Growing Clean Energy

Feb 17, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a 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.

A Price on Carbon Pollution

Jan 12, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The recent storms and pervasive power outages provide a stark reminder of the challenges we face with global warming. The images of Governor Shumlin inspecting by helicopter the broad areas without power were reminiscent of Tropical Storm Irene, one of the most devastating climate disasters to hit Vermont. Utilities and road crews across the state are working harder and spending more money to clean up after storms and prepare for the next one. And the next one seems to be coming on fiercer and sooner than it did in the past.

photo courtesy of Sage @ flickr.com

photo courtesy of Sage @ flickr.com

Vermonters are resilient and independent by nature. The conversations when the power was out focused on how each of us managed by melting snow on our woodstove, and using our collection of candles and stored bottles of water. When some folks had power restored before others, we helped each other out by filling water bottles and sharing dinners together.

That same resilience and independence serves us well in taking action to tackle global warming and ward off future disasters. Sitting back and waiting for the next storm is not an option. We owe it to ourselves and our kids to take a bite out of carbon pollution now, while building a more vibrant and robust economy.

Putting a price on carbon pollution is one meaningful step we can take to tackle this challenge. Today, oil is relatively cheap. And proponents of new gas pipelines are quick to boast about the low cost of their polluting product. It may be a last gasp from a dying industry as oil and gas tycoons slash prices to feed an unhealthy fossil fuel addiction. Putting a tax on carbon pollution transforms this last gasp into a breath of fresh air. Instead of throwing energy dollars out the window or lining oil executive pockets, we are investing in a cleaner energy future.

A carbon pollution tax charges oil and gas companies for the pollution they create. It provides companies and customers with incentives to invest in cleaner supplies. Fuel dealers can make more money helping customers save oil instead of burning more of it.

We all pay taxes and pay too much now to help oil executives get rich. A carbon pollution tax instead puts these dollars back in our pockets by providing refunds or dividends to every Vermont resident and business. Vermonters can get a carbon dividend by reducing pollution similar to how Alaskans receive oil dividends.

A portion of the tax can be invested in clean energy solutions, helping Vermonters buy more fuel- efficient cars, weatherize homes or install solar panels or heat pumps. These investments reduce customer costs while keeping more energy dollars in Vermont.

The real beauty of a carbon pollution tax is that it transforms the wild fluctuations we already experience in gas and oil prices into making us more resilient and less dependent on polluting fossil fuels. This past year alone, gas prices have changed by nearly $1 per gallon, first increasing and then decreasing. A change from month-to-month of 5 cents per gallon was not uncommon. Phasing the tax in over ten years lets us put this same $1 to work reducing pollution, while the total tax oil companies pay each year amounts to less than the regular 5 cent monthly fluctuation in prices the rest of us experience.

Let’s get polluters to pay their fair share. It’s time for our tax dollars to support our energy goals instead of subsidizing fossil fuels and increasing pollution.

 

Mapping the Road to a Low-Carbon Future for the Northeast

Dec 23, 2014 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

“All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination.”
–Radio legend Earl Nightingale (1921-1989)

How do we, efficiently and effectively, complete the transition from an energy system rooted in fossil-fuel generation to a much-needed clean energy system for our region? As participants in last week’s Lessons for a Climate & Energy Roadmap 2050 Process for the Northeastern US learned, it takes courage to embark on the collective journey to a low-carbon future, and it helps to bring a map.

Hosted by CLF, CLF Ventures, and The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy’s Center for International Environment & Resource Policy, and sponsored by The Oak Foundation and German Consulate General of Boston, the December 16 event at Tufts University brought together business and government leaders and environmental advocates from the Northeast with their counterparts from Germany and the European Union (EU), Canada, California, and beyond. The goal: explore how the EU’s experience pursuing renewable energy, energy efficiency, and climate protection policies and targets could offer lessons for our region’s clean energy and climate transition.

The Northeast Roadmap 2050 event drew inspiration from the EU Roadmap 2050 process, which convened key stakeholders to shape a shared vision for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the EU at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Here in the northeast US/New England, we have a very similar opportunity. The New England states and New York, along with the Eastern Canadian provinces, have adopted climate goals and mandates that mirror the EU mandate. We have a core of business leaders that can be mobilized, and a number of key energy players here are the same companies that sat at the table for the EU Roadmap 2050 process. Though the questions underlying a similar planning process for the Northeast are simple, the challenges are anything but: Can the leaders of our region articulate the vision of a sane energy transition that leaders and decision-makers in Washington have not? If so, how do we achieve essential buy-in from key regional decision makers, like executives and regulators, to move from a shared vision to an implementable course of action?

