The Climate Change Connection: The Warming Gulf of Maine Needs Protected Areas

Nov 24, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” –President Theodore Roosevelt

Considering how quickly our planet is warming, and what little is being done to combat it by our national government, this quote has never been more relevant or applicable.

Here in New England, our ocean is especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change – with one study showing that the Gulf of Maine is warming 99% faster than ocean waters elsewhere on the planet. If that’s not alarming enough, we’re also seeing whole populations of species (such as lobster) moving toward colder waters – which could spell disaster for New England’s economy. And, we are just beginning to understand the effects of ocean acidification on our shellfish populations, with much more to learn before we’ll know how to adapt.

But, what gives us hope amidst this dire news is that we New Englanders, whose lives – and livelihoods – are intertwined with a healthy ocean, have long been champions and leaders for its protection.

Conservation Law Foundation has advocated for ocean conservation in New England for decades, from our fight to stop oil and gas drilling on Georges Bank in the 70s, to our work to protect our iconic cod fishery from extinction, to our commitment to the state and regional ocean planning processes. Today, we’re rallying the public to support the protection of two of the Atlantic’s most fragile and vulnerable areas – the Cashes Ledge Area and the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts. We’re imploring President Obama to create a Marine National Monument, which can give these special places the highest possible level of protection.

You may be thinking – what does any of this have to do with climate change? The answer is this: Conservation and climate change are inherently connected. President Roosevelt, who uttered the words above, understood the importance of conserving such vital places – he knew that some places were just too beautiful, unique, and fragile to be disturbed or exploited, even if resources such as gold, oil, or gas were to be found there. What he couldn’t have known then is something we do know now: Creating fully protected marine areas is a critical step in our defense against climate change.

Studies of protected areas show that the robust ecosystems they contain are better able to withstand the stress of warming temperatures. The complete and relatively pristine habitats at Cashes Ledge and the Coral Canyons and Seamounts should be kept intact ­– so they can continue to be used as an underwater laboratory for marine scientists as we work urgently to identify how climate change is impacting our oceans and how we can best respond.

If and when the day comes that we are able to stop or even reverse global warming, we need to have done the legwork now to prepare. Will species damaged from warmer temperatures recover and thrive again? Will ocean plant life maintain the ability to provide us with the oxygen we need? Will our children ever get to gaze in wonder at a North Atlantic right whale breaching the ocean’s surface?

We can’t solve climate change in a day. We know it will take a comprehensive, long-term effort. But we should do what can be done today – right now, with what we have, in New England to protect our most significant places for our children and grandchildren. We believe a Marine National Monument designation is the first, best course of action for New England’s ocean right now.


Governor Baker: The People Have Spoken, and They Want a Marine National Monument

Nov 6, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The people of New England, and especially Massachusetts, have spoken – and they want a Marine National Monument in the Atlantic.

More than 160,000 people have signed their name in support of a monument designation, including over 10,000 from Massachusetts alone. We’ve received public letters of support from coastal businesses, faith-based organizations, and aquaria. And more than 200 U.S. marine scientists, including the most prominent marine ecologists in the region, have stated that the Cashes Ledge Area and the New England Canyons and Seamounts hold special ecological value and need permanent protection as national monuments. There is no dispute about the scientific importance or vulnerability of these areas.

Our coalition said: Here’s the science; here’s what’s at stake; here are the risks to these incredible habitats. We asked the public to stand with us in support for permanent protection, and overwhelmingly, they have said – and keep saying – “yes.”

They showed up at an event at the New England Aquarium in the week before Labor Day (when they could have been doing many other things) to learn about these places and what makes them so important. They signed comment cards, and took home buttons and posters to share with colleagues and friends to spread the word. And then they showed up again, when NOAA held a town hall meeting for the express purpose of gathering public feedback. And NOAA is still accepting public comment. The Cashes Ledge Area has been studied for over ten years in a public forum. If that’s not public process, what is?

The Obama Administration should be lauded for seeking to take the steps necessary to protect critical ocean habitats from human threats – which include more than threats from fishing – and therefore require more comprehensive protection than a fishery management council has to offer. A monument is necessary to protect the health of our ocean, restore its natural productivity, and make it resilient to climate change impacts, already putting stress on iconic fish like Atlantic cod.

