Vermont’s Clean Energy Shortfall

May 8, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo credit: Ivy Dawned, Flickr

The end of any legislative session is tumultuous. Vermont’s citizen legislature, that meets part-time only a few months each year, is no different. In this year’s end-of-session tumult, progress on clean energy was left on the cutting room floor. This is a big disappointment. The same legislature that made skiing and snowboarding Vermont’s official winter sports failed to pass legislation that would keep those sports off the endangered list.

The Vermont Legislature stripped the Renewable Energy Standard from the energy bill it approved. Renewable standards require utilities to help address climate change by providing their customers with a certain percentage of power from clean, renewable sources. The more power we get from clean sources, the less power we get from older and dirtier fossil fuel plants. Twenty-nine states, including every other New England state, already have renewable standards, but Vermont is left behind in the dark ages of dirty power.

Throughout the session, CLF worked closely with other environmental organizations, business leaders and renewable developers to put in place a meaningful renewable standard so Vermont’s electric power users can do more to reduce carbon. The urgency of the climate crisis demands strong action.

There will be opportunities to move further ahead on renewable electricity next year, along with some legislation to help heating efficiency and electric vehicles, but each year we delay means more carbon reduction is needed. It is disappointing that in a year in which Vermont saw, in the form of flooding from Hurricane Irene, the kind of damage that climate change can do, and then saw one of the warmest winters on record (which wreaked havoc on ski areas and maple syrup production), we are not doing more to tackle climate change.

Join CLF at a Free Screening of the Last Mountain on Wednesday, May 9 in Cambridge, MA

May 8, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

A keystone to CLF’s work to secure a clean energy future for the region is completing the transition to a coal-free New England. It is a time of historic progress: cleaner, cheaper alternatives are driving coal out of the market, and old coal plants are closing their doors. But Massachusetts remains a critical battleground for CLF’s work, with two costly old coal-fired power plants continuing to jeopardize public health and stoke climate change.

That’s why we’re delighted to tell you about an event hosted by Cambridge City Councilor Marjorie Decker entitled “The True Cost of Energy: Coal.” Councilor Decker has invited the public to a panel discussing the true costs of coal and a free screening of the critically acclaimed documentary The Last Mountain in Cambridge, MA, on Wednesday, May 9. With stunning footage of the practice of mountaintop removal mining, the film bears dramatic witness to the social, public health, and environmental damage wrought by coal and power companies, and chronicles the grassroots fight against coal in Appalachia and around the country. The New York Times called The Last Mountain a “persuasive indictment” of coal; I think you’ll agree.

The Last Mountain producer Eric Grunebaum will be on hand for a panel discussion to discuss the film and the future of coal-fired power in Massachusetts and New England. I will be available before and after the event to answer any questions you may have about CLF’s work to secure a coal-free Massachusetts.

Please attend:
When: Wednesday, May 9, 2012. 5-8:30 pm.
Where: Cambridge Public Library, 449 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02138 (map).

Bring your friends and family, and email me at scleveland@clf.org with any questions. I hope to see you there!

You can watch the trailer here:

 

Putting an Old Nuclear Plant Out to Pasture – Slowly

May 7, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

In a world where messages are sent instantaneously, it is hard to believe the time to consider (again) whether the continued operation of Vermont Yankee is good for Vermont would take more than a year.

Entergy, Vermont Yankee’s owners, proposed a schedule to Vermont regulators that would have the case completed in just over eighteen months.  

CLF argued for a shorter schedule noting that Entergy’s schedule was “roughly equivalent to the gestation period for elephants.”  This is simply too long.

Most cases, including the previous Vermont Yankee proceeding at the Public Service Board and the recent federal trial for Vermont Yankee were completed in far less time. 

In its ruling on May 4, the Vermont Public Service Board accepted the longer time-frame Entergy requested. It also provides for two separate rounds of hearings – one in February and a second in June. The Board also scheduled two public hearings where anyone interested can weigh in and provide input to the Board on whether Vermont Yankee should retire.

Entergy’s foot dragging means Vermonters will wait an extra eighteen months before seeing this tired, old and polluting nuclear plant closed. That’s too bad. Especially since the plant was supposed to close on March 21, 2012.

photo credit: stuck in customs, flickr

The two sets of hearings suggest the there will be a very thorough review and the Board, which likely will take a very active role in the hearings.

The thoroughness is good. It just shouldn’t have to take this long.

 

 

The Lights Will Stay On, Without Vermont Yankee

May 4, 2012 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

photo credit: riekhavoc, flickr

Another false claim by Entergy – the owner of the Vermont Yankee nuclear facility in Vermont – is laid to rest. On Monday, the ISO-New England came out with an important determination that Vermont Yankee is not needed for reliability of the electrical grid.

