Growing Clean Energy

Feb 17, 2015 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

The recent massive snow storms provide a stark reminder of why we need more clean energy. The more fossil fuels we burn, the more global warming we face.  Fiercer and more frequent storms continue to march across New England wreaking havoc with the daily lives and pocketbooks of so many.

Thankfully there are many efforts to bring more clean energy to the region and begin to break our addiction to fossil fuels.

In Vermont, Legislators are taking up a broad bill that would expand renewable energy opportunities. For electricity, the legislation would set the highest standard of any place in the region – 75% renewable by 2032. While much of that electricity would come from existing sources, including imported hydro power from Canada, it sets a new benchmark for what is possible — closing down coal plants, walking away from new gas facilities, and relying on more clean local power. The City of Burlington is already exceeding this standard and showing in real terms how meeting a 100% renewable standard is achievable and saves money for their customers.

The Vermont legislation would require that a full 10% of the electricity in 2032 come from smaller scale local renewable projects. Putting power generation closer to power needs reduces pollution and curbs the need for massive new transmission projects. This builds on the rapid success in Vermont of expanding customer opportunities to rely on renewable power. When combined with energy efficiency that already meets over 13% of our electric supply needs, Vermont jumps well ahead of the curve in bringing about a much needed clean energy transformation for the region.

The legislation also corrects a troubling problem with existing Vermont law. No longer would utilities double-count renewable resources, by both claiming them for Vermont while selling them to customers in other states. The Federal Trade Commission recently criticized this practice in regards to one utility’s activities. Instead, Vermont’s renewable supply would be better integrated into the regional renewable markets. Vermont can continue to sell renewable power in the region and avoid undermining our own efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Some of the more innovative aspects of the Vermont legislation begin to tackle the biggest sources of greenhouse gasses in Vermont – fossil fuel used for heating and transportation. As of 2011, heating and industrial uses account for about 32% percent of Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions and transportation accounts for about 46%. To meet our needed greenhouse gas reductions and avoid future climate disasters, we need to reduce fossil fuels from more than just electricity.

To further reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save money, the Vermont legislation would set binding requirements that by 2032 Vermont utilities provide opportunities for their customers to reduce fossil fuel use for heating and transportation. Projects can include such things as expanding the availability of heat pumps, weatherizing homes and businesses, installing efficient biomass heat, and providing facilities to support electric vehicles. Projects would not only need to provide reduced pollution, but offer clear economic savings as well. This opens up opportunities for partnerships that can break down barriers. Meeting customers where they are and providing the services they need and want at a reasonable cost is the hallmark of any good business. Legislation that paves the way for successful businesses to meet our broader 21st century power needs will position Vermont well to tackle global warming. Keeping a clear focus on the economics and the pollution reduction ensures that all Vermonters benefit from these changes.

With storms raging throughout New England, it is good news the Vermont Legislature is taking action to tackle global warming and help Vermonters save money.

Transportation Matters for Maine

Apr 3, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment


The Downeaster Boston–Portland service has exceeded its growth expectations every year.

Let’s face it, Maine is a big rural state (larger than the five remaining New England states taken together), where lowering greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles has been and will be a continuing challenge. CLF’s Maine office is actively engaged in three different projects with a wide range of partners who are determined to find practical solutions while improving the quality and sustainability of transportation services.

For more than two decades, as the Portland area has grown and expanded, there has been talk of creating a transit district in southern Maine that could improve and expand customer service across the diversity of travel modes, including fixed-route and on-demand bus services, ferries, and passenger rail. CLF has a seat on the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System transit committee, and Public Policy Advisor Malcolm Burson is playing a key role in facilitating conversations among public officials and transit operations managers.

In February, the first draft of a Transit Consolidation Feasibility Study was presented by outside consultants. A number of options are on the table, awaiting cost-benefit analysis, but it’s clear that a strong preference exists for a merger of three fixed-route providers. This would be the first step toward the eventual inclusion of other providers in a district that could serve approximately 40% of Maine’s population.