New Englanders are champions and leaders for the ocean, as evidenced by our commitment to drafting the first-in-the-nation regional ocean plan, due out next year. This plan will make great strides for managing the region’s ocean resources over the long term but it is not at all clear if and when this plan would consider permanent and full habitat protection of vitally important ecological areas like Cashes Ledge and the New England Canyons and Seamounts.

A marine monument designation is not an overreach of power, but rather exactly what the Antiquities Act was created to do. These areas are in federal waters and the President has critical stewardship obligations for those resources that transcend fisheries politics. Economically, scientifically, and morally, saving our ocean treasures makes sense. We hope you’ll come to agree with the thousands of people and businesses in Massachusetts who have already stood up for our future.

Solving New England’s Natural Gas Problem (Hint: It’s Not through Big New Pipelines)

Sep 17, 2015 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

For a few hours a day, on 50 days of the year, New England has a gas problem – not enough natural gas is available to meet demand for both heat and electricity. Two years ago, this problem led to dramatic spikes in the price of natural gas and the cost of electricity. Since then, how to solve that problem has been the source of political, economic and environmental debate.


Download our white paper to learn how liquefied natural gas can help solve New England’s gas problem – without hurting our climate, our wallets, or our drive towards clean, renewable energy.

The solution most often pushed by many corporate and government entities is to “flood the market” with new gas via one or more big new pipelines, with the multi-billion dollar cost to be borne by electric ratepayers (in other words, all of us). But that’s hardly the only solution – nor is it the most efficient, timely, or cost effective.

Since that troubled winter two years ago, as the clamor for big new pipelines has grown, Conservation Law Foundation has been examining alternative solutions. In a new white paper developed for CLF by Skipping Stone Consultants, we show how we can avoid the expense and long-term impacts of new infrastructure by instead maximizing the use of the pipelines and other infrastructure we already have. This solution not only addresses the supply problem on those few hours of the 50 coldest winter days, it also saves industrial, commercial, and residential customers millions of dollars. And it circumvents the need for costly and enormously inefficient infrastructure that will ultimately undermine regional efforts to meet the urgent challenge of climate change.

The Myth vs. The Reality

Pipeline proponents would have us believe that there is a gas shortage in New England and that the only way to save businesses and individuals from unreasonable electricity price spikes is to build massive new pipelines into and across the region.

It’s true that, as managed now, New England’s natural gas delivery system – its pipelines, storage and import facilities – can’t deliver enough natural gas to meet demand during that short winter period when gas is in high demand for heat and electricity. But the reality is, New England’s pipeline problem is not one of capacity, but of deliverability. For the majority of the year, the region’s natural gas system operates at less than 50% capacity. On those coldest days when natural gas is in highest demand, the problem comes down to efficiency and deliverability – meaning we can’t get the gas to a specific location at a specific time to meet that demand.

Understanding New England’s current “gas problem” as one of deliverability rather than pipeline capacity reframes the debate – and makes clear the most efficient, timely, and cost-effective solution: increasing our use of the region’s existing liquefied natural gas (LNG) infrastructure.

New Pipelines Will Hurt, Not Help

Building the massive new pipelines currently proposed is the most expensive and least effective means of addressing our current problem. It takes years to build a new pipeline – meaning it will be years before any of us see any benefits in our electric bills. What’s more, you and I could even see an increase in our bills if proposals to fund these new pipelines on the backs of ratepayers move forward.

These hard costs of construction and ratepayer impact are easy to track. What’s harder to measure – and arguably more important – is the long-term impact on our climate if we fail to take meaningful steps to shift our power grid away from reliance on fossil fuels like natural gas. Yes, gas is considered cleaner than coal and oil by many – but that’s all relative, given that methane, a byproduct of natural gas production, is up to 80 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon. With regulatory regimes like the Clean Power Plan and existing New England state regulations mandating aggressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, major investments that would increase our consumption of natural gas simply don’t make environmental or economic sense.

