Energy Efficiency: A Regional Legacy of Transformation

Jul 12, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo courtesy of Department of Energy @

In the past 25 years, our lives have become increasingly “plugged in.” We have an ever-increasing number of devices in our lives, our homes, and our offices that use electricity. What is amazing is that with our foresight and work during this same time period, our region now uses energy efficiently more than ever – reducing pollution, saving money, growing jobs, and cutting through partisan politics to succeed.

That’s a regional legacy to be proud of and one highlighted in the recent op-ed co-authored by former CLF President Douglas Foy. 

With the publication of “Power to Spare”  in 1987, CLF and others set forth the effective “out of the box” thinking that allows for reduced energy consumption while increasing economic growth. As the op-ed recounts:

“Our proposition was unique: To shift incentives that encouraged utilities to sell more power, to a new model that would reward them for promoting conservation. By putting efficiency on a level playing field with coal, gas, oil and nuclear, we would be able to lower demand, cut consumption, decrease total use and reduce pollution. We promised to boost the local economy at the same time through the job intensive investments in efficiency and by reaping the economic benefits of lower energy costs.”

And it’s been a success that continues.

Massachusetts passed the “Green Communities Act” and has grown energy efficiency jobs and lowered electric costs, with average rates for residential consumers dropping from the 4th highest to 11th highest place.

Rhode Island recently approved an aggressive efficiency budget and is expected to meet more than 100% of its anticipated load growth with energy efficiency, not through additional polluting electricity generation.

In New Hampshire, CLF Ventures recently managed a statewide project helping communities throughout the state identify ways to reduce energy consumption and costs through greater efficiency.

Vermont has its own efficiency utility that works statewide providing one-stop-shopping for businesses and residents to reduce costs and energy use with a budget designed to achieve over 2% annual savings.

Maine now has an independent energy efficiency authority which, in 2011, obtained state-wide energy savings equivalent to the output of a 110MW power plant by obtaining $3 of savings for every $1 invested by the program.

The transformation begun 25 years ago – that we are all a part of – continues. It provides a model for the country, and a model for further action to tackle climate change.

Coal Free Massachusetts Coalition Launches Campaign to Phase Out Coal

Jul 11, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Today marks the launch of the Coal Free Massachusetts Coalition Campaign to Phase Out Coal, Protect Public Health, and Transition to 21st Century Clean Energy. Across the state, in communities where the remaining coal plants operate, local residents and supporters have joined to call for the end of coal. The campaign issued the following statement:

It’s time to end reliance on coal-fired power plants in Massachusetts according to a new state-wide coalition of environmental, public health, faith and community groups, and elected officials. Citizens gathered in coordinated events across the state in Somerset, Holyoke, and Salem to announce a new Massachusetts campaign to protect public health and communities, renew efforts to make the transition to energy efficiency and clean renewable energy sources, and revitalize local economies to create more jobs.

Coal Free Massachusetts announced the following platform:

  • Phase out all of Massachusetts’ coal-fired power plants by 2020;
  • Advance energy efficiency and clean renewable energy like responsibly sited wind and solar to
    support the transition from coal electricity generation in Massachusetts
  • Partner with and empower community leadership and vision for clean energy and clean-tech
    development for our host communities, including:
  • Robust transition plans focused on the long-term health of the community
  • Innovative opportunities for growing the green economy
  • Support for workers and municipal revenues

Coal burning is highly polluting and devastating from a public health perspective. The coal burning plants in Massachusetts – Salem Harbor Station, Mount Tom (Holyoke), and Brayton Point Station (Somerset) – are the largest air polluters in the Commonwealth. In 2011, coal only provided 8% of the total energy in New England but still emitted more than 8 million tons of CO2 in Massachusetts alone. One in 10 New Englanders suffer from asthma and MA ranks 20th in mortality linked to coal plants. A 2010 Clean Air Task Force report showed that pollution from coal-fired power plants causes 251 deaths, 211 hospital admissions, and 471 heart attacks in Massachusetts every year. Nationwide more than 112 coal plants have announced retirement under pressure from local communities and efforts to protect public health. MA spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually – $252 million in 2008 alone – importing coal from other states and countries, including some places that are hostile to the US.

