An Incomplete Guide to the Massachusetts Ballot: If the Question is One, the Answer is NO.

Sep 9, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

As Massachusetts voters look to the November ballot, they have an opportunity to take a stand for a better, sustainable transportation system by voting No on Question 1. This first of four questions on the ballot would eliminate indexing of the gas tax to inflation, a development that would simply be bad for the environment. To meet the greenhouse gas reductions that science tells us are necessary, we must transform the way we plan for and invest in transportation infrastructure.

Transportation is the largest and fastest growing source of greenhouse gases in Massachusetts, responsible for more than a third of emissions in the state. To curb those emissions, we must reduce our reliance on cars by giving people more choices in how to get around. We need a transportation system that allows more people to travel to work, school, and other life necessities on foot, bike, or public transportation. A stronger, more environmentally sustainable transportation system will also boost regional economic competitiveness, enhance quality of life and public health, make Massachusetts more affordable, reduce energy use, and achieve greater social justice.

©Joe Flood

no-on-question-1

Without sufficient funding for transportation, however, such a transformation is not possible.

The reality is that it is not possible to run even our current transportation system without additional funding. More than half of the 5,120 bridges in Massachusetts are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete and 42% of the state’s roads are in poor or mediocre condition. Likewise, continued deferred maintenance of critical elements of the public transportation network threatens its safety and efficacy. It will take more, not fewer, resources to address not only these challenges, but those also presented by our changing climate.

A Yes vote on Question 1 would make things even worse by taking away existing gas tax revenues that we need to solve this public safety crisis – revenues that, under the state constitution, can only be used for transportation needs. If Question 1 were to prevail, it would put $1 billion in transportation investments in jeopardy over the next decade. The indexing of the gas tax was passed only last year as part of a larger transportation funding package. CLF, and its partners, worked hard to raise these necessary and new transportation dollars. While the Transportation Finance Act of 2013 raised a significant amount of money, it fell short of funding all of the state’s transportation needs. Passage of Question 1 would be a great setback for the progress we have made so far.

A No vote will not only preserve significant funding but it will send a clear message that we are against crumbling roads, bridges, and transit and for a better, more sustainable transportation system. You can support CLF’s efforts to keep Massachusetts environmentally safe and structurally sound by voting No on Question 1 in November. For more information check out the following website: http://saferoadsbridges.com/.  That leaves you with only three more statewide ballot questions to learn about; but who is keeping score?

Fresh Air Ahead: Transition to Clean Energy Supplies

Sep 8, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

It is welcome news that the New England Governors are stepping away from a high-risk gamble with clean air and electric customers’ money. Shrouded in secrecy, the New England States Committee on Electricity (NESCOE) undertook efforts that were poised to tax electric customers – including customers in Vermont – to pay for bringing massive new gas pipelines into the region.

These pipelines would lock in polluting fossil fuel supplies for decades. The NESCOE efforts are now on indefinite hold. That’s good. The shoddy analysis supporting the plans collapsed after being exposed to the welcome sunlight of public scrutiny.

But as the region closes older and dirtier generating facilities – such as coal plants in southern New England, and Vermont Yankee here in Vermont – and as we move transportation and home heating away from gasoline and oil, we need to make sure we transition to cleaner supplies.

We still have homes to heat, lights to keep on and businesses to run. As a region, we have committed to reducing our greenhouse gases. Our efforts are a model for the rest of the country. Climate change demands that we reduce emissions at least 75% below 1990 levels by 2050. To meet this challenge, Vermont has set a goal of meeting 90% of all its power needs with renewable sources by 2050. If and how natural gas fits into this equation is one of the biggest energy challenges of the next decade.

Once touted as a panacea and a “bridge fuel,” the exuberance for natural gas is tarnishing. Pollution from gas leaks during transmission and extraction threaten to eliminate any of the possible climate benefits from natural gas burning cleaner than oil. But reliance on natural gas, at least in the short term, is not likely to go away. Most of southern New England relies on gas for heating. During the very cold days last winter, high demand for gas drove up short-term prices to record levels. These price spikes have fed a frenzy of cries for new pipelines.

The real challenge lies in reducing our overall reliance on gas. It is not an option to use as much gas decades from now as we use today.