LNG Can Make A Difference This Winter

The best means of solving New England’s winter gas issue is to better utilize our existing natural gas infrastructure – specifically, our existing LNG facilities. LNG import terminals provide a ready supply of natural gas on pipelines from the east that are currently underutilized – the use of which will relieve constraints on the remaining pipeline system. Local gas distribution companies have LNG storage facilities that have ten times the capacity of our existing pipeline system. Right now, those storage tanks are filled at the beginning of the winter and then drained down over the heating season.

We propose that this storage be supplemented all winter long, to ensure supplies can be available and distributed throughout the existing New England-wide storage network. This would shore up the amount of LNG stored in the region during the winter months. The combination of LNG from the import terminals to the east and from storage units throughout the region would supplement the natural gas supply coming in through existing pipelines – freeing up more of that existing pipeline capacity for use by electric power plants.

The LNG needed to supply this approach can be contracted for with short-term contracts, unlike the locked-in 20-year commitment of a new pipeline. This means lower costs, saving local gas distributors and all of us ratepayers more than $340 million a year – and as much as $4.4 billion over 20 years – compared to building a big new pipeline. It also means greater flexibility for New England to make the necessary transition to rapidly developing clean alternatives – such as battery storage and increased distributed solar. And, even better, this solution is technically feasible and could be implemented this winter.

Learn More

Download our white paper to read more about how better use of our LNG infrastructure can address our gas deliverability problem efficiently and effectively – in ways that are good for our wallets and our environment.

Guest Blog: Fuel Tracking Makes Sense for Massachusetts

Sep 3, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Conservation Law Foundation has been working closely with the Union of Concerned Scientists and other partners to advance legislation that would implement transportation fuel tracking in Massachusetts. What is fuel tracking and why is it important? David Babson, senior engineer for Union of Concerned Scientists’ Clean Vehicles Program explains:

I have been traveling to Massachusetts a lot lately. I like Massachusetts, I attended college there, I met my wife there, her family still lives there, and I genuinely like Bay Staters. However, my recent travels have not been to visit old friends and family. Instead, I have been spending time in MA talking to its legislators about fuel tracking, a policy designed to monitor changes in the Commonwealth’s transportation fuel mix and the progress it may be making in reducing its climate emissions.

Tackling climate change in MA: More steps forward and no steps back

Perhaps one of the reasons I like MA so much is that its combination of tough-minded, hardworking, well-educated, and progressive residents make it very entrepreneurial. This innovative spirit extends to both its business community and its political culture; so it is no surprise that MA is one of the leaders in dealing with climate change. In fact, MA established its Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) to create a framework for reducing climate emissions nearly seven years ago. To achieve the ambitious goal of 80% reductions in climate emissions by 2050, it requires reductions from all sectors of the economy, including the transportation sector. But the changing state of oil complicates these efforts because not having good data about the transportation fuels being used in MA makes it difficult to verify how much progress MA is really making toward achieving its climate goals.

When it comes to climate emissions from transportation fuels, tailpipe emissions from our vehicles are not the full story. Just as it matters whether our electricity comes from a coal burning power plant or a wind farm, it matters from which sources of oil we refine our fuels.

In 2008, the year MA began implementing the GWSA, North Dakota (ND) extracted fewer than 63 million barrels of oil from its Bakken shale. In the intervening years, as MA began tackling its climate emissions, oil extraction in ND’s Bakken ballooned 535% to nearly 400 million barrels in 2014. During the first two months of this year oil extraction was greater than that produced in all of 2008, and it is on track to top 400 million barrels by the end of 2015. Unfortunately, the lifecycle climate emissions from Bakken oil can be quite high, due to excessive flaring and venting of methane gas, and a growing share of this oil has been flowing to east coast refineries, whose resulting fuels have found their way into the MA fuel mix.

Thus, while MA has worked to reduce its climate emissions over the past 7 years, a critical climate impact factor – its fuel’s carbon intensity – has been changing under its feet without any notice. And I suspect that as a result of these changes, the carbon intensity of MA’s fuel mix is greater today than it was just seven years ago. Fuel tracking is needed to accurately estimate MA’s transportation sector climate emissions and to ensure it continues to take the needed steps towards achieving its climate goals.