This has been brewing for awhile and is quite significant since Entergy keeps claiming its tired old and polluting plant on the banks of the Connecticut River is needed for reliability. That claim is simply false.

In a filing made with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the ISO New England stated:

“[T]he ISO determined that Vermont Yankee is not needed for reliability for the 2015-2016 Capacity Commitment Period. This determination is based on the expectation that certain transmission upgrades will be in place prior to the 2015-2016 Capacity Commitment Period as well as new resources which have been procured through the Forward Capacity Market.”  [see page 8-9 of this filing]

This is a very important determination and is good news for New England’s clean energy future. It shows the transformation of our power grid to cleaner sources and away from older and polluting coal and nuclear plants.

By way of explanation, the ISO New England operates the region’s electricity grid to ensure the lights stay on. It holds auctions to determine which resources will supply capacity to meet power needs in future years. This is the forward capacity auction referred to above.

What this means is that Entergy will not collect capacity payments for Vermont Yankee during 2015 to 2016.  That means that ratepayers will not be forced to prop up this tired, old, expensive and polluting nuclear plant, or its untrustworthy owners. Ratepayers will not be paying for Vermont Yankee to be available to operate.

This determination recognizes that grid improvements and new resources will keep the lights on without Vermont Yankee. Another false claim by Entergy is laid to rest. Our region moves one step closer to a cleaner energy future.

 

Join CLF at a Free Screening of The Last Mountain in Exeter, NH on May 4th

Apr 24, 2012 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

A keystone to CLF’s work to secure a clean energy future for the region is completing the transition to a coal-free New England. It is a time of historic progress: cleaner, cheaper alternatives are driving coal out of the market, and old coal plants are closing their doors. But New Hampshire remains a critical battleground for CLF’s work, with two costly old coal-fired power plants being kept alive by failed state policies and ratepayer subsidies.

That’s why we’re delighted to be partnering with the Sustainability Film Series at Phillips Exeter Academy to present a free screening of the critically acclaimed documentary The Last Mountain in Exeter, New Hampshire, on Friday May 4. With stunning footage of the practice of mountaintop removal mining, the film bears dramatic witness to the social, public health, and environmental damage wrought by coal and power companies, and chronicles the grassroots fight against coal in Appalachia and around the country. The New York Times called The Last Mountain a “persuasive indictment” of coal; I think you’ll agree.

The Last Mountain producer Eric Grunebaum and I will be on hand for a panel discussion to discuss the film and the future of coal-fired power in New Hampshire and New England.

Please join us:

When: Friday, May 4, 2012. 7 pm.

Where: Phillips Exeter Academy, Phelps Academy Center in The Forum (3rd Floor)Tan Lane, Exeter, NH (map). 

Bring your friends and family, and email me at ccourchesne@clf.org with any questions. We hope to see you there!

Here is the trailer:

Ocean Frontiers Premiers in New England

Apr 10, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

CLF recently teamed up with Green Fire Productions to organize premiers of the new documentary Ocean Frontiers: The Dawn of a New Era in Ocean Stewardship in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The film is an inspiring voyage to seaports and watersheds across the country. The audience was given a chance to meet industrial shippers and whale biologists, pig farmers and wetland ecologists, commercial and sport fishermen and reef snorkelers—all of them embarking on a new course of cooperation to sustain the sea and our coastal and ocean economies.

CLF organized the events to raise awareness about the need for new approaches to solving the problems facing our ocean, and to highlight the success of cutting-edge ocean planning initiatives that CLF has backed in Rhode Island (the Ocean Special Areas Management Plan or SAMP) and Massachusetts (the Massachusetts Ocean Plan). CLF’s Tricia Jedele and Priscilla Brooks participated in a panel of experts following each screening, hilighting the critical work that CLF has done over the years to advance successful ocean planning initiatives in New England, and making the case for how these initiatives could serve as a national model.

The Massachusetts event was held in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and drew over 300 people to the New England Aquarium’s IMAX theater. In Rhode Island, our premier was sponsored by over 15 environmental organizations, businesses and academic institution and the entire congressional delegation served as honorary co-hosts. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a nationally recognized ocean champion joined the over 150 people in attendance at the University of Rhode Island’s Bay Campus and gave a rousing introduction to the film calling on attendees to learn and take action to protect this critical resource.

Yet despite the success stories outlined in the film, big industries that profit off of the dysfunctional status quo, most notably the oil industry, are beginning to ramp up efforts in congress to block the National Ocean Policy and other efforts to improve ocean management.