The actions we take now in terms of gas pipelines or new gas supplies need to foster the transition to the next generation of cleaner supplies. Our clean energy transformation will not occur if all our energy dollars continue to prop up old technology and fossil fuels.

The model Vermont created with energy efficiency holds promise for our next clean energy transformation – transitioning away from fossil fuels. For pennies a day our investments in energy efficiency have saved money, reduced pollution and allowed us to avoid building expensive new electric power plants.

As we look at gas supply we can see that making wise use of our existing pipelines is a good place to start. We can make sure the pipeline capacity we already have is being well utilized before leaping to build expensive new pipelines as NESCOE contemplated. This starts with fixing leaks and creating opportunities for storage or contracts to address the few hours of a few days of high demand in the winter.

If new pipeline capacity is added, its lifespan should be limited. To move away from fossil fuels by 2050, any permit for a new or expanded pipeline should expire in 2050. We must recognize the useful life of a new pipeline and not allow it to saddle customers with costs and pollution for decades to come.

Any pipeline capacity increase should include a “system transformation charge.” Similar to the energy efficiency charge, this would recapture a portion of the expected economic savings and use those funds to enable more energy efficiency and renewable power supplies. These funds would allow customers to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels each year, making the possibility of using natural gas as a “bridge fuel” a reality.

A clean energy transformation is in reach. Vermont and New England can lead the way leaving cleaner air and a healthier planet for ourselves and for generations to come.

Problems with Natural Gas Pipelines

Aug 13, 2014 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Jumping from the frying pan and into the fire is not helpful when it comes to meeting our region’s energy needs. In transitioning away from coal and oil, jumping head first into decades-long commitments to natural gas is proving to be both expensive and dangerous. The exuberance for natural gas is showing some telling tarnish.

The high costs to our climate, our communities and our economy are becoming clearer to more people.

Senator Elizabeth Warren recently penned a strongly worded opinion piece in the Berkshire Eagle, opposing a new pipeline planned to run through Western Massachusetts. She concluded:

Before we sink more money in gas infrastructure, we have an obligation wherever possible to focus our investments on the clean technologies of the future — not the dirty fuels of the past — and to minimize the environmental impact of all our energy infrastructure projects. We can do better — and we should

She explained the need to move away from more fossil fuels, stating:

But our aim must be to reduce reliance on carbon based fuels, and than means careful consideration of clean energy alternatives as well as other natural gas pipeline alternatives that do not create wholly new infrastructure. For example, upgrading our old, methane- leaking pipes can help provide affordable power for businesses and consumers without threatening our families and our state

You can read the full text here.

Last week all the State Senators in Addison County Vermont, penned a similar critique highlighting the many problems of a planned new Vermont Gas Systems pipeline in Western Vermont. They stated that the projects

… represent not the development of a bridge fuel to move us forward, but more accurately a monumental, $200 million commitment — paid for largely by Vermonters — to remain where we are, consuming fossil fuels.

They encouraged a more careful evaluation of newer and cleaner technologies and of the long term greenhouse gas emissions of the projects.

You can read the full text here.

These articles reflect the growing concerns about new pipelines – many of which have been raised by CLF.

Our region has been leading in showing the nation how we can rely on cleaner and lower cost energy solutions from energy efficiency and renewable power. Billion dollar investments in new natural gas pipelines tie us to yesterday’s technology and growing pollution. We can and must do better.

Breaking News: NESCOE Suspends Votes on Tariff Proposals

Aug 1, 2014 by  | Bio |  9 Comment »

The New England States Committee on Electricity (“NESCOE”), an entity created to carry out the policy directives of the New England governors, had been hurtling down the track towards forcing electric customers to pay for a massive, new natural gas pipeline as well as new transmission projects to import large-scale Canadian hydropower. This morning at the monthly meeting of the voting participants in the New England Power Pool (“NEPOOL”), NESCOE signaled that the train is going to slow down.

In a surprising and welcome move, NESCOE announced at the meeting that it is delaying action on both the gas and electric proposals that it has been pursuing–proposals that have the potential to put billions of customer dollars at risk. NESCOE formally requested that all of the votes that had been scheduled for the proposals be taken off the calendar to allow for a delay of  “at least a month.”