Senior Attorney Greg Cunningham, meanwhile, has led the effort to develop a pilot project designed to expand awareness and availability of electric vehicles (EVs), including their related charging infrastructure in Maine. CLF developed a straw proposal for a Greater Portland–based pilot that will provide grants for EVs and charging stations, look to create partnerships with businesses and municipalities to further EV technology use and awareness, and to collect data related to EV usage. The proposal was largely adopted by a working group comprised of EV advocates and representatives from Central Maine Power and was approved by the Public Utilities Commission. The pilot was initiated in March. “EVs have the potential to drastically reduce air pollution, including significant carbon emissions, from the transportation sector,” said Cunningham. “We hope that this pilot puts more EVs on the road and helps to demonstrate to Mainers just how convenient and cost effective this technology has become.”

Maine has been a great success story for the expansion of passenger rail in northern New England. The Downeaster Boston–Portland service has exceeded its growth expectations every year and recently expanded service to now serve Freeport (think L.L. Bean) and Brunswick, home of Bowdoin College. Once again, ridership exceeded projections from the first day of service, with greater numbers of passengers who were clearly using this as a commuter option. Now, the Maine Department of Transportation has convened a Passenger Rail Advisory Council to look at the opportunities and challenges for expanding passenger rail service in Maine. Executive Vice President and CLF Maine Director Sean Mahoney has been asked to serve on the Council as the representative from the public-interest sector. According to Sean, “the opportunity to increase transportation alternatives for Mainers and decrease dependence on cars has significant upside for Maine’s economy and environment, and I look forward to working with other members of the Council to capitalize on that opportunity.”

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Patrick Administration’s New Electric Vehicle Rebate Program Poised to Rev Up Key Clean Energy Sector

Apr 2, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Last Thursday, Governor Deval Patrick announced the roll-out of a brand-new electric-vehicle (EV) rebate program in Massachusetts. At a celebration of the launch of the Worcester Regional Transit Authority’s electric transit bus fleet, Governor Patrick announced that the new $2 million initiative – the Massachusetts Offers Rebates for Electric Vehicles (MOREV) program – will provide rebates for plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles.

The MOREV program provides rebates of up to $2,500 for plug-in hybrids or EVs with 10 Kilowatt hours (KWh) or greater electric storage capacity (e.g., battery or fuel cell), or up to $1,500 for plug-in hybrids or EVs with less than 10 KWh electric storage capacity. These rebates will be available for new purchased vehicles or leased vehicles with a minimum three-year lease.

Electric vehicles have much to offer – fewer emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and other air pollutants (such as particulate matter, with its well-documented detrimental health impacts); reduced fuel costs over the lifetime of the vehicle; less fuel price volatility than cars dependent on gasoline; and greater reliance on domestic fuel sources (including renewable energy sources), rather than foreign oil supplies.

State incentive programs like MOREV are designed to encourage consumers to purchase or lease EVs, with the goal of maximizing the environmental and economic benefits that those cars offer. When added to the federal EV tax credit of up to $7,500, these programs will help reduce the upfront costs of acquiring an EV. Given that those costs are still significantly higher than that of a traditional car or truck (a Leaf, Volt, or Plug-in Prius runs about $10,00–20,000 more than the traditional Ford Focus), reducing the sticker price is key to driving EV sales.

Also on Thursday, Governor Patrick announced the recipients of nearly $600,000 in grants distributed through round two of the Massachusetts Electric Vehicle Incentive Program (MassEVIP). The grants provide plug-in hybrid and EVs and “Level 2” charging infrastructure to municipalities, public universities, and state agencies. The Commonwealth has also invested in an electric school bus pilot, providing eight electric school buses with vehicle-to-grid energy storage capability, which can serve as a back-up energy source when necessary.