During the daylong event, participants joined in person and over videoconference to begin to build a foundation of shared knowledge upon which a Roadmap 2050 process can be built for the Northeast. Among the day’s highlights:

  • Tufts emeritus professor of international environmental policy and lead author on several Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports William Moomaw urged participants to accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources and emphasized that such a transformation is essential.
  • Mike Hogan, Senior Advisor to the Regulatory Assistance Project, shared several key lessons learned from the EU Roadmap 2050 process, including:
    • Derive legitimacy from a very broad base of stakeholder participants, including industry, governments, NGOs, governments, and technical experts.
    • Start from a point of broad consensus about the destination. Participants don’t need to agree on how to get there or even if they can get there, as long as they agree on the destination.
    • Focus on shifting the public narrative about what makes sense and re-defining the “middle ground.”
    • Keep everything on the table and take nothing for granted (except the destination).
    • 90 percent of the success of the Roadmap process is just getting people to sit in the room and stay in the room to work together on the process.
  • Dr. Patrick Graichen, Executive Director of Agora Energiewende, a German energy think tank, and Graham Weale, Chief Economist, RWE AG, a leading European utility, presented insights from Germany’s energy transition (Energiewende) and from the German energy industry, including the key role of wind and solar energy, and the importance of building both supply- and demand-side flexibility and strong market mechanisms into a low-carbon energy system.
  • V. John White, Executive Director, Center for Energy Efficiency & Renewable Technologies, offered insights from the ongoing California 2030 Low Carbon Grid Study. Among the Phase I findings:
    • The importance of balancing California’s energy portfolio both technologically and geographically;
    • The need to modernize California’s currently inefficient gas fleet and use gas differently;
    • The increased role of bulk storage and demand response to shift energy demand to different parts of the day and reduce demand on the overall system;
    • The emerging need for California to take a more regional approach to its energy grid.
  • Michael Jasanis (HotZero, LLC and former CEO of National Grid USA),Phil Giudice, CEO and President of Ambri, and Cindy Arcate, CEO and President of PowerOptions, contributed the perspectives of Northeast utility and energy industry leaders.

From the wide range of opinions and insights shared over the course of the day, participants were left with a sense of urgency to accelerate a clean energy transition for the Northeast as well as many questions that remain to be explored. Next steps? Participants expressed interest in a second, follow-up convening that will likely be planned for early 2015, hosted by an organization that can provide a supportive yet outcome-neutral role in advancing a Northeast Roadmap 2050 stakeholder process. Once the process is underway, the group will develop a framework for the multi-sector analysis and modeling work needed to create a powerful vision that will shape governmental and business decision making and that will be owned by a broad and deep regional stakeholder group.

Coming Clean: Strengthening EPA’s Clean Power Plan

Dec 4, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Even if it’s hard for our brains to accept, we all know the impacts to come from climate change if we don’t significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions now and throughout the century: food insecurity, species extinction, and dramatically severe weather events. If that news isn’t sobering enough, we’ll also face a rapidly decreasing ability to adapt to these impacts by the year 2100. In spite of these dire predictions, the fact remains that there are actions that we can and must take to have a chance of slowing the effects of climate change and avoiding the most devastating impacts.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently proposing one of these necessary actions with the Clean Power Plan, a rule intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants that burn fossil fuels. Under the Plan, EPA will lay out the best system of emissions reduction and each state will devise a program to meet those required reductions.

Even before its Monday deadline, EPA had received more than 21,000 comments from interested stakeholders. Given the complexity of the rule and the many interested parties weighing in, CLF submitted a brief, targeted letter highlighting a couple of crucial areas where the Plan should be strengthened to be truly effective. We asked for:

  • a more accurate assessment of the cost-effectiveness of renewable energy sources, energy efficiency, and demand response against which to measure fossil fuel–burning plants, and
  • measures related to natural gas (including regulation of methane emissions from its production, transmission, and distribution).

