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.

Defending Our Climate before the Supreme Judicial Court

Dec 9, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

With leaders from around the world gathered in Paris for the international climate summit, CLF advocates are commenting on how what happens in Paris will impact what needs to happen here in New England to cut carbon, boost renewables, and protect our communities. Read the entire blog series.

On January 8, 2016, Massachusetts’ highest court will hear a landmark case brought by Conservation Law Foundation, Mass Energy Consumers Alliance, and four courageous teenagers – Isabel Kain, Shamus Miller, James Coakley, and Olivia Gieger – asking that the Global Warming Solutions Act finally be fully enforced.

Massachusetts’ Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) was passed in 2008 and is one of only a handful of laws across the country aimed at curbing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the direct cause of climate change. Among other things, the GWSA requires the state to issue regulations to ratchet down greenhouse gases in order to meet the law’s ambitious target of a 25 percent cut in emissions below 1990 levels by 2020[1]. What’s more, the law required the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to roll out these new regulations by January 1, 2012. Four years later – and with the law’s 2020 deadline fast approaching – we’re still waiting on the DEP to create those required regulations.

To Meet Global Targets, We Need Local Action Like the GWSA
In the meantime, the Earth’s carbon dioxide concentrations have reached 400 parts per million, with 2015 on track to eclipse 2014 as the warmest year in recorded history. According to scientists at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, the planet has not seen such high carbon dioxide concentrations in at least 3 million years (back in 1988 we surpassed 350 parts per million, the carbon dioxide levels considered to be safe). Scientists warn that if we don’t take action soon, it will be too late to reverse the trend.

CLF President Bradley Campbell took part in his month’s historic global climate talks in Paris, which may yield encouraging results. And, while it is proper to frame this issue globally, Brad rightly points out that solutions must be local, too. Here in Massachusetts, our state legislature gave us a solid blueprint for curbing our emissions, yet because the DEP has failed to act. Massachusetts is now at risk of failing to meet its emissions reduction goals.

Our Actions Today Will Shape Our Planet Tomorrow
Recently, a Washington state court ordered the Washington Department of Ecology to issue regulations reigning in GHGs in response to a petition by a group of children through their legal guardians. The court boldly held that the children’s “very survival depends upon the will of their elders to act now, decisively and unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming by accelerating the reduction of emission of GHG’s before doing so becomes first too costly and then too late.”[2]

We’re hoping that Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court will act just as boldly. Our legislature took an emphatic stand when it passed the GWSA and set such ambitious targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the state. Come January when the Massachusetts high court hears our case, we expect the justices to uphold the intent of the legislature and the integrity of the GWSA. And, come later in the century, we expect to hand off a healthier planet to our future generations.

Follow CLF President Brad Campbell’s on-the-ground updates from the Paris Climate Summit on Twitter and the Huffington Post.

[1] The GWSA also requires that GHGs be reduced by 80 percent below the 1990 baseline by 2050.
[2] Zoe and Stella Foster, et al., vs. Washington Department of Ecology, No. 14-2-2595-1 SEA at p. 5, November 19, 2015.

News From COP21: New England States and International Partners Commit to Get More Zero-Emission Vehicles On The Road

Dec 5, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

With leaders from around the world gathered in Paris for the international climate summit, CLF advocates are commenting on how what happens in Paris will impact what needs to happen here in New England to cut carbon, boost renewables, and protect our communities. Read the entire blog series.

Electric-Vehicle-IllustrationThursday, some exciting news came out of the Paris climate negotiations (also known as COP21).

No, it wasn’t the binding international treaty we’re all waiting for. But it was something that highlights New England’s a world leadership on climate policy. The news is this: thirteen jurisdictions – nations, U.S. states, and one Canadian province – calling themselves the “International Zero-Emission Vehicle Alliance” announced that they have jointly committed to ensure that all new car, SUV, and truck sales are zero-emission vehicles “as fast as possible, and no later than 2050.”

And yes, the tiny New England states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont are members of this Alliance, joining international heavy-hitters like Germany and the U.K. to take this necessary step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions and avoiding the worst effects of climate change.

CLF’s recent work highlights the urgency of replacing gas-powered vehicles with zero-emission ones, which, as you can probably guess by the name, emit no tailpipe pollution. ZEVs, as they’re called, currently include electric, plug-in hybrid, and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. Last month, CLF released a report with partners Acadia Center and Sierra Club, Charging Up: The Role of States, Utilities, and the Auto Industry in Dramatically Accelerating Electric Vehicle Adoption in Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States, that spells out why transitioning to ZEVs is so important.