Following the film, attendees took action by signing on to CLF’s petition in support of ocean planning. To add your voice to the growing chorus demanding new, collaborative and science based approaches to ocean planning click here to visit our action page.

A Better Way to Manage Organic Waste in Massachusetts

Apr 10, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Creative Commons image courtesy of BenandAsho on Flickr

We throw away a lot of food. Sometimes the scraps are inedible, like banana peels. Sometimes we forget about things in the refrigerator until we notice the smell. And sometimes our eyes are just bigger than our stomachs. Regardless of the reason, a lot of food scraps end up in our trash and ultimately the landfill. This is a wasted opportunity to realize environmental and economic benefits by using food scraps to improve soil health and generate renewable energy.

By diverting food scraps to other uses, such as generating energy and creating compost, we avoid the need to expand landfills in the state or transport waste long distances to out-of-state facilities. When food scraps and other organic matter decompose in landfills, they produce methane gas, a potent contributor to climate change. So diverting food scraps from landfills also helps us meet the state’s aggressive greenhouse-gas emission reduction goals.

To realize these benefits, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is supporting public and private investment in a new kind of infrastructure for managing organic materials. But for this new infrastructure to succeed, DEP and the project developers that will build and operate this infrastructure need to convince the public that food scraps are not garbage, but something else entirely.

The DEP is currently working on an action plan for managing Massachusetts’s organic waste. The state needs a plan, because it has set lofty goals to divert organic material from landfill disposal to be used in other processes. The state’s draft Solid Waste Master Plan calls for diverting 35% of food waste, estimated to be about 350,000 tons of material per year. This goal is echoed by the Clean Energy Results Program, which sets a further goal of 50 megawatts of installed capacity of renewable energy from aerobic and anaerobic digestion facilities by 2020. And let’s not forget the proposal to ban commercial food waste from Massachusetts landfills in 2014. These are great goals, because diverting organic material out of the solid waste stream provides opportunities for economic development that can improve the environmental impacts of solid waste management, and now DEP is developing the plan to make sure we get there.

The plan aims to ensure that organic “waste” isn’t wasted in a landfill. It calls for a few things:

  • Gathering better and more current information about sources of food waste,
  • Providing funding and technical assistance to work out the logistics of separating food waste from the actual trash, and
  • Working with haulers to move this material to appropriate processing facilities.

There are also provisions for funding and technical assistance to facilitate the construction of additional processing infrastructure, like anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities, and to develop good markets for the resulting products.

Organics diversion presents an economic opportunity for cash-strapped municipalities to save money through reduced trash fees. It also allows developers – municipal or private – to generate revenue by using “waste” organics as inputs for marketable products like compost and other soil amendments and as a source of clean, renewable heat and electricity. At a time when municipal budgets are facing historic shortfalls and municipalities are seeking means of both cutting costs and creating revenue, this is surely a good thing.

DEP’s draft action plan is a progressive, proactive approach to organics management, but it’s missing something very important. It provides much-needed support and direction for people and organizations that are already proponents of better organic material management and will help project proponents navigate the technical and regulatory processes to achieve success. But what about the majority of people who likely have no idea that the DEP is interested in doing something dramatically different with organic waste?

This action plan and DEP efforts to date on this issue do little to address the very real need for public engagement and outreach to help citizens and businesses understand the good reasons for organics diversion. These include:

  • Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions through improved methane utilization;
  • Generating renewable energy from anaerobic digestion; and
  • Producing nutrient-rich soil amendments through composting.

The intersection of waste management and energy development is more complex than either of these individual business sectors taken on their own. For instance, energy facilities such as anaerobic digesters, which use “waste” materials as inputs to generate energy, face the siting hurdles typically encountered by both energy and waste facilities. Public concerns with other renewable energy technologies, such as wind and solar, have emerged relatively recently, but communities and individuals have been fighting against landfills and transfer stations for a very long time.

Today, forward-thinking people and businesses are beginning to talk about “materials management” rather than “waste management,” and those on the inside know what we mean by that. But most people don’t currently make the distinction, especially when the materials in question are leftover food and other organics that can rot. In the case of a proposed anaerobic digestion facility, the result is often a contested siting process. While AD proponents see facilities that will produce clean energy and environmentally beneficial soil products, opponents are concerned about siting waste incinerators, trash transfer stations, and toxic sludge.