For months now, CLF has been calling upon NESCOE and the New England Governors to bring these flawed proposals and the reasoning behind them out into the open. Until now, the formulation of and negotiations around these proposals have been conducted almost completely behind closed doors.  With this delay, NESCOE and the officials who direct its actions have a real opportunity to address procedural and substantive concerns — raised by CLF and other stakeholders —  by embracing a transparent, open process that includes a meaningful assessment of alternatives, including: efficiency, better utilization of existing infrastructure, and more renewable distributed generation. After all, the initial studies for NESCOE indicated that under a “low demand” scenario there would be no need for additional infrastructure at all.

This time around, CLF urges the Governors to require NESCOE to include an evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of all alternatives, as well as an assessment of which solutions are actually consistent with achieving the long-range energy and climate objectives of the New England states.

The NESCOE announcement also followed a compelling argument by CLF at the last Transmission Committee meeting on July 22, regarding the need for these proposals to be properly vetted through ISO-NE’s “Major Initiatives” process. These proposals carry with them the power to shape New England’s energy system for the next 40-50 years, so an open, public process is imperative. CLF will continue to provide the public with up-to-date information as it becomes available.

Three Ugly Numbers Behind the Governors’ Push for Canadian Hydropower

Jul 10, 2014 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

 

canadian-hydropower

As the New England Governors and the Eastern Canadian Premiers gather in Bretton Woods for their annual conference next week, it’s likely there will be much discussion of building new transmission lines to enable additional imports of Canadian hydropower into New England. Indeed, financing such transmission lines is the centerpiece of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s pending energy bill and the supposedly “clean” half of the New England Governors’ massive gas pipeline and hydropower plan.

Earlier this year, after the Governors’ energy plan emerged, I broke down three big questions about increasing hydropower imports through new transmission projects: namely, cost, environmental impact, and reliability. We’re not alone in asking these questions. Just yesterday, the Boston Business Journal’s managing editor argued that the region deserves a fuller, better accounting of the total costs of the Governors’ initiative to customers.

As we outlined in our preliminary briefing on the documents obtained from the states on the origins of the Governors’ plan, it appears that the economic and environmental analysis commissioned by the Governors is flawed and incomplete. In the search for hard data points, we offer three of our own.

$800 million
per year 
above current market prices

That’s the cost, according to CLF’s analysis of Hydro-Québec and Northeast Utilities regulatory filings, to generate the power from Hydro-Québec’s new hydropower facilities on the Romaine River (now under construction) and deliver it to the New England electric market through a transmission project like Northeast Utilities’ proposed Northern Pass project in New Hampshire. On a per kilowatt-hour basis, we estimate the cost at 15.2 cents, which is more than three times the cost of energy efficiency and nearly twice that of recent land-based wind power contracts. You can access the full fact sheet with all assumptions and references here or by clicking on the image above. It appears that New England States Committee on Electricity’s (NESCOE) economic analysis, on which the Governors’ plan rests, inexplicably assumed that the cost would be four times less than the public Romaine/Northern Pass figures used in CLF’s analysis.

70%
the carbon pollution of natural gas power over the next decade

That’s the greenhouse gas emissions that can be expected, according to Hydro-Quebec’s own scientific research, during the first ten years following the construction of a new large-scale hydropower facility, such as the Romaine projects discussed above. This research, which CLF has extensively discussed in past posts, utterly debunks the false assumption, contained in all of the studies of hydropower imports on which the Governors’ plan, Massachusetts’s climate plan, and Northern Pass marketing rely, that imported hydropower has no emissions. If new imports are to come from new dams in Canada and will principally displace natural gas power, the promised emissions reductions through the end of the next decade are overstated by more than threefold.

canadian-hydropower

24
times Hydro-Québec chose to curtail exports 
in one cold month of winter 2014

That’s at least how many times, during cold weather in January 2014, Hydro-Quebec chose to limit its power exports to New England over existing transmission lines, according to an internal NESCOE document that CLF made available in the archive released to the public last month. In other words, at the times of greatest electric system stress and despite very high wholesale market prices, Hydro-Québec chose not to send power to New England, presumably to meet its own domestic needs. This number casts considerable doubt on the reliability benefits of building more transmission lines, which could go unused or underutilized during the cold weather periods when, the Governors say, we need more power to ensure reliability.

canadian-hydropower

These numbers are illustrations of why CLF is pushing so hard, in appeals filed this week, to get documents from NESCOE and the states. It is time for robust public debate and transparent scrutiny of all the data and assumptions leading state officials and grid operator ISO-NE to call for a multi-billion dollar tax on electric customers to finance new gas pipeline and hydropower transmission lines. If they have badly miscalculated, as these ugly numbers suggest, the plan can be shelved in favor of more cost-effective, market-oriented, and environmentally sound energy solutions that the Governors are now ignoring.