Better data are needed to ensure MA is on course to meet its climate goals

The fact of the matter is that changes to the MA fuel mix will continue. Perhaps more Bakken oil will contribute to the mix in the years to come, perhaps, as predicted, tar sands oil may begin entering MA in greater proportions, perhaps both will happen, or possibly neither. The point here is that the carbon intensity of MA transportation fuel is changing, and if we don’t ask the right questions, we certainly won’t get a complete accounting.

Climate emissions from the transportation sector are the single largest source of climate emissions in the Commonwealth, but a full climate accounting for these fuels cannot be quantified because the refineries from which the fuels are arriving in MA are not disclosed. Cutting fuel use is critically important, but if the fuels entering the state are getting dirtier, the hard won emissions reductions from reducing consumption could be being offset by the higher upstream emissions from dirtier fuels.

MA Climate Emissions by Sector

Luckily, MA is considering measures to track its transportation fuels and their associated climate emissions (H745 and S456). This would provide necessary information about the MA fuel mix, allowing progress under the GWSA to be monitored and better policies to be implemented going forward. Without such information it will be difficult to ensure that MA keeps moving forward and its climate emissions keep moving downward.

Opponents of fuel tracking in MA don’t dispute the need – they wrongly dispute its feasibility

On May 28th I attended a legislative committee hearing in MA where I offered testimony supporting tracking and reporting requirements for transportation fuels. More than a dozen individuals and organizations spoke in support of fuel tracking, but one set of testimony stood-out in opposition. This testimony was from the Massachusetts Petroleum Council, a division of the American Petroleum Institute. They did not argue against the need for fuel tracking, or even try to refute that such tracking is required to more accurately estimate fuel carbon intensity; rather, they argued that the mandate would be impossible to fulfill. This is false, and this testimony intentionally attempted to over-complicate the fuel supply chain in order to distract from and blur how minimal the necessary burdens would be. In fact, fuel tracking is already included among broader clean fuel policies in the European Union, British Columbia, California, and elsewhere.

The carbon intensity of MA’s fuel mixture has changed and it will continue to do so. In order to ensure progress is being made to reduce transportation sector climate emissions, fuel tracking is needed. In keeping with its tendency to lead on climate issues, MA may become the first northeast state to adopt fuel tracking measures, but it would not be the last. Regardless of where we live, without fuel tracking, there is great uncertainty about how dirty our fuels actually are – and we have a right to know.

About the author: David Babson is a senior engineer for the Clean Vehicles Program. He focuses on fuel and fuel policy, including advanced biofuels. Based in Washington, D.C., Dr. Babson has extensive research and policy experience. He served as a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Transportation and Climate Division, where he reviewed key initiatives like the Renewable Fuel Standard. See David’s full bio.

With Massachusetts’ legislators on the verge of debating this critical fuel tracking bill, we’ll soon be calling on our activist community to take action. Don’t miss this chance to make your voice heard: Sign up for our enewsletter so you’ll be the first to know when you can get involved.

Governor Baker’s Solar Bill Misses the Mark

Aug 25, 2015 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Anticipating the release of his promised solar power legislation, we encouraged Governor Baker to be bold in strengthening and continuing the solar-friendly policies, including net metering, that have made Massachusetts a national leader in solar energy. Unfortunately, his proposed bill falls well short of that goal. At a time when our changing climate demands urgent action on clean energy, the people of Massachusetts deserve better.

Net Metering: The What and the Why

So what is net metering and why is it important? Economics.

Strategic investments in renewable energy sources will reduce our reliance on climate-changing fossil fuels. Photo credit: CLF

Strategic investments in renewable energy sources will reduce our reliance on climate-changing fossil fuels. Photo credit: CLF

Net metering is the billing arrangement with Eversource and other utility companies that encourages the use of solar power by making it a good investment for businesses and families. When the sun is shining, your panels either power your home directly, or run your meter backwards – selling your excess solar power back to the utility. At the end of the month, you pay the difference between the electricity you consumed and what you sold back to your electric company – the “net” amount of electricity you purchased. The savings – over buying all your electricity from the utilities – can allow an average Massachusetts home installation to pay for itself (with other federal and state credits) in as little as five to six years. It’s a win-win: You get cheaper electricity; we all get cleaner air, a more resilient grid, and fewer climate warming emissions.

