New England States Forge Ahead on Climate Action Despite Supreme Court’s Stay of Clean Power Plan

Feb 10, 2016 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Yesterday, the Supreme Court sided with Big Coal and other climate polluters when it put a hold on President Obama’s historic Clean Power Plan. But this is just a temporary setback for meaningful federal action on climate change. The good news is that the Clean Power Plan has only been put on hold; it hasn’t been overturned altogether.

We’re confident that the courts will ultimately uphold the Clean Power Plan in the face of the legal challenges currently being stacked up against it – and when they do, our country will be back on track to slash greenhouse gas emissions and prevent even more damage to our climate.

The DC Circuit will expedite its evaluation of the Rule beginning this spring, and we can assure you that CLF won’t be putting its work to curb greenhouse gas emissions on hold. We’re continuing to defend the Clean Power Plan and our work to move New England – and, by extension, the entire country – beyond dirty fossil fuels and towards a future built on clean, affordable, and homegrown energy sources.

New England is already a national leader in cutting carbon pollution. Through our participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), New England states are decreasing their carbon emissions from electric power plants every year – independent of any federal requirements. What’s more, the region is reinvesting proceeds from the program into improving energy efficiency and speeding up the deployment of renewable energy technologies. The New England states’ ongoing commitments under RGGI not only place our region at the forefront of climate action, but also drive significant economic benefits throughout the region.

CLF was deeply involved in the passage of RGGI and we continue to play a key role in its success. Even as we work at the regional level to impact climate action, we’re also fighting on the ground in communities across New England to shut down dirty coal plants (only four remain in the region), block expensive and unnecessary new natural gas pipelines – like the massive one proposed by oil giant Kinder Morgan – and stand up against new natural gas power plants.

We’re not just saying no to bad ideas that rely on outdated, dirty fuels, however. We’re saying yes to clean affordable wind and solar power and other clean energy projects that create jobs, boost our economy, and ensure a better future for our families and children.

If the polluters who insist on challenging the Clean Power Plan hope to remain relevant into the future, they should follow New England’s lead by investing in emerging clean energy sources, rather than clinging to dirty, out-of-date fuels through their short-sighted, protracted litigation.

You can help CLF’s fight for New England’s clean energy future by becoming a member today. By donating to CLF, you become a critical partner in our work to defend New England’s environment for all.

 

 

Retail Net Metering Is Good for Us All

Feb 10, 2016 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Retail net metering is the single most important driver behind anyone’s decision – yours, mine, a local business’s, or town’s – as to whether it makes financial sense to install solar panels. And it’s pretty simple: with retail net metering, installing solar makes financial sense; without it . . . not so much.

Here in Massachusetts, net metering has helped us grow the amount of energy generated by the sun by more than 500% in just the last five years alone – making us a leader in the nation. So why does a recent decision about net metering in Nevada have New Englanders worried about the future of solar power here?

Nevada Turns Its Back on the Sun
What happened in Nevada was a radical shift in policy: First, the state tripled the monthly fee solar-using families and businesses have to pay to “access the grid.” Then it slashed the amount those same families and businesses are paid for supplying their clean, homegrown energy back to the grid – by 75%! In essence, the state eliminated all of the economic incentives for installing solar panels in the first place.

As a result, the solar industry in Nevada crashed almost instantly, taking hundreds of good jobs with it and stifling the potential for one of the country’s sunniest states to harness even more solar power in the future.

The Risk to Solar Power in Massachusetts
Could that happen here? We certainly hope not, but you never know. Cuts to net metering in Massachusetts aren’t out of the question, and, as we speak, the Legislature is working on an omnibus energy bill that is expected to include important provisions that will dictate Massachusetts’ solar future. Among the bills currently in committee is a recent House bill (H.3854) that proposes a draconian, Nevada-like cut in solar reimbursement from about 16 cents per kilowatt-hour to about 4 cents per kilowatt-hour. The Governor’s proposed solar bill was better in this respect, but not by much.

H.3854’s Nevada-style cuts to retail net metering would be a financial disaster for businesses and families across the state, as this recent piece from energy journalist (and Massachusetts resident) Scott Clavenna demonstrates.