These advancements are a large step forward from this time last year. Last March, when CLF co-sponsored the Massachusetts Electric Vehicle Roundtable with the Patrick Administration, the Commonwealth was falling behind. In a policy presentation at the Roundtable, CLF pointed out that while MA is seen as a leader in clean energy policy initiatives, states like Florida, Georgia, and both Carolinas (and many others!) had more incentives for potential EV consumers than Massachusetts. Spurred by the Roundtable, the Patrick Administration took action by creating the Massachusetts Electric Vehicle Task Force, a group of stakeholders tasked with recommending policy actions and other steps needed to bolster EVs in Massachusetts. CLF holds a seat on the Task Force and in that role has strongly urged the Administration to pursue a consumer incentive program to help get EVs on the road here.

CLF is delighted that the Patrick Administration has taken the important step of launching a consumer rebate program for EVs in Massachusetts. And we applaud Massachusetts in particular for including leased EVs in the rebate program – an element that goes a step beyond many existing programs in other states, and is expected to increase EV market penetration significantly. In the last year, Massachusetts has gone from falling behind states like California on clean-vehicle efforts to becoming a leader – from joining seven other states in signing a memorandum of understanding to get 3.3 million EVs on the road by 2025 (300,000 in Massachusetts), to the recently announced MOREV consumer rebate program, which will make great strides toward achieving that goal. Given that the transportation sector is responsible for at least one-third of the GHG emissions in Massachusetts, these efforts – taken together with investments in public transportation and other measures to reduce emissions from the transportation sector – are an important step toward reaching the GHG emission reduction mandates set out in the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act (25% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050).

Congratulations to the Patrick Administration for its increased leadership on EV deployment, and kudos on this important step toward reducing carbon pollution in the Commonwealth!


Massachusetts Leading the Way on Electric Vehicle Transit

Dec 12, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment


One of the six WRTA buses that comprise the largest fleet of EV buses in the Northeast.
Photo credit: CMRPC

The Worcester Regional Transit Authority (WRTA) is about to make Massachusetts a national leader in electric vehicle, or “EV”, transit. The WRTA has just purchased three additional electric buses, which will join the existing bus fleet of 46. This includes ten hybrid buses (diesel-electric) as well as three existing electric buses. With a grand total of 6 EV buses, the WRTA will operate the largest electric bus fleet in the Northeast.

According to Stephen O’Neil, Administrator at the WRTA, the motivation to implement an electric fleet of public transit buses began with the practical consideration of rising fuel costs. The promise of cost-effective electric technology and a desire to be less dependent on fossil-fuels inspired the WRTA to apply for a Federal Transit Authority Clean Fuels grant. With a grant of $4.5 million awarded in 2012, the WRTA purchased three electric buses and fast-charging equipment. The grant was the second largest awarded in 2012 for electric vehicles and equipment.

Electric vehicles are known for being quiet, clean, and efficient alternatives to traditional internal-combustion vehicles fueled by diesel or gasoline. Here are some anticipated benefits of EV technology:

  • EV buses emit 280,200 pounds less CO2 each year than a bus operating on diesel, and 316,000 pounds less CO2 each year than a bus operating on compressed natural gas (CNG).
  • EV buses are ultra-quiet at 60 decibels – about half the level of noise produced by a typical bus.
  • An EV battery will only need to be replaced every 7–8 years.
  • EV buses rely on fewer parts and equipment than what is needed to maintain diesel-powered motors; one vehicle is expected to save about $135,000 in maintenance costs alone over the lifetime of each bus.

The new EV buses are expected to save on the cost of diesel fuel without disruption to the transit schedule. A standard 18-ton EV bus will charge completely in ten minutes. Only five to six minutes are necessary to get the battery to a “sweet-spot” (between 20–80% of full charge). This level of charge is adequate for EV buses to run about 22–30 miles and still adhere to their schedule. Aside from some initial charging hiccups associated with bus alignment at charging stations, the electric fleet is ready for service.

The WRTA strategically selected optimal EV routes after a comprehensive analysis of local topography. In keeping with certain considerations, such as the lack of charging stations farther out in the suburbs, as well as the fact that travel on an incline uses up more battery, the EV fleet will operate on a relatively flat route within an hour of a charging station at all times.