Caps Are Bad for Business (and Our Climate)

For historical reasons we’ll discuss in just a moment, the number of solar installations that are allowed to “net meter” in Massachusetts is capped; in much of the state, we’ve reached the cap, or we’re about to. The result: fewer solar installations exactly when we need more (and more!) clean solar power to help us get rid of the dirty fossil-fuel generators that are destroying our climate. That’s why we encouraged the Governor to join the state Senate in raising Massachusetts’ net metering caps all the way to the state’s 2020 goal of 1,600 megawatts of installed solar – or, better yet, to get rid of them altogether as Rhode Island has successfully done.

But the Governor’s bill did neither, instead simply bumping the caps up again from about 9% of the utilities’ total load to about 13%. That’s well shy of what’s needed to either re-energize the state’s solar industry or to get the state to its 1,600 megawatts goal. That small bump should help a few solar projects that have been waiting in the wings in certain parts of the state, but there is every indication that, with those projects and others, we would quickly hit the new caps if this bill were to become law.

And that’s a problem.

According to a recent study by the National Renewable Energy Lab, when the number of solar installations in a state approaches the level of a net metering cap, uncertainty about the availability of net metering impedes the market. To thrive under a cap, the study found, the solar market needs clear and strong signals regarding the future availability of net metering.

Baker Bill Is a Set Up for Solar Deja Vu

Unfortunately, Governor Baker’s bill would keep the future of solar in Massachusetts an open question. Instead of moving decisively to build up our solar industry and ensure that we reach our goal in 2020 and beyond, the bill would guarantee that in the very near future, we will have to (again) press pause on solar installations across the state while we (again) argue about whether, when, and by how much to (again) raise or remove the caps.

Moving ahead in such fits and starts seems particularly short-sighted for at least two key reasons. First, climate change demands serious action, not halting baby steps, right now. Second, the need for net metering caps vanished years ago. In Massachusetts and elsewhere, caps were imposed in the early days of solar power, when we were all a bit uncertain as to how much variable solar power our steady-state grid could accommodate without becoming unstable. In that context, volumetric caps on installations made sense as a way to judiciously control the system. But those days are long gone.

We now know that solar power brings extra value to our electric power system beyond the electrons it produces. We also know that the existing grid, without significant modification, can be expected to operate reliably and safely with renewables like solar power providing up to about 30% of our power. Here in Massachusetts, that’s more than nine times the amount of solar power we hope to have by 2020 – and just over ten times more than allowed by the Governor’s proposed new caps!

It should come as no surprise, then, that a majority of the members of the state’s recently concluded Net Metering and Solar Task Force voted in favor of doing away with net metering caps altogether as long as the value of solar is accurately priced (more on that soon).

So the imperative remains: To ensure Massachusetts remains an innovator and leader in the drive to a clean energy future, the Legislature should immediately lift the net metering caps system-wide to at least our 2020 goal of 1,600 megawatts-installed or, better yet, remove them altogether to allow the true value of solar to shine through!

Sunny Days Ahead: Securing Massachusetts’ Role as a Renewable Energy Leader

Aug 7, 2015 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Governor Baker’s administration announced late last week that it would file, this week or next, legislation designed to continue the growth of solar power in Massachusetts and achieve the state’s goal of 1,600 megawatts of installed solar capacity by 2020. No details have been released yet on the draft bill, but those are goals that CLF enthusiastically supports.

Solar panels at Exeter Area High School (photo credit: flickr/SayCheeeeeese)

(photo credit: flickr/SayCheeeeeese)

Solar is a sustainable source of carbon-free electricity that must play a central role in our clean energy future. In addition to providing low-cost, clean energy whenever the sun is shining, solar brings extra value to our electric power system. Particularly when oriented to the southwest, solar panels generate power when we need it most, during “peak load” in the late afternoon.

That reduces the need, in the short-term, to turn on dirty, climate-warming fossil fuel “peaker plants.” In the long term, it reduces the need to build more of those plants and the expensive transmission and gas pipeline infrastructure they require.