Under Massachusetts’ current, nation-leading policies, the Clavenna family was cash-flow positive in year one of using their rooftop solar panels – despite having paid for their average-sized 5.5 kilowatt solar system with a home-improvement loan. And they’re currently on track to fully recover their investment in just three years! But under Nevada-style rules, it would take the Clavenna family 20 years to break even on the same panels after enduring 13 agonizing years of wallet-draining, negative cash flow. Ouch.

Solar Power Benefits All New Englanders
Distributed solar power brings value not just to those who install it, but to us all. Solar provides energy right when we need it most – during the afternoon “peak” when folks return from work and school. And because it does, solar (like energy efficiency) reduces the need to build and run “peaker” plants which, because they run so infrequently and stop and start a lot, are the most expensive and the dirtiest on the grid. So solar anywhere on the grid – on your roof or on mine – lowers the short- and long-term price of electricity for everyone, across the state and across New England.

But wait, there’s more: by generating power right where it’s needed, solar lowers the shared cost – for everyone (check the “delivery services” section of your bill!) – of maintaining the grid’s wires and transformers. And of course, solar doesn’t pollute . . . at all. That means we get electricity without pollution (or greenhouse gas emissions!) that also displaces, one-for-one, dirty, climate-warming power from plants that would otherwise have to be turned on. Win – win – win!

There is no good reason for Massachusetts – or any state (that means you, New Hampshire and Maine!) – to repeat Nevada’s mistake. Retail net metering is fair (look for another post soon with more details on that) and it works. It’s a great investment in our homes, on average adding $15,000 in resale value according to this Lawrence Berkeley National Lab study!) – and it’s a great investment in our future.

Help us fight for our clean energy future!
Click here to send an email to the Speaker of the House, Rep. Robert DeLeo, telling him to!

Become a Member today to help CLF continue the fight for your clean energy future!

No More Dirty Energy for Massachusetts!

Feb 10, 2016 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

As families across New England were preparing for this last holiday season, NRG Energy, a Texas dirty-energy giant (over 80% of its massive power holdings burn fossil fuels!), quietly filed its request with the Massachusetts Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) for approval to construct its newest fossil-fuel power plant: a new, 350 megawatt gas- and oil-fired power plant on the south bank of the Cape Cod canal, in Sandwich, Massachusetts.

NRG wants you to believe that it is doing us a favor by building this new plant, but it isn’t. I will have more to say on each of these points in future posts, but let’s be clear from the start:

We don’t need more energy generation in Sandwich. Even including the immanent retirement of the nearby Pilgrim nuclear plant, that section of the regional grid – the South East New England, or “SENE,” zone – has more electricity available than it actually needs to power our homes and businesses (in fact, it has more than 730 megawatts of excess generation feeding it). (NRG’s Petition is misleadingly wrong on this important point: see page 1-3, and page 1-5, and page 1-20, and page 3-2.)

We don’t need this facility in order to integrate more renewable power into the electricity grid. (NRG gets this wrong too: on page 1-3, and page 3-2, and . . . well, you get the idea.) More than half of New England’s power already comes from gas and gas/oil plants just like this one. The so-called natural gas “bridge to renewables” has already been built (or over-built!) in New England.

And nothing about this proposed plant is “efficient and clean” as NRG suggests in its application (for example, on page 3-2).

NRG’s proposed plant is anything but efficient and clean
Like the old, oil-burning plant it will sit next to, NRG’s proposed new plant – “Canal Unit 3” – will spew toxic smokestack pollution: nitrous oxides, sulfur dioxide, and dangerous micro-particle pollution. Each of these are proven to pose major health risks to children, seniors, and anyone living with asthma. In spite of these known hazards, the new plant will sit on the edge of a residential neighborhood just a half mile from the public beach, and directly opposite the canal from the campgrounds and trails of Scusset Beach State Reservation.

That’s not clean. So, how about efficient?

Only if by “efficient,” NRG means “better than the worst.” The Petition (on page 4-4) indicates that the new plant would release on average 1,296 pounds of climate-warming emissions for each megawatt-hour of electricity it produces. That’s better than a coal plant, which releases about 2,000 pounds per megawatt-hour of electricity on average – but let’s face it, that’s a pretty low bar to beat.

NRG’s emissions estimate is in fact almost double the existing rate for New England electricity! According to our regional grid operator, ISO-New England, the region’s average greenhouse gas emission rate was just 726 pounds per megawatt-hour in 2014. And NRG’s numbers are even worse – a whopping 1,730 pounds per megawatt-hour – when the proposed plant will run on oil, as NRG hopes it will for months on end.