Without a better strategy for dealing with these two issues, the Plan could backfire and end up fostering powerful economic incentives to simply substitute one polluting fossil fuel for another in our energy system.

Finalizing a strengthened Clean Power Plan would be a step toward fulfilling our country’s responsibility to ourselves and the rest of the world to mitigate climate change. But it’s only one step. Even as we all wait for meaningful federal action on climate change, CLF is continuing to lead crucial efforts to curb harmful greenhouse gas emissions at the state and regional level through smart economic and environmental policy.

Taking a Bite out of Global Warming Pollution

Nov 17, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

VPG-001-Logo_StyleGuide1dTackling global warming pollution is the biggest environmental challenge of our generation. That’s why CLF is partnering with environmental, business, and low-income leaders in Vermont to launch an effort to tax carbon pollution and save Vermonters money.

If polluters pay, Vermonters save.

Click here to join our campaign and sign a petition to Vermont’s legislators.

We did our homework. An economic study shows that putting a price on carbon, returning 90% of the money to Vermonters pockets and also reinvesting the remaining 10% in clean energy solutions reduces pollution and grows the Vermont economy.

It’s the best cash-back offer in decades. Less pollution, lower energy bills, and a healthy New England for us and our kids.

You can read the economic report here.

While action at the federal level makes sense, we cannot wait for Congress to act. There are benefits now to reducing carbon pollution in Vermont. We can take control of our energy future and save Vermonters money.

To learn more about the Energy Independent Vermont plan, click here.

 

Sensible Thoughts About the Proposed Salem MA Gas-Fired Power Plant

Feb 5, 2014 by  | Bio |  4 Comment »

The editorial page of the Boston Globe today weighed in on the natural gas-fired power plant that a New Jersey–based company (Footprint Power) is seeking to build in Salem, Massachusetts.

The whole editorial is well worth reading – but the final three paragraphs are particularly striking:

Footprint CEO Peter Furniss says the plant will start off as a crucial supplier of electricity to New England’s often strained power grid, especially as the Vermont Yankee nuclear station and the Brayton Point coal plant come off line. But Furniss says the Footprint gas plant will eventually taper to a role of firming up energy supplies as more solar and wind sources come online under Massachusetts’ aggressive green-energy policies, which require an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. The state’s facilities siting board approved the plant last fall, saying it “contributes to a reliable, low-cost, diverse regional energy supply with minimal environmental impacts.” Energy and Environmental Affairs secretary Rick Sullivan says the plant is part of the “balancing act” of maintaining reliability while converting to a clean-energy future.

But some environmental watchdog groups don’t buy it. The Conservation Law Foundation has filed an appeal of the plant’s approval with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, arguing that the state is undermining its long-term emissions targets. The lawyers assert that regional CO2 emissions have already dropped close to the level of modern gas plants, meaning that adding another one does nothing but maintain the status quo. The CLF wants more proof that the plant will not derail the long-term goal of an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

As a mid-sized city seizing a rare chance to revitalize its waterfront, Salem is understandably eager to build the plant. The Patrick administration makes a plausible case for the need to get the plant online to assure that Massachusetts has enough power at peak periods. But the conservationists also make an important point: Today’s energy decisions must be viewed in terms of the fight to dramatically reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. There should be a plan on paper for the plant to operate at levels that don’t impede the achievement of an 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050. Gas powers the economy for now, but the state must clear the way for a clean-energy future as soon as technologically feasible.

The editorial highlights two key points: 1) new energy infrastructure such as the proposed Footprint gas plant in Salem needs to be consistent with the objective of reducing global warming pollution 80% by 2050 and 2) CLF’s goal is to ensure that this requirement be respected in the permitting of the proposed power plant. We firmly believe that, as the editorial suggests, the legal requirement CLF is championing can be respected at the same time that the lights remain on and Salem builds a thriving economy. Indeed, this is exactly the kind of balancing act our whole society and economy will need to master again and again as we confront the crisis of global warming.

The issues addressed in the editorial are even more pertinent today as the State has, unfortunately, moved forward another tentative decision proposing to approve another permit needed by that power plant without considering the critical issue of climate and compliance with the Global Warming Solutions Act. That tentative decision is reported on the website of the Boston Business Journal accurately noting that “CLF views this Salem issue as an important test case for the viability of these relatively new greenhouse gas emissions rules.”