Importantly, with the cost of installing solar power steadily dropping – down 45% since 2010 nationwide and almost 5% just in the last year in Massachusetts – solar also makes great economic sense. Massachusetts has a healthy, growing solar industry that employs more than 10,000 people statewide. And, for every dollar invested in solar, the state sees $1.20 in economic benefits returned to our local economy – some $950 million dollars last year alone.

So the time is now to continue our leadership in solar energy. Despite its small size and northern latitude, Massachusetts currently ranks an impressive sixth in the nation in installed solar capacity thanks to the solar-friendly policies that we encourage the Baker administration to strengthen and continue.

First and foremost among those policies is net metering, which makes it economical for individuals and businesses to either install solar on their own property or share in the benefit of solar power installed nearby. Despite the state’s commitment to reach 1,600 megawatts of installed solar in the next five years, installations across Massachusetts have slowed as we’ve bumped up against old, outdated net metering caps put in place before we knew solar power’s full value – for the utilities, for the grid, and for the people of Massachusetts. As we anticipate the filing of the Governor’s solar bill, we urge the administration to include provisions to lift those caps (as the state Senate just voted to do) or, better yet, to remove them altogether (as Rhode Island has successfully done).

As Massachusetts works to further develop a comprehensive, long-term renewable energy strategy, we encourage Governor Baker to be bold and secure the state’s role as an innovator and leader in the drive to a clean energy future. Stay tuned for our analysis of the strengths of the final bill once it’s filed.

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Experts Weigh In: Maine Doesn’t Need New Gas Pipelines

Jul 17, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

This week consultants hired by the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) concluded that Maine should not enter into contracts to purchase gas pipeline capacity because the costs of doing so would outweigh the benefits to Mainers.

In many ways, this was a foregone conclusion – one that CLF predicted nearly a year ago and that the PUC itself (unofficially) reached before soliciting proposals from pipeline companies and spending taxpayer dollars on a lengthy consultant’s report. It’s a cautionary tale not just for Maine but for all of New England as the region weighs its energy future – and decides whether it will overinvest in natural gas or blaze a trail based on cleaner, renewable resources.

This process all started back in March 2014. After a cold winter sparked region-wide fears of an imminent shortage of natural gas to power our homes and businesses, Maine’s PUC was tasked with determining whether the state should contract for additional gas capacity under the Maine Energy Cost Reduction Act (MECRA). The PUC approached this work in two phases: first, soliciting and examining evidence and testimony from a variety of interested parties, including CLF, as to the need and economics of gas pipeline capacity procurement. And, second, if the economics made sense, to request proposals from pipeline companies.

CLF testified before the PUC as it gathered the evidence and data it would need to make their determination. We reasoned that Maine should not enter into new contracts with pipeline companies – both because the legal basis for them was suspect (the investment in these new projects would have been paid for by ratepayers, which is unprecedented and risky) and because the costs – to our wallets and our climate – would ultimately outweigh the benefits to consumers.

PUC staff agreed with the economic argument in their own preliminary report, but the Commission nonetheless went ahead and accepted supply proposals from pipeline companies. As required by MECRA, the PUC hired an independent consultant, London Economics International (LEI), to examine these proposals. The consultant’s detailed report compared scenarios in which the state didn’t contract for additional pipeline and ones in which it did (based on the actual proposals the state had received).

LEI’s analysis reinforces both CLF’s testimony and comments and the PUC’s own staff report issued during the first phase of this proceeding: The costs of any contract for Maine to buy natural gas pipeline capacity trumps the benefits. In fact, LEI concluded that, even without Maine entering into a gas contract, gas prices should drop by 25% for Maine customers over the next few years due to already planned, market-based gas capacity expansions. The group also found that electricity prices should drop by 15% due to these lowering gas prices.

The LEI report rightly calls into question whether the PUC should have accepted proposals from gas companies in the first place – a process that has been costly to all participants, expended valuable resources of the PUC, and resulted in no different a conclusion than the PUC’s own staff analysis.

Maine law requires that, for any contracts like these proposed expansions, the benefits must outweigh the costs. The conclusions drawn by the PUC’s expert consultant in their report should prevent Maine from entering into such a contract any time soon.

