinations that we may make in either an environmental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS); and (3) provide at least sixty days to seek consideration in individual licensing cases of any site-specific concerns relating to the remanded proceedings.  (pg.3)

This is a very significant decision. The Federal Court gave the Commission a strong rebuke when it rejected NRC and industry claims that keeping waste where it is indefinitely is safe based only on a limited analysis of keeping it there for twenty years.

The waste storage issue is huge. It is crazy to think we can continue to license and operate nuclear facilities when we acknowledge we don’t have a place to put the waste. This decision is a step in the right direction, as we now have some assurance the impacts will be evaluated and the public will be allowed to participate in that process.

It is unclear what effect this will have on existing licenses. The specific decision only addressed licenses that are pending, including renewals.  As for Vermont Yankee, it is likely that these decisions will affect the state-level Public Service Board review. Vermont regulators must determine if continued operation “promotes the general good of the state.” While issues of radiological health and safety can legally only be managed at the federal level, the indefinite storage of waste and the lack of solutions produce economic burdens that are important for state regulators to address. Vermont and other states cannot be stiffed into holding the bag and bearing the economic burdens of unsound nuclear waste management. this harms Vermont’s “general good.”

Additional information is available in this Vermont Digger article - Nuclear Regulatory Commission halts nuclear power licensing decisions

 

A View from Inside (and Outside) the Annual Meeting of the New England Governors

Aug 7, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Last week I found myself on the beautiful shores of Lake Champlain in Burlington Vermont at the 36th Annual meeting of the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers.

Normally, this meeting is a low key affair that doesn’t have a big impact on the place where it is being held. That was not the case this year. Protests outside the meeting drew attention to issues, like potential import of tar sands oil into New England, that were not on the formal meeting agenda.

An Op-Ed by CLF President John Kassel which ran in a number of regional newspapers before and after the meeting and can now be found on the CLF blog, as well as those protests and pointed inquiries by the press in the meeting forced drew focus towards important and contentious issues like tar sands oil imports and the Northern Pass project.

But the action inside the conference was real and important.  Some notable highlights:

  • The Governors adopted a plan for “regional procurement” of renewable energy that creates an important framework for getting much needed clean renewable energy to get built across New England
  • The Governors and Premiers came together to hail the progress that has been made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across our shared region since 2001 and to lay out a framework for further action
  • A plan was adopted for moving towards a cleaner transportation system that maintains and builds mobility while moving away from gasoline and other dirty fuels that produce a range of pollutants

The overall story here is of a cross-border region that is struggling to do the right thing for its economy and its environment.  The challenge we all face is ensuring that our states and provinces live up to the promises of their words, making the difficult transition away from dirty fossil fuels and providing leadership to both the United States and Canada to build a new clean energy economy.

Can New England and Canada Achieve ‘Frenergy’?

Aug 6, 2012 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

Against a backdrop of protesters vehemently opposing bad proposals to bring energy from Canada into New England, governors from the six New England states this week demonstrated their commitment to a clean energy future for our region. They resolved to pool their buying power, regionally, for renewable energy. This will boost wind and solar energy, among other clean sources, at the best available price — a much-needed step on our path to affordable renewable energy and independence from dirty fossil fuels.

The resolution was announced at the 36th annual meeting of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers, held July 29th and 30th in Burlington, Vermont. The protesters outside the meeting had the attention of high-ranking officials from Canada, whose energy system has been linked with ours – in small ways so far – for decades.  That linkage could grow dramatically in the future, for mutual benefit.  Eastern Canada has the potential to serve markets all over New England with low-carbon, low-cost and clean electricity from renewable sources. And New England needs it, if we get it on the right terms.

The wrong terms are exemplified by the Trailbreaker proposal and the Northern Pass transmission project, the two Canadian energy proposals galvanizing protesters outside the meetings in Burlington. Trailbreaker would send slurry oil derived from tar sands in Western Canada to Portland, Maine by reversing the flow of the Portland-to-Montreal pipeline that has cut across Quebec, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine since it was built over 50 years ago. Northern Pass would cut a route running the length of New Hampshire, including through the White Mountains, for a high-voltage DC transmission line to deliver Canadian hydropower to parts of New England. In both cases, the environmental burdens far outweigh any benefits for our region.

However, long-term supplies of hydro, wind and other sources of power – that respect and significantly benefit the landscape through which they are transmitted, support rather than undermine the development of New England’s own renewable energy resources, replace coal  and other dirty fuels, keep the lights on at reasonable cost, and accurately account for their impacts – are what New England needs. The details will be complicated, but they can be worked out.

Conversations inside the meeting were tilting in the direction of such productive cross-border cooperation, and the announcement of a regional resolution to bring clean, affordable energy to New England may have provided some salve for the protesters. Still, we need to continue to be vigilant about Trailbreaker and Northern Pass and we will spend the effort to defeat them if we must. But any effort spent on these deeply-flawed proposals –whether advancing them or fighting them – is an unfortunate use of precious time for both countries, given the urgent call of climate change.

The sooner we get to the task of building our shared clean energy future the better, for New Englanders and our friends to the north.

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