For example, the report explains that, as of right now, buying an electric car instead of, say, a gas-powered sedan can cut your car-related greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent. And, looking ahead to the future, if our electric grid were powered by 75% renewable energy, switching from a conventional to an electric vehicle could reduce your car-related emissions by 90% (since the electricity powering your car would be cleaner, too!). If the grid were 100% renewable energy, electric vehicles would be responsible for no greenhouse gas emissions at all.

Needless to say, if the cars on our roads gave off zero greenhouse gas emissions, that would be a major improvement over today. In Rhode Island, for example, the transportation sector represents both the largest and the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions statewide. Bringing that sector’s emissions down to zero would be a true game-changer.

CLF is pushing all New England states to meet this ambitious goal. At a high level, Charging Up lays out a pathway for getting many, many more ZEVs on the road. And at a state and local level, CLF is doing the work necessary to actually bring about the changes we recommend in our report. Here in Rhode Island, I sit on the state’s ZEV Working Group and recently submitted formal comments – again with Acadia Center and Sierra Club – supporting the state’s draft ZEV Action Plan, precisely because it reflects the very policies we’ve been telling the state it must pursue.

Yesterday’s commitment from the International ZEV Alliance highlights how this work at the local level can affect international policy. True, 2050 may not be soon enough to get to the emissions reductions we need to avoid the worst consequences of climate change – one report estimates that ZEV sales will need to approach 100% by 2035 or so for this to happen.

But remember that, under Thursday’s agreement, 2050 is an ultimate deadline – and 2050 is not “as fast as possible.” If New England states and their partners in the Alliance can truly move to all-ZEV sales “as fast as possible,” then we just might be able to achieve the deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions necessary for a healthy climate and a healthy future for our children and grandchildren.

CLF President Brad Campbell is on the ground in Paris reporting from COP21. Follow his updates on Twitter and on the Huffington Post.

Charging Up: CLF and Partners Release Electric Vehicle Report for Northeast/Mid-Atlantic Region

Oct 28, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

EV_Cover_ImageToday, with partners Sierra Club and Acadia Center, CLF released a groundbreaking new report, Charging Up: The Role of States, Utilities, and the Auto Industry in Dramatically Accelerating Electric Vehicle Adoption in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States. The report can be downloaded here. The new report outlines the policy pathway states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region should pursue to get more electric vehicles (EVs) on the road and slash greenhouse gas emissions. The report also demonstrates that, while each year more drivers are choosing electric, a significant gap remains between state goals and the current trajectory of EV adoption rates. The recommended policies are intended to close that gap.

Throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region, exciting policies and programs are underway that are increasing electric vehicle adoption. For instance, Massachusetts has a Zero Emission Vehicle Commission advancing electric vehicle adoption in the state, which led to the Commonwealth offering a consumer rebate of up to $2,500 for EV purchases or three-year leases. In Vermont, Drive Electric Vermont ran another innovative rebate program in 2014, offering a $500 rebate to consumers purchasing an EV, paired with a $200 bonus to the dealer that sold the EV – to creatively incentivize EV sales at car dealerships. In the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania also offer such EV purchase rebate or tax-credit programs

How does your state measure up? Check out the comprehensive chart below identifying which programs and policies each state in the region has in place to advance EVs.

CLF_EVchart_Policies+Programs_Oct2015

Does your state have policies that advance electric vehicles? Click the graphic to find out.

While there are some examples of successful programs to advance EVs in the region, we still have a long way to go. As the infographic below shows, with about 30,000 zero-emission vehicles on the road across the region right now, we really need to pick up the pace to reach our current goal of several million zero-emission vehicles on the road here by 2025.

1161-EV-ChargingUp-Infographic_03_x1a_outlined

How can we go from 30,000 electric cars in our region to several million? Click to download the graphic.

Our new report focuses on high-impact opportunities to increase electric vehicle use in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. Emphasizing the need for an all-hands-on-deck effort from government, utilities, automakers, and auto dealers, the report lays out a full range of priority actions and policies to accelerate EV adoption. Please read the report and share it widely. Most importantly, tell your policymakers that you’d like to see them do more to support EVs in your state.

Could an Electric Car Be in Your Future?