Ultimately, there’s a larger lesson here – one for every state in the region considering its electricity future. Over this year-long process, the PUC spent hundreds of thousands of (tax-payer) dollars on experts and an intense, litigation-like process, only for their experts to conclude what was readily apparent at the outset – that subsidizing the gas industry on the backs of ratepayers is a bad idea, both economically and for the environment.

Those gas shortage fears that sparked this whole process in the first place ended up being completely unfounded over this past winter. Since then the economics of the energy markets have started to shift, with wholesale electric prices declining by 50% over the past year alone. Meanwhile, energy efficiency is decreasing the need for energy resources, fuel-free renewables are supplanting polluting power plants, and liquefied natural gas has become cost-competitive and available at times of peak need. With at least two new small-scale pipeline projects already set to come on-line and reduce energy costs even more over the next two years, now is the time for the New England states to invest in the stability of the cleanest energy future we can create – one that weans us off of natural gas within the next 35 years.

The Alternatives to New Natural Gas Pipelines

May 15, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Now that we’ve made it through the winter, policymakers in Massachusetts are taking a look at the state of energy in the Commonwealth and trying to sort out what to do about the big energy policy questions currently on the table. First among these questions is what, if any, public policy support and funding should be invested in natural gas pipeline infrastructure.

How policymakers answer this question is important because now, more than ever, we must look beyond fossil fuels and ensure that our energy system is one built on the cleanest energy sources. Overinvestment in natural gas is simply a bad bargain for our climate, for consumers, and for our economy.

For several years now CLF has been calling for caution in the pipeline debate by debunking myths presented by pipeline proponents, exploring the environmental and economic ramifications of overbuilding natural gas infrastructure, and highlighting alternatives to pipeline investments. I had the opportunity this week to present CLF’s broad vision for the future of energy in New England to the Massachusetts legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy. The plan I presented to the legislators:

1. Strategic public investment in the resource with the best rate of return for ratepayers: Energy Efficiency.

2. Strategic public investment in clean electric generation that is not tied to fossil fuel prices: Renewables.

3. Encourage the electric and gas markets to utilize existing gas storage and pipeline to meet peak gas demand.

4. Overall, the need for new gas pipeline has not yet been demonstrated, but if it occurs, we should begin with small pipeline upgrades and peak storage projects first.

5. If we still need more pipeline capacity after doing all of the above, go incremental first (by increasing the capacity of existing pipelines), and let the markets support the capital costs rather than putting them further on the ratepayers.

CLF is skeptical about new gas pipeline infrastructure buildout and efforts to put additional public money toward such projects. This skepticism is based in 1) the climate implications of entrenching gas further in our energy system, 2) the short-term economic effects of building new infrastructure when we’re not maximizing the infrastructure we already have, and 3) the medium- to long-term economic effects of fossil fuel prices dictating our energy prices.

Strategic investments in renewable energy sources will reduce our reliance on climate-changing fossil fuels. Photo credit: CLF

Strategic investments in renewable energy sources will reduce our reliance on climate-changing fossil fuels. Photo credit: CLF

Rather than more investments in fossil fuel-based energy, then, let’s instead invest wisely in energy efficiency and long-term contracts for renewable energy. And where the use of natural gas is currently necessary, let’s use LNG to supplement natural gas supply during periods of peak usage. Expanding our natural gas pipelines and our reliance on this carbon intensive and price volatile fuel should be New England’s last resort.

Effective, clean and economic alternatives are available now and they’re certainly a better deal for our climate and for ratepayers in Massachusetts and across New England.

My full slides and written testimony are available here and here. And, speaking of this winter, check out this paper collecting my colleague Christophe’s blog series on the energy lessons to be drawn from the performance of New England’s energy markets this winter.

This Week on – March 30-April 3

Apr 3, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

April 3 – Fish Talk in the News – Friday, April 3 – In this week’s Fish Talk in the News, the Senate approves funding for New England fisheries observes; Maine voted down scallop bill; veteran lobsterman urges approval of reduced carbon pollution; a Cape Cod-based group faces off with DMF over clam dredging; Chatham fights for access to town fishing grounds; new Oceana study finds crab cake mislabeling; New England fights ocean acidity; ocean acidification impacts lobster growth; RI Sea Grant receives $1.6 million; and NMFS reviews the species status of the porbeagle shark.