Indeed, in our statement about the decision our Massachusetts Office Director Sue Reid notes, “The rushed and flawed approvals process for the Footprint Power Plant threatens the progress Massachusetts has made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Not only are the state agencies denying the public the thorough vetting that a major new fossil fuel power plant like this deserves, the Patrick Administration is setting a terrible precedent for how similar projects are addressed—fast-tracking a major new source of greenhouse gas emissions while acting in violation of federal and state law.

Good News, Trouble Ahead and a Big “Aha Moment” . . .

Jan 9, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

ISO-NE (the operator of New England’s regional electricity system) just released in draft form the latest edition of the annual report presenting the air emissions (a nice word for pollution) from power plants that serve the region. If you are interested in providing feedback on it you have until January 17 to download it (PDF) and email your thoughts to the right person at ISO-NE.

The graphic below from the report yells out one very positive story: a whopping decrease in the Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) emissions that cause death, disease and respiratory distress from New England’s power plants from 2001 – 2012.

Here is what is going on: New England has shifted away from burning coal and oil to make electricity, and our remaining coal plants have reduced their emissions due to the phase-in of emissions regulations across our states. This has meant a dramatic reduction in the old (and frankly insane) practice of dumping thousands of tons of sulfur into our air – a change that benefits everyone who breathes. Similarly, emissions of Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), the key cause of the summertime smog that causes serious health problems for so many people, have been significantly reduced, although not as dramatically as Sulfur emissions.

carbon-dioxide-chart

The trend to a cleaner power plant “fleet” has been augmented by investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy that ensured that increased demand pulling power (and pollution) from big power plants did not undermine the shift to cleaner generation.

But in terms of the biggest environmental story, tackling global warming, the tale here is of past small victory but uncertainty about future progress.

The good news on the climate front here is mild but clear: we have reduced our emissions of Carbon Dioxide, the key “greenhouse gas” causing global warming – not as dramatically as we have reduced emissions of other pollutants, but a reduction nonetheless. Indeed, the chart below shows that the average emissions rates for New England’s power plants have dropped below the emissions that flow from the newest natural gas–fueled power plants (the regional average is 719 lb/MWh while new plants aspire to reach 825 lb/MWh).

carbon-dioxide-chart

This is a big “aha moment” that should be carefully noted. Putting a new gas-fired power plant into the New England system no longer inherently lowers emissions of CO2. This is a big change from 2008 (or any other year before 2007) when simply building and turning on a modern gas plant could be expected to have the immediate impact of lowering CO2 emissions.

In this new world, in order to get credit for being part of the climate solution, any new gas-fired power plant will need to very clearly show that it is not part of the problem. That is, the developers will need to demonstrate that the new plant is part of a smart and effective strategy for moving towards a future where we get our electricity from even cleaner sources, like wind and solar power.

In Massachusetts, this need for new infrastructure like gas-fired power plants to be integrated with, and consistent with, a plan to reduce our CO2 (and greenhouse gas emissions generally) is not just a good idea – it is the law. Specifically, it is the mandate of the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act, which requires that all permits and government decisions must move us towards the 80% reduction in emissions that must happen by 2050. The previously reliable tool of “build modern gas plants” just doesn’t work anymore as a step towards that goal unless special and binding steps are taken to ensure that they displace even dirtier power and/or help integrate even cleaner power into the system.

“NO” to Expanding Gas Pipeline in Vermont

Nov 13, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

At a time when climate change demands we do everything we can to move away from fossil fuels, building a new gas pipeline in Vermont moves us in the wrong direction.

The Vermont Public Service Board must decide if a new 41 mile pipeline will advance the “public good” of Vermont.

Conservation Law Foundation has participated in the technical hearings and provided expert testimony that the project will INCREASE greenhouse gas emissions, damage our climate and lock us in to fossil fuels for fifty to one hundred years.

Now it is your turn. Tell the Board what you think. You can provide written or email comments to the Vermont Public Service Board at this link.