The DEP, along with other state agencies such as the Department of Agriculture and Department of Energy Resources, is pushing to change the way “waste” materials are managed in Massachusetts. This is a good thing for economic development and the environmental performance of our materials-based economy. However, many people will not readily accept the subtle changes in regulatory definitions that distinguish separated materials from mixed solid waste. With these changes, materials that formerly had to be permitted as solid waste (trash) and processed at a permitted solid waste facility are no longer legally considered trash, so they can be processed at a composting or AD facility without a solid waste permit. I’m very happy this distinction is being made for organic material, but I know that many other people will consider this just another form of garbage disposal.

An action plan to encourage better organic materials management through diversion to composting and digestion needs to include significant resources to engage stakeholders around the Commonwealth to have open and honest conversations about the wide-ranging benefits, the potential pitfalls, and what everyone needs to know to avoid problems.

There is no reason to continue to dump organic material into landfills and many reasons to get everyone on board with using this material to generate more economic value and more environmental benefits for Massachusetts. But we can’t just “dot the i’s and cross the t’s” on the permit applications; we have to engage with people and navigate the changes in a collaborative and productive way. Diverting organic material from landfills can lead to a host of economic, environmental, and community benefits, but anyone who thinks changing the system will be as easy as selecting a site, telling the neighbors about the benefits, and awaiting approval and praise is in for a rude awakening. CLF Ventures looks forward to working with communities and project proponents to engage in open, clear discussions of the real impacts and benefits of organics management facilities so that all stakeholders share the same understanding of the issues and speak with the same terminology.

Vermont Yankee: Entergy Keeps Trying to Steamroll Vermont

Apr 10, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Courtesy of garcycles8@flickr

Entergy owns a tired old nuclear plant on the banks of the Connecticut River in Vermont – a plant it wants to keep running despite escalating costs, threats to the environment and public health, and a history of false promises. 

With old approvals in hand, Entergy continues to operate Vermont Yankee past its scheduled retirement date of March 21, 2012. Entergy’s view of Vermont’s authority seems to be Vermont only has authority to give it a green light.  By Entergy’s warped playbook, any condition of operation or approval would be off limits.

Entergy went to Court last year to challenge Vermont’s authority to regulate that plant. The Court partly agreed with Entergy, but clearly recognized and reaffirmed that Entergy still needs approval from the Vermont Public Service Board to continue to operate Vermont Yankee for another 20 years.  The only limitation is that Vermont cannot regulate radiological health and safety.

In early April the latest claims came about from a response from Entergy and a reply from the State of Vermont.  The State claims that Entergy’s old approvals also require payment by Entergy into Vermont’s renewable development fund and reporting requirements.  These are conditions that are part of Entergy’s old permits.  Though less than clear, Entergy’s position seems to be that only some of those conditions continue to apply.  A later reply on April 9, seems to try and blackmail the state.  Entergy will make these payments but only if Vermont does what Entergy wants – either grant approval or not raise its taxes.  That’s an odd way to do business.

Once again, Entergy is proving to be a lousy partner for Vermont.  Entergy needs to comply or shut down.  If Entergy stays open based on its old approvals, it must meet its obligations to make the payments required by those old approvals.  Continuing its lousy track record of broken promises and thumbing its nose at Vermont is getting as old and tired as the plant itself.

NU NStar Merger Agreement: Game Changer For MA Clean Energy Benefits

Feb 15, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Today, the Patrick Administration reached a breakthrough settlement agreement in the proposed merger between NStar and Northeast Utilities, which, if approved, will create one of the country’s largest public utilities. The agreement is a big win for renewable energy, as it positions Massachusetts to finally unleash the power of Cape Wind, our region’s most promising new clean energy source, and to lead the rest of the country forward on offshore wind.

The settlement ensures that this powerful new utility will be in lockstep with Massachusetts’ nation-leading clean energy policies and propel the state forward instead of backwards in implementing them.

This is a significant advancement for Massachusetts and all of New England in a number of regards:

  • It removes the last major hurdle to building Cape Wind;
  • It ensures that the Commonwealth will continue to reap the cost savings and environmental benefits of the Massachusetts Green Communities Act;
  • It will help ensure that imported hydropower does not diminish other renewable energy deployment in Massachusetts and beyond;
  • It will reduce barriers to installation and operation of small, distributed renewable energy generating facilities in Massachusetts; and
  • It will freeze the merged utility’s rates for 4 years, will require transparent public review of NSTAR’s electric and gas rates before the rate freeze expires, and will deliver – upon approval of the merger – an immediate 50% credit to Massachusetts customers based on expected merger savings during the first 4 years following merger approval

We applaud the Administration for recognizing that a lot of ground needed to be made up in order for this merger to benefit the public and for covering that ground with thoughtful terms that benefit ratepayers and the environment both in the short and the long-term.

For the press release, as well as background materials on CLF’s long standing engagement on this issue, click here.

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