CLF has long worked to clean up dirty, polluting power plants, and is proud to be part of this continued effort to move Massachusetts away from reliance on coal and towards clean energy resources such as efficiency, conservation and renewable generation.  Click on the links to find out more about what CLF and the Coal Free Massachusetts coalition are doing and how you can join!

More Tarzan, Less Tar Sands

Jun 20, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Moving to a clean energy future means keeping the dirty stuff out. If you are cleaning house in a dust storm, the first thing you do is close the door. 

photo courtesy of Zak Griefen

Environmental groups gathered to show the need to close the door in New England on tar sands oil – the dirtiest of dirty oil. We are moving in the wrong direction to bring oil in and through New England that increases global warming pollution even more.  

Tar sands are a carbon bomb that will catapult us past several dangerous climate tipping points. It has no part in our region’s clean energy future.

A new report, Going in Reverse: The Tar Sands Threat to Central Canada and New England, outlines an array of threats associated with tar sands.

In late May, a pipeline company announced it would reverse the flow of a 62-year-old pipeline bringing oil from southern Ontario to Montreal. Reversing the pipeline opend the door to another pipeline reversal enabling tar sands to flow through Vermont, and New Hampshire to Portland, Maine. The tar sands industry has been in a desperate search for a port of export since the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway projects have become mired in controversy. CLF and others expressed concern that these proposals are being advanced by the same pipeline company responsible for the largest tar sands spill in U.S. history resulting the devastation of the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Michigan. 

As the placard of one young CLF supporter noted, we need “More Tarzan, Less Tar Sand.” The help of a super-hero would be nice. In the meantime, let’s just shut the door.

Associated Press story:  Alarm Raised About Potential Tar Sands Pipeline


Some Powerful Words and Thoughts About Global Warming

Jun 15, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

These are dark days on the climate front.  Daily, we get new news about the impacts of global warming like a megabloom of tiny plants under Arctic sea ice, the first news of observations of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere passing the 400 parts per million mark, blowing past the “safe” level of 350 and taking greenhouse gases to levels not seen in 800,000 years.

And the policy front – where solutions are crafted and implemented – is a painful vacuum, especially at the level of the U.S. Federal government.

But there are glimmers of hope in the form of folks who tell the truth and frame a path forward.  One of them is U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse who gave a powerful speech on the Senate floor yesterday about the urgent need for action.  The other is author, activist and movement leader Bill McKibben, who was interviewed on stage last night during a live taping of the OnPoint radio show.

. . . and we need all the hope we can get.

Pushing Forward to Build a Clean Energy Future

Jun 5, 2012 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Recently the Governor of Massachusetts gave a very inspiring speech describing both the affirmative steps that have been taken to address the challenge of building a thriving and clean economy in the Bay State and the challenges that still lie ahead.

The occasion was an event organized by the New England Clean Energy Council and hosted by high-tech startup FastCAP Systems and featured an array of interesting speakers leading up to Governor Patrick including a young woman who is the sole female crew chief at local energy efficiency provider Next Step Living, the Town Administrator of Scituate MA discussing their successful efforts to build a wind turbine and the toughest of environmentalists, Andrew Ference of the Boston Bruins.

The toughest environmentalist around: Boston Bruin Andrew Ference, speaking before Gov. Patrick, May 30, 2012

Governor Patrick, as has been reported, used the occasion to respond to criticism of the energy policy that his administration, and the Federal government, have been pursuing:

Our strategy of fostering a clean tech industry is sometimes derided as “picking winners and losers.” In fact government is doing what it is supposed to do: helping the state make the most of our competitive advantages. Investing in innovation, education and infrastructure. Putting policies in place that encourage private investment to meet our shared needs, creating jobs and leaving the Commonwealth better than we found it. And as I said, it’s what Americans have always done to shape our energy future.