Additionally, the WRTA is working to anticipate and prepare for any concerns related to the oncoming cold weather. The WRTA anticipates having accumulated enough data by spring to determine whether the EV fleet indeed will stand up against Massachusetts winter storms and temperatures as expected. Once the WRTA supplies the figures to underscore a truly efficient, cost-effective EV fleet, other state and regional transit authorities will hopefully hop aboard the EV bandwagon. Until then, the WRTA and Massachusetts zoom ahead of the pack as the Northeast’s EV-transit front-runner.

Learn more about CLF’s work to create healthy communities across New England.

Driving Climate Change

Nov 20, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment


photo courtesy of Paul

A version of this article appeared in the November 17, 2013 edition  of the Sunday Rutland Herald / Times Argus.

The biggest contribution to climate change in Vermont comes from how we get ourselves around. As a rural state we rely on cars — and they burn a lot of gasoline, producing significant greenhouse gas emissions. To responsibly address climate change, we must take a hard look at our cars and our tailpipes and take a big bite out of our gasoline use.

Fortunately electric vehicle use is on the rise. According to Drive Electric Vermont, the number of electric vehicles on the road in Vermont quadrupled in the last year.  Currently more than 400 electric vehicles are registered across the state. In the last three months alone, Vermont saw a 50 percent increase in electric vehicles.

Vermonters are rapidly embracing this cleaner choice, and new initiatives will make it easier and less costly for more people to “drive electric.”

Vermont is one of eight states — four in New England and California, New York, Maryland and Oregon — that recently announced efforts to collectively put 3.3 million electric vehicles on the road by 2025 and develop the fueling infrastructure to support them. 

Electric vehicles can be either all electric or can be plug-in hybrids that rely on gasoline engines and can also plug into a socket for power. For most commutes, all-electric vehicles provide ample range between charges — about 80 miles — and can be plugged into an outlet either at home or work. Plug-in hybrids have the same travel range as gasoline-powered cars.

The cost of electric vehicles dropped over the past two years. Leasing an all-electric car costs about $200 per month and is quite comparable to the cost of many other car leases. The big savings is in pollution and fuel costs.

All-electric cars have one quarter the fuel cost of gasoline-powered cars. They run on the equivalent of about $1 per gallon gasoline.

Including all the costs over the lifetime of the car, electric vehicles cost less than a gasoline-powered car. Many makes and models of electric vehicles are currently available, including cars from Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Tesla.

Operating electric cars reduces soot and greenhouse gases and gets us closer to meeting our climate goals and using our power sources more efficiently. Electric cars are more efficient than gasoline cars: They use more of the power available and produce less wasted heat.

In terms of greenhouse gases, one all-electric vehicle produces less than one-third of the emissions of a Subaru Outback. And riding a bicycle or walking near an electric car is like a breath of fresh air, since they don’t leave you breathing smoke and fumes.

To run clean electric cars, we must consider the source of electricity used to power them — and keep that electricity supply clean and renewable. Looking into the future,  all-electric cars will be useful in better managing our electric power grid as we work to achieve Vermont’s goal of 90 percent renewable energy use.

To encourage use of electric vehicles, Vermont already has low interest loans for public charging stations. And with its partner states Vermont will be developing additional incentives: improved building codes that will make it easier to construct new car charging stations, additional electric vehicles in public car fleets, financial incentives to promote cleaner cars, and lower electricity rates for electric vehicle  charging systems.

Vermont needs electric cars for many important reasons — to meet our climate goals, reduce air pollution, break our addiction to oil and save families money. Electric vehicles provide a piece of the transformation that is urgently needed to move away from fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The recent devastation in the Philippines is another critical wakeup call that reminds us all why we need measures like these.

The efforts of Vermont and other states, represent an important piece of the transformation required to head us toward cleaner and lower-cost ways to get around.