Public Hearing: Vermont Gas Pipeline Expansion

Jun 11, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The Vermont Public Service Board will be holding a public hearing on the proposed Phase 2 expansion of Vermont Gas facilities.

Vermont Gas Systems Expansion
Thursday evening, June 12, 2014 
7:00 p.m 
Middlebury Union High School Auditorium
73 Charles Ave., Middlebury, VT

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 Board is considering a proposal to expand the Vermont Gas Systems pipeline through Addison County and across to New York to serve the Ticonderoga Mill. 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 prior post explains some of the problems of expanding natural gas use.

Come 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

Transportation Matters for Maine

Apr 3, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

downeaster

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.”

Groundbreaking Settlement Reached on Salem Natural Gas Facility

Feb 18, 2014 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

In a groundbreaking settlement with Footprint Power on its proposed natural gas facility in Salem, MA, the plant developers agreed to emissions limits and a future shutdown date to comply with Massachusetts mandates. The settlement ensures that, for the first time ever, a proposed natural-gas-fired plant must comply with conditions aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and over-reliance on fossil fuels.

Our press release about the settlement is below. Look for more analysis about this settlement in future blog posts. 

BOSTON, MA  February 18, 2014 – Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) today announced that the organization has reached a groundbreaking settlement ensuring that for the first time, a proposed natural gas-fired power plant must comply with conditions aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and over-reliance on fossil fuels, including enforceable annually declining emissions limits and a date certain for future plant retirement. The agreement between CLF and the developers of the natural gas-fired Footprint Power Plant proposed at the site of a retiring coal-fired plant in Salem, Mass., has been filed for final review and approval with Massachusetts state authorities.

“At a time when many across the nation and the world see unrestricted growth of natural gas as a climate solution, this is the first settlement providing a pathway for new natural gas infrastructure to help enable rather than undermine a clean energy future,” said CLF President John Kassel. “By recognizing the need to limit greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas-fired plants, this agreement reaffirms that natural gas and other fossil fuel projects must comply with state climate mandates, and has important implications for similar projects in the region and nationally.”

Since summer 2012, the proposed Footprint plant has been at the center of legal battles over concerns raised by CLF and residents of Salem and surrounding communities, on the grounds that neither the plant’s developers nor the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had demonstrated how the proposed facility could be consistent with the deep emissions reductions established by the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick in 2008, requiring emissions to be cut at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 and at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

Under the settlement announced today, the developers of the Footprint plant agreed to the first ever set of binding conditions for a natural gas plant that establish decreasing annual emissions limits and a retirement date of no later than January 1, 2050. These conditions will help to ensure that the new plant will not hinder Massachusetts’ progress toward reducing emissions. In addition, in connection with the settlement, the Patrick Administration has committed to provide support to municipalities with active or retired coal plants with up to $2 million in funding to build renewable energy facilities and transition to clean energy rather than relying on new fossil fuel plants.

“This agreement shows how natural gas can be a tool for reducing greenhouse emissions if it is appropriately conditioned and constrained in a manner that is consistent with the need to decarbonize our energy system,” said Shanna Cleveland, attorney for CLF. “Natural gas is often viewed as a bridge to the clean energy future; this settlement ensures that there is an end to that bridge. CLF will continue to advocate for sound legal frameworks around energy projects for the benefit of the citizens, communities, economy, and environment of Massachusetts and the entire region.”

The settlement will only take effect if the Siting Board incorporates the entirety of the agreement into the Final Decision as a condition of the approval that the Siting Board is proposing to issue for Footprint Power’s plant. A public meeting will be held at the Siting Board at 10 a.m. at One South Station, Fifth Floor, Hearing Room A in Boston, Massachusetts on Thursday, February 20.

Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) protects New England’s environment for the benefit of all people. Using the law, science and the market, CLF creates solutions that conserve our natural resources, build healthy communities, and sustain a vibrant economy region-wide. Founded in 1966, CLF is a nonprofit, member-supported organization with offices in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

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.

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