 And by the way, let me tell you that I have heard enough about Evergreen – and for that matter about Solyndra. We are not always going to score. But we are never going to score if we don’t get in the game. One company that comes up short hardly discredits an initiative that has spawned 5,000 thriving companies and nearly 70,000 jobs and counting. Critics would do well to remember that I used to work in the oil industry, an industry that frequently drills dry wells. When the critics are ready to talk about the massive subsidies for Big Oil even when they drill dry wells, then I am ready to have a serious conversation about the tiny subsidies we use to foster a new, American-grown industry in alternative energy.

 Whether we like it or not, there are going to be winners and losers when it comes to clean energy in the 21st century. The winners will be those places that did everything they could to be ready for change, that created an atmosphere for and a culture of innovation.

But his message went beyond recognition of the growth in the clean energy sectors of the Massachusetts economy.  He also recognized “Winners don’t stand still, and if we want Massachusetts to stay a winner in clean energy, there is much more for us to do.”

His specific action items included putting solar panels on more rooftops and closed landfills, extending contracts to large-scale renewable energy developers,redoubling our commitment to squeezing every bit of efficiency out of our energy use and continuing our support of and participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which he accurately described as “the single most successful cap and trade market in the country.”

All laudable goals, which he tied to moving forward a good energy bill in the Massachusetts legislature.

The Governor is right in taking pride in what has been accomplished in Massachusetts, most especially the ramp up in solar energy generation and energy efficiency. He is also correct in seeing these successes as a good starting point for even more action – and CLF as an advocacy organization is intently focused on this question of “what is next”, an attitude that perhaps led to the Governor’s public characterization (in response to a question at the same event) of CLF as an organization that shares his goals but “can be a bit of a pain in the ass . . . although that means you are doing your job.”

The next steps before us are clear, although not easy.  They range from appropriately funding the transit systems that provide clean and affordable transportation, to fostering urban “smart growth” to the essential (but wonky) energy policy details of expanded long term contracts for renewable energy projects across New England that supply energy to Massachusetts and expanded net metering and property tax relief for small renewable energy projects.

The time has come to have the courage of our convictions and the confidence to build on a winning record – recognizing that the struggle to build a thriving new clean energy economy that puts us a trajectory to meet the challenge of global warming will not be easy but that it is a challenge we can’t avoid, and that can bring our best.

When Global Warming Attacks, People Won’t Take Action to Stop It

Jun 4, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

A sober, clean and depressing article from Inside Climate News details how scientists who work on climate are  grappling with the science and reality of global warming puts me in mind of a classic science fiction movie paradigm – they know something terrible is unfolding, but no one will listen ! Or in this case, as notes John Reilly co-director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, most scientists studying climate change today are viewing “the seemingly unstoppable rise in global greenhouse emissions” with “increasing alarm.”

When the Spirit(s) Move You

May 14, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

A fairly accurate critique of climate advocates and global warming advocacy can be that we can be a bit depressing.  This is not surprising when we are telling a story about how current trends will lead to large portions of the world becoming uninhabitable and sea levels rising to swallow many of our coastal cities and every day another study comes out that shows even the unenforceable and aspirational pledges by our governments will not be met and we face “potentially disastrous consequences.”

But an different and reoccurring theme in work around climate is interesting interaction with “adult” beverages like wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages – and not just because it is tempting to give up and just spend the day drinking (perhaps at a Green Drinks event for environmentalists).

There is the story of a leading climate scientist who is also a wine expert – and therefore the leading voice on the impact of global warming on the production of wine – a very serious matter when you consider that changing climate will undermine the ability of centuries old vineyards to thrive. Similar concerns bedevil the world of beer, where a changing climate endangers the production of the hops that are the heart of quality beer.

But spirits may also be part of the vast bank of solutions that we will need to make the fundamental shift in our economy and society that will be needed to stop our runaway greenhouse gas emissions.  Advanced biofuels, like high energy biobutanol, may well prove to be one of the many tools we will need to power a thriving post-carbon economy and entrepreneurs and researchers in Britain are working on converting distillery waste into that fuel – creating the possibility that brown liquor could helps us to go green and save ourselves from the consequences of global warming like the sea level rise that threatens our beaches and coastal communities.

Vermont’s Clean Energy Shortfall

May 8, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo credit: Ivy Dawned, Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

May 8, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

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

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

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

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

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

You can watch the trailer here:


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