New England States Charge Ahead on Electric Vehicles with New Memorandum of Understanding

Oct 24, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Today eight states, including four in New England, announced a landmark initiative to collectively put 3.3 million electric vehicles on the road by 2025 and develop fueling infrastructure to support them.  The governors of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Connecticut joined California, New York, Maryland, and Oregon in signing a Memorandum of Understanding to ensure successful implementation of their states’ Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) programs. State ZEV programs accelerate the number of low and zero emission vehicles on the road, thus reducing total emissions from mobile sources, which are responsible for the greatest portion of greenhouse gas emissions of any sector in New England.  The ZEV rules, which originate in California, have been adopted in five New England States: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Connecticut, and Maine.

The MOU announced today commits the eight states signing on to do the following:

  • Collectively put 3.3 million electric vehicles on the road by 2025 and develop fueling infrastructure to support the cars
  • Harmonize building codes to make it easier to construct new electric car charging stations
  • Set purchase targets for ZEVs in their public fleets
  • Create financial and other incentives to promote ZEVs
  • Promote lower electricity rates for home charging systems
  • Develop common standards for roadway signs and charging networks
  • Study hydrogen fueling infrastructure to support the commercialization of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles

New England needs zero emission vehicles — they will help reduce air pollution, break our addiction to oil, and save families money — and New Englanders want the same opportunities to drive zero emission vehicles on their home turf as Californians currently enjoy.  The actions promised in today’s MOU will help bring ZEVs to the region by ensuring that New England states have the market and infrastructure to support the acceleration of low and zero emissions vehicles on the road required by the ZEV program.  CLF congratulates the eight states participating in this MOU for taking the lead on this important initiative.

When a Fact Check Goes Wrong and Misses the (Clean Energy) Point

Jan 16, 2012 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

The rise of dedicated public fact checking services like PolitiFact, and the Washington Post Fact Checker has been a generally good thing. However, these services can go astray when they decide that a statement which would be improved with clarification is “false” – a practice that weakens the “false” label when it is applied to an outright falsehood.

This unfortunate phenomena was on display when the Rhode Island edition of PolitiFact critiqued a comment by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse about the interplay between the deployment of renewable energy resources like solar panels and ending U.S. dependence on imported fossil fuels, like the oil that is refined into gasoline.

In their critique, the Providence Journal staff writing and editing the item examine comments that Senator Whitehouse made in support of federal tax incentives for renewable energy:

“Let me just bring it home,” Whitehouse said, as he referred to his notes. “In Rhode Island, this [grant program] has facilitated solar panel installations on three new bank branches. The TD Bank has opened up in Barrington, in East Providence and in Johnston, Rhode Island. Those projects created jobs, they put people to work, they lowered the cost for these banks of their electrical energy, and they get us off foreign oil and away, step by step, from these foreign entanglements that we have to get into to defend our oil supply.”

The Politi-Fact RI folks decide to look narrowly at the question of whether electricity production from solar panels always and consistently directly reduces use of oil.  This is definitely part of the story and, as I emphasized when I spoke to their reporter when he was working on the “piece, it is a direct relationship that used to be more present back in the days (not too many years ago) when more of our electricity came from oil. But is still a real relationship, especially during the days in the summer when air conditioning drives up electric demand to its highest levels of the year.  As ISO New England (the operator of the regional electric grid) told Politi-Fact RI “oil is used more on days when demand for power is high” although the reporters dismiss this reality (despite the fact that these peak hours are when air pollution is at its worst and the fact that the entire system is designed to meet that moment of peak demand) as “isolated.”

Senator Whitehouse was making three points, only one of which is addressed by the simple “displacement” analysis of what generation is pushed out by deployment of new renewable sources:

  • Moving to cleaner electricity generation from renewable sources like wind and solar is an essential piece in an overall conversion of our economy and energy system (including energy used to move the wheels on our cars, trucks and buses round and round) away from dirty and imported fossil fuels. In places like East Providence RI where TD Bank (as highlighted by Senator Whitehouse) is installing solar panels on the roof of their branches in close proximity to a Chevrolet dealer selling the Chevy Volt you can seeing that future taking shape.
  • Senator Whitehouse’s larger point about ending “foreign entanglements” is of particular significance, moving beyond the question of oil, to people in and around Rhode Island because the largest power plant in what is known in the wholesale electricity world as “Greater Rhode Island” (a geographical label of particular pride and amusement to native Rhode Islanders) is the Brayton Point Power Plant. That facility, just over the border in Somerset Massachusetts, has burnt coal imported from Indonesia and Colombia in recent years.
  • And the direct displacement issue is real: while there is less oil used to generate electricity these days it is worth pondering the overlap between peak solar energy generation (do we really need a link to show that it makes more electricity when it is sunny?) and those peak hours of electricity demand during the summer when it is hottest and air conditioners across the region are roaring away.