Some issues to highlight can include:

  • At a time when climate change is upon us we must think carefully about putting in place new fossil fuel systems that will be around for a very long time. Keeping us hooked on fossil fuels for many years is a bad idea.
  • The proposed project would run through valuable wetlands and farmland, and expands Vermont’s reliance on fossil fuels at a time we need to be moving away from these polluting sources.
  • This is the beginning of a bigger project to supply gas across Lake Champlain to New York. It also moves Vermont closer to being able to access gas supplies from fracking in the United States.

Let the Board know what concerns you have. Tell the Board you want to make sure energy is used wisely and that Vermont takes steps now to reduce our addiction to fossil fuels. It is important for the Public Service Board to hear from you.

Keenan’s Poison Pill Seeks to Exempt Salem Gas Plant from Permitting Process

Nov 13, 2013 by  | Bio |  8 Comment »

What would you sacrifice to have a power plant built in your backyard? Apparently, for Representative John D. Keenan of Salem, MA, the answer is just about anything. Representative Keenan is no stranger to handing out (or at least trying to hand out) sweetheart deals to power plant owners, but his latest attempt to get a power plant built in Salem, no matter the cost, is both unconstitutional and unconscionable.

Unhappy with the pace of the permitting process for the new natural gas plant planned by Footprint Power, a New Jersey-based developer, Keenan has hijacked an otherwise well-intentioned legislative effort to protect workers and the public from aging natural gas infrastructure, and is holding it hostage by adding language that would exempt Footprint Power from every single environmental and public health standard and permitting regime in favor of as-of-right approvals. Keenan’s proposed language attempts to allow Footprint to make an end run around any pesky appeals by local residents. It even purports to strip residents of their rights to appeal a federal air permit on the grounds that this project somehow should be exempt from complying with the laws, regulations, and public process that every other proposed power plant in the Commonwealth has had to satisfy.

Why would an elected official go so far out on a limb for one project? The legislation claims that the reliability of our electric system is at risk unless this plant is built without delay, but the truth is that ISO-NE, the regional electric grid operator, has a responsibility to plan for alternatives if the power plant doesn’t progress on schedule — and many of those alternatives, such as already planned transmission upgrades, may be cheaper and less carbon intensive.

According to Representative Keenan, the MA Energy Facilities Siting Board unanimously approved the construction of the facility, but he fails to mention that Ann Berwick, Chair of the Department of Public Utilities, expressed “misgivings” about approving the plant given that “the world is on a precipice” with respect to climate change, and that one board member declined to vote because he did not believe that the project had demonstrated that it could comply with the requirements of the state’s greenhouse gas reduction mandate, the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA).

Indeed, CLF filed an appeal of the Siting Board’s decision last Friday because there is simply no credible evidence in the record to show that this natural gas power plant will be able to comply with the requirements of the GWSA.

What is the GWSA, and why is it so important here? The Global Warming Solutions Act was passed in 2008 amid the growing awareness that climate change poses serious and imminent threats to the health and environment of all Massachusetts residents. Proof of that threat has mounted as storms like Irene, Nemo, and Sandy (not to mention this week’s super-typhoon Haiyan) have left devastation in their wake. The GWSA set mandates for reductions of greenhouse gas emissions in the Commonwealth, mandates that are based on what the science tells us is necessary to avert the worst effects of climate change. The GWSA also requires that every agency must consider the effects of climate change in issuing any decision or approval.

Footprint Power and Representative Keenan have claimed that the proposed natural gas plant somehow will benefit the climate, but in doing so they seem to ignore that this new power plant would be capable of emitting over 2 million tons of carbon dioxide a year – a significant problem if we’re going to de-carbonize the electric grid by 2050, as necessary.

The bottom line is that while natural gas may burn cleaner than coal and oil, it is still a fossil fuel with significant carbon emissions. Locking in new natural gas infrastructure means locking out zero-carbon technologies like wind and solar. Footprint Power is proposing the first new natural gas plant since the enactment of the GWSA.  If we don’t set a strong precedent now for ensuring climate compatibility of new energy infrastructure – and ensuring bedrock environmental, public health and public trust protections are applied – then there is little chance we will succeed in meeting our climate mandates and protecting Massachusetts and its residents. Unfortunately, Representative Keenan has chosen protecting Footprint’s gas plant from review over protecting his constituents and the public process they’re due.

As a Hail Mary pass, it’s an odd one to be sure. Even if Keenan succeeds, the provision is not expected to survive review by the courts and probably would serve only to delay the required public process.

 

 

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