Oct 6, 2015 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Cars. They cost a lot and pollute a lot. One exciting new opportunity to address both these problems are electric cars. They’ve come a long way. Gone are the days when the Toyota Prius was the only hybrid available to consumers.

zero-emissions-vehicles

Electric cars save money and the climate – and they’re fun to drive! A win-win-win for drivers.

My interest in this was recently sparked at a gathering I attended of electric car owners and local car dealers on a sunny Vermont evening. The event, put on by Drive Electric Vermont, brought dozens of electric and hybrid vehicles to Shelburne so that those of us who don’t currently drive electric vehicles to get a glimpse of what we’re all missing. Electric vehicles have boomed in the last five years. No matter where your loyalty lies in terms of car manufacturers, there is now an electric car for you.

The car owners at the event had nothing but praise for their vehicles. Their enthusiasm made me wonder, could an electric car be right for me? So I set out to find out.

I recently purchased a 2015 Volkswagen Jetta. I commute a whopping 314 miles every week. Gasoline alone now costs me more than $21 dollars each week. This actually does not sound like much, since I just upgraded from a car that was lucky to get 22 mpg; however, over the course of my 13-week internship with CLF, I will spend close to $300 dollars, just on gas. The average person driving the same commute in an electric vehicle would pay just $11.30 a week, adding up to $146.95 over the course of 13 weeks – not even half of what I’ll spend driving my gas-powered car.

The price of electricity would have to quadruple to even come close to the price of gas, but if those savings are not enough to send you running out to the electric car dealership, the drastic savings in pollution might be. Transportation now accounts for 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the country. Every gallon of gasoline burned emits about 20 pounds of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. That means my commute contributes nearly 190 pounds of polluting greenhouse gasses – every week.

Drilling for oil will only become more difficult, risky, and, in turn, costly as we continue to deplete easily accessible reserves. Soon we will have to fill our conventional gas- and diesel-powered cars with gasoline from even dirtier sources, such as the Canadian tar sands. Our continued reliance on resources such as the tar sands will only lead to greater amounts of greenhouse gas warming our climate. Because of the corrosive nature of tar sands, we will likely also experience more frequent and damaging oil spills like the one in Marshall, Michigan, that is now entering its fifth year of clean-up.

The numbers have my brain convinced that my wallet and environmental conscious will be better served by an electric vehicle. Meanwhile the test drives I took really sold my heart on the idea. The electric cars accelerate faster and handle like silent little sports cars. It is truly exciting to have all of that potential energy at your feet with no gasoline to speak of. As far as I’m concerned gas pedals everywhere need to make way for power pedals. With all of that in mind I can confidently pledge my next car will be an electric vehicle.

Already a believer in (and driver of) an electric car? Tell us what you love most about your car by commenting below.

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!

Hiding the Ball

Aug 7, 2015 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

Photo courtesy of David Joyce @ flickr.com

Photo courtesy of David Joyce @ flickr.com

With our energy supply, when utilities hide the ball, the environment suffers.

In Vermont, regulators just imposed a $100,000 fine on the developer of a large natural gas pipeline, Vermont Gas Systems.  You can read the order here.

The company waited more than six months to disclose a significant cost increase for the project.

The Board wrote that the company “failed in its obligation of transparency,”  thus, undermining the regulatory process and “creating mistrust” among the public.

Harsh words, and a harsh fine. One of the largest ever imposed in Vermont and very near the maximum penalty allowed.

This project has been plagued with problems from the beginning.  CLF was the first to highlight the faulty analysis about the project’s significant greenhouse gas emissions. With the high cost of climate change, this project is simply a bad deal for Vermont.

Later problems include failure to treat landowners fairly, bulldozing wetlands that were to be protected,  and overall poor management.  Instead of transparency and responsibility, Vermont Gas seems to be taking a page from Entergy’s untrustworthy and lackluster management of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant that closed at the end of  2014.

As the regulators recognized, utilities need to build and maintain trust. When they hide the ball, keep costs and other important matters secret, or keep citizens out of the process and in the dark, the environment suffers.

Openness and transparency foster good management and good projects. A year ago, CLF challenged the withholding of public information about regional energy plans for new pipelines and transmission projects. The public should know about the real costs and impacts of our energy use. Good projects should have nothing to hide and no reason to keep the public out.

When it comes to energy decisions, hiding the ball just doesn’t cut it.