Damage to our climate we can’t afford
Which brings us to the real tragedy of NRG’s proposal: its inevitable role in helping to cause more damage, not less, to our climate. If constructed, the new Canal Unit 3 would run 50% of the time, all year long, and would release almost 1 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere annually. For a plant that will last for 40 or more years, that’s disastrous. There is no way we can meet Massachusetts’ Global Warming Solutions Act emissions mandate if we keep building fossil fuel plants like this one.

Even without a law like the Global Warming Solutions Act mandating deep emissions cuts, building this plant is simply irresponsible if we want to protect our families’ and our children’s health – today and for future generations.

It’s time to draw a line in the sand: No more dirty energy for Massachusetts!
TELL THE ENERGY FACILITIES SITING BOARD THAT YOU WANT CLEAN ENERGY! Come to the Siting Board’s public meeting tonight at 7pm at the Sandwich High School (in the Auditorium; 365 Quaker Meetinghouse Road, East Sandwich, MA 02537) to demand clean energy for Massachusetts! Click here for directions.

TAKE ACTION AGAINST THE NRG PLANT! Send an e-mail to Governor Baker telling him that you oppose construction of another new fossil-fueled power plant in Massachusetts because climate change is real and building plants like this one will make it impossible for the Commonwealth to meet its GWSA carbon-emission-reduction mandate. Include a link to this blog post; please add your own comment to Gov. Baker to personalize your message.

(To download and read NRG’s entire petition, visit the EFSB website here; additional figures and appendices filed with it are also available from the EFSB here: enter “EFSB15-06” / click “Go” / scroll to the bottom to the 12/03/2015 entries.)

 

Why Have Presidential Candidates Been Silent on Northern Pass?

Feb 9, 2016 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The next president of the United States will decide only one issue that uniquely affects New Hampshire residents. Yet as candidates of both parties blanketed the state in the final weeks before today’s primary, that issue received scant attention.

(image credit: flickr, cannuckshutterer, CC-BY-SA)

Presidential hopefuls have been conspicuously silent on Northern Pass, which would destroy viewsheds and bring little long-term benefit to New Hampshire communities. (image credit: flickr, cannuckshutterer, CC-BY-SA).

The next president will decide whether to authorize the cross-border connection to Canada’s Hydro-Québec needed for the Northern Pass electrical transmission line. The mega-utility Eversource is making a $1.4 billion bet on the line, which will ravage New Hampshire’s landscape and communities only to serve electricity customers in Massachusetts and south.

The 190-mile line would snake poles and wires through 31 communities from the Canadian border to Concord and then East to Deerfield, destroying viewsheds along scenic byways and blighting more than 400 acres of lands permanently committed to conservation. The affected acreage also includes some of New Hampshire’s most pristine forestland in the northern reaches of Coos County. Yet in response to public demands for full burial of the line and votes from more than 30 New Hampshire cities and towns to oppose the project, Eversource has been unwilling to step up.

To what end? The rationale for the line is to bring inexpensive hydroelectric power, dubbed “renewable,” to Eversource service territories other than New Hampshire. For states like Massachusetts, where Gov. Charlie Baker is closely identified with and strongly supported by Eversource’s CEO, it’s a sweet deal, rewarding a close corporate ally while letting Baker off the hook for developing homegrown renewable power projects in Massachusetts.

But both the “inexpensive” and “renewable” descriptions are dubious. Eversource has never disclosed what price it will pay for the Hydro-Québec power, or even whether it has locked the price in by contract as some of its competitors have. And the “renewable” label is not really apt for the power Northern Pass would deliver. As designed, the Hydro-Québec system has a larger carbon footprint than the wind and other renewable projects available to the states receiving the power. Plus, construction of the line mostly above ground will sacrifice significant forest acreage that now serves as a carbon-absorbing sink.

For all of Eversource’s hard-to-substantiate boasts about short-term job creation from Northern Pass construction, the mostly above ground approach forgoes much of the line’s potential for economic stimulus, while sacrificing iconic vistas that are essential to the long-term health of New Hampshire’s recreation and tourism sector.