All of this suggests that the specific comment by Senator Whitehouse that Politi-Fact Rhode Island evaluated are solidly grounded in facts and accurate observations.

Darrell Issa wants to steal your (future) car

Aug 1, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Rep. Issa (R-CA) made a fortune building car alarms. For years he was best known as the recorded voice of the Viper alarm that warned people to “Step away from the car!” (Really, this is all true, it says so in Wikipedia).

But now he is  a powerful member of Congress and in that role he is threatening to undermine the deal struck among the White House, the auto manufacturers and his own State of California.

Let’s review for a moment – the agreement would reduce pollution, make cars more efficient and thereby reduce use of imported oil and pain felt by people paying at the gas pump and help move forward progress towards practical and affordable electric cars. The auto manufacturers supported and helped shape it and think it can be implemented at reasonable cost while maintaining a healthy auto industry that will meet the needs and wants of  drivers. So what is wrong with it?  Representative Issa says he is concerned about “transparency” and process here – legitimate concerns to be sure. But they are concerns that will inform the formal process that will follow as the federal agencies propose, present and seek comment on this package of rules in the formal rulemaking process.

Like an overly sensitive car alarm that makes threatening speeches at passers-by who mean no harm to the protected car, or that releases punishing waves of sound late at night when garbage trucks pass by, Rep. Issa is sounding a very false alarm and threatening to steal away the cleaner, cheaper-to-operate car of the future.

A good deal is struck in Washington – give the states some credit

Jul 29, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

In Washington, D.C., a good deal has been announced bringing together the Federal government, the state of California and auto manufacturers.  As our friends at the Union of Concerned Scientists note, these standards will:

  • Cut oil consumption by as much as 1.5 million barrels per day — 23 billion gallons of gasoline annually — by 2030. That is equivalent to U.S. imports from Saudi Arabia and Iraq in 2010.
  • Cut carbon pollution by as much as 280 million metric tons (MMT) in 2030, which is equivalent to shutting down 72 coal-fired power plants.
  • Lower fuel expenditures at the pump by over $80 billion in 2030 — even after paying for the cost of the necessary technology, consumers will still clear $50 billion in savings that year alone.

The real story behind this settlement is about a fundamental choice between two paths.  One path was the road taken, where the emissions standards for cars and trucks are integrated with mile-per-gallon (MPG) standards and California and the Federal Government both adopt and agree to the standards.

The other path was to return to the state of affairs that prevailed prior to 2009.  At that point, a fleet of states had adopted standards for greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks first developed and adopted by California. This came about because of the unique ability of California under the federal Clean Air Act to adopt its own standards and for other states to follow suit.  With the laudable decision by the Federal government (after legal challenges to the standards were shot down in court in California, Vermont, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.) to adopt a modified version of those state-based standards and the integration of those emissions standards with the MPG rules, three different regulatory systems were folded together into one positive package.

California, and the states inclined to follow it (there were 13 at the time of that deal back in 2009), had a deserved presence at the table in Washington.  If the new federal standards were strong enough, the states could simply go their own way – but that wasn’t needed, and hopefully will not be necessary going forward as the new rules are fleshed out and implemented.  Having two sets of vehicle standards in the U.S. was not a terrible thing when we lived with it for 25 years – but having one good standard for the nation is better.

A good deal was struck in Washington (a nice thing to be able to say!) and the power of the states to chart their own course did not need to be invoked – but the fact that power exists, along with the other other good elements of the Clean Air Act (a great law being attacked daily in Congress) helps move us towards cleaner air and better cars.