In addition to being of direct concern to the people of New Hampshire, Northern Pass presents a microcosm of many issues at the heart of our energy platform that will face whoever wins the presidency: whether full burial of electric transmission lines should be the norm, as it always has been with gas transmission; whether we invest in huge gas and electric transmission projects on the backs of families and businesses when those projects may be obsolete before completion; and whether we embrace carbon-intensive technologies or the clean and job-creating energy options available today.

So it is remarkable that an issue of such importance to New Hampshire voters, whichever party they favor, never came to the forefront in the endless town halls and other forums leading up to today’s state primary.

Political candidates are deft, of course, at reducing tough choices like these to bumper-sticker slogans or glib generalizations (“I support an all-of-the-above energy policy”; “I believe in a clean energy future”). But a candidate’s mettle is best shown when asked to take a stand on an issue as tough and divisive as Northern Pass.

New England Energizes Paris Climate Talks

Dec 11, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

16980610589_ca17e514b1_oThe COP21 climate talks are in the home stretch, with a working deadline of Saturday for an agreement and a practical deadline of Sunday, when the vast temporary complex for the talk, and the supporting cast of logistical and security staff at the largely defunct Le Bourget airport, will become a memory.

Secretary of State John Kerry has been a rallying presence in this end-game. Earlier this week, he announced that the U.S. will commit $800 million in additional adaptation aid by 2020 to developing nations that will be submerged or otherwise will need to respond to sea level rise and other climate impacts. According to Kerry, the U.S. is now committed to reach $1 billion in such aid annually by 2020.

Through these and other actions, Senator Kerry has given the U.S. prominence in the self-dubbed “High Ambition Coalition” of nations seeking an agreement that is as ambitious, transparent, and enforceable as possible. The ultimate fate of the negotiations will be determined by whether this coalition, which includes the European Union and more than 100 other developed or developing nations, can resolve its differences with less developed countries like India, concerned that it cannot de-carbonize its economy as quickly as the Coalition would like, and island states like the Phoenix Islands, concerned about recovering compensation, losses, and damages when their countries are inevitably and irrevocable submerged.

The View from New England
The push for ambitious carbon cuts promoted by Kerry and the larger Coalition have crucial importance for the secretary’s home region of New England. Our energy system is currently at a crossroads – choosing between a path of continued de-carbonization or a path marked by immense new investment in natural gas pipelines and plants, which would lock us into fossil fuel dependency for generations to come.

A Paris agreement that includes ambitious commitments for carbon reduction will send a strong signal to regional, national, and international markets that fossil fuels have no economic future after COP21. If such an agreement emerges, the New Englanders present and pushing in Paris – including Kerry, Senators Markey (MA), Shaheen (NH), and Whitehouse (RI) – will fairly be entitled to bragging rights.

Conversely, failing to reach an ambitious agreement in Paris would dampen New England’s continued shift to an energy platform in which renewables predominate.

Read all of CLF’s recent blog posts on COP21 and New England’s path forward.

Senate Democrats Propose Pathway to Clean Energy Future

Sep 23, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

In a sweeping move, U.S. Senate Democrats have introduced a national energy bill aimed at creating a clean energy future for our country. As CLF continues our fight to make New England a leader on this issue, we applaud legislators in D.C. for striving to make real progress on the national stage for our environment, our economy and the health of our communities. If our country is going to have a chance of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change and transitioning off of expensive and economically volatile fossil fuels, we need to talk about bold solutions like the ones proposed this week by 25 Democratic members of the United States Senate.

The American Energy Innovation Act of 2015, sponsored by Senator Maria Cantwell, includes the following provisions:

• Improve consumer access to energy information;
• Create a federal Energy Efficiency Resource Standard and support for “smart” buildings;
• Invest in energy storage and the integration of clean energy onto the electric grid;
• Improve grid security and address natural gas leaks in the distribution system;
Cut GHG emissions equivalent to all passenger vehicles and 1/3 U.S homes, while securing carbon reductions from other countries;
• Fund energy science research, investment in clean energy, and cyber security research;
• Provide clean energy job training and a model energy workforce curriculum;
• Reauthorize and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund; and
• Repeal fossil fuel subsidies.

These are the types of solutions we need, and we can’t afford to wait any longer.

As President Obama said in a recent press conference, “We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it.” CLF applauds Senator Cantwell and all cosponsors of this bill – including New England’s own Senators Edward Markey (D-MA) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) – for doing something about it.

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.

gas-flame-shutterstock

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.

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.

Sign up for email updates on the latest news and analysis from CLF.