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.

Natural Gas Alone is Not a Bridge

Oct 31, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Gas, renewables graph

Figure used pursuant to license agreement with Nature Publishing Group.

A recent study published in Nature confirms that natural gas alone is not a bridge to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  The study finds that, “in the absence of new climate policies, increased supplies of natural gas may have little effect on CO2 emissions and could actually delay decarbonization of the global energy system.” An abundant supply of low cost natural gas competes with and replaces not only dirtier fuels, like coal and oil, but also cleaner resources  such as wind, solar and efficiency.

The Nature study used energy-economic modeling to compare a “conventional” gas supply with an “abundant” supply scenario, and found that expanding natural gas supplies is not a climate panacea: “Whether the goal is avoiding CO2 emissions or hastening the transition to an emissions-free energy system, a global gas boom is not a replacement for energy and climate policies.”

Abundant gas entrenches us more deeply in a high-emissions, climate-compromised future, unless accompanied by robust, additional policies ensuring greater efficiency and a swift transition to low-carbon energy. CLF’s groundbreaking 2014 settlement with Footprint Power, a proposed natural gas-fired power plant sited on the grounds of a closed coal-fired plant in Salem, MA, included binding annual emissions limits and a fixed retirement date of no later than 2050. These conditions tamp down our reliance on natural gas and align plant operation with the timely decarbonization of our energy system..

The Nature study corroborates something CLF has long argued – without strong climate policy, gas is just a bridge to more gas.

Gas Pipeline – A Poor Choice

Oct 29, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo courtesy of garlandcannon@flickr.com

photo courtesy of garlandcannon@flickr.com

A healthy sign of maturity is making decisions that recognize longer term benefits and impacts. This holds particularly true for our energy decisions.

In a field as rapidly transforming as our energy sector, it is important to avoid making long term decisions that burden future generations with higher costs and pollution.

The steady march of proposals to build expensive new natural gas pipelines is one example. These are pipelines that will be in place for fifty to one hundred years – long past the time that climate change demands we move away from fossil fuels.

Customers will be paying for these new pipelines for at least fifty years. That is a long time. Kicking the can down the road and burdening future generations masks the real costs of these new pipelines.

Most Vermonters wouldn’t attempt to buy a car now with a 50 year loan. Sure the cost each month may be low, but even frugal Vermonters don’t expect to be driving the same car in 50 years, or saddling their kids with paying for it, and its inefficient fuel use half a century from now.

When the ballooning cost of the Vermont Gas pipeline to Middlebury soared by 40% the project proponents simply pushed the cost of the project on to future generations and then claimed the long payback justified the exorbitant cost increase.

Long term energy investments like a new gas pipeline need to make sense in the face of changing technology. If we simply ignore or gloss over the rapid improvements that new technology brings, we will be left investing in the equivalent of rotary telephones or typewriters when society has moved well beyond them.

Technology innovation and climate change demand that we take a much harder look at expanding our reliance on the use of fossil fuels. Lighting efficiency has improved ten-fold in the past few years thanks to LEDs. At the same time, cold climate heat pumps are rapidly becoming a cleaner and lower cost option for heating and cooling our homes and businesses. The cost of solar power has come down 90% in the past two decades and more homes, businesses and communities are taking advantage of this renewable option.

How does natural gas stack up to these newer, cleaner resources over the long haul? Not very well. That is why it is so disappointing to see Vermont Gas continue to claim that their projects provide benefits when their analysis is only short-term and based on a comparison to oil or propane. In 1974 an electric typewriter looked pretty good. By 1984 it was beginning to gather dust and was out of use entirely less than ten years later.

Addressing climate change demands a similar longer term and more realistic evaluation. If natural gas is expected to be a bridge fuel we rely on for only a few decades, then Vermont customers should not be asked to subsidize a new pipeline for more than 50 years. If a new pipeline is capable of delivering gas that could support a new gas-fired electric generating facility or increased gas use throughout Vermont and New York , then it fails to meet our long-term greenhouse gas reduction needs. And if the supply of gas comes from sources that use hydraulic fracturing or fracking, which produces more air and water pollution, then Vermonters use of gas is not helping the environment, it only exports environmental problems to other communities.

Vermonters deserve energy supplies that are clean, low cost and effective for generations. The rapid transformation of our energy sector means we have the opportunity now to move away from expensive and polluting fossil fuels more quickly than ever– but only if we make decisions based on realistic evaluations that recognize impacts over the long term.

A version of this article appeared in the Sunday October 26, 2014 edition of the Rutland Herald / Times Argus 

 

 

Why Is Hydro-Québec So Intent on Overselling Its Hydropower?, Part II

Oct 24, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

CLF has been asking questions about the carbon footprint of large-scale Canadian hydropower since before the Northern Pass project’s inception. I recently raised our concerns in my list of three ugly numbers behind the regional push for more hydropower imports, pointing out that, in the first decade after flooding, greenhouse gas pollution from new hydropower reservoirs can produce 70% as much greenhouse gas pollution as natural gas power plants, according to Hydro-Québec’s own science.

As with our number on new hydropower costs, Hydro-Québec took exception in a press release, asserting that CLF does not understand the science. We obviously disagree. In this post, the second in a series of three, I will break down what Hydro-Québec’s defense of its product gets wrong—on the climate benefits of its hydropower. This will be a deep dive, especially because Hydro-Québec’s press release is so profoundly misleading.

hydro-Québec

Aurora Borealis over Gouin Reservoir, Québec (photo credit: flickr/-AX-)

Why CLF Cares About Hydropower’s Carbon Footprint

Why is this issue important at all? As our region considers massive new infrastructure to import more hydropower, we need to have a full, honest accounting of the real impacts—on both sides of the border. Greenhouse gas pollution and climate change know no international boundaries, and New England is ultimately responsible for the carbon pollution attributable to its power use.

Getting credible estimates of the climate effects of new imports is especially important because virtually every proponent of new hydropower imports touts reduced emissions as a dominant reason to pursue them. Likewise, federal law and some state statutes require accurate assessments of what new imports of hydropower will mean for New England’s greenhouse gas emissions and how we achieve our short-term and long-term climate goals. To the extent new imports are in the region’s future, something CLF could support with the right conditions, we need honest numbers.

Given that hydropower projects do not have smoke stacks, when I say “carbon pollution” or “greenhouse gas emissions” from hydropower, what do I mean? Reservoirs behind new dams inundate vast geographic areas. For example, the Eastmain reservoir in the James Bay region is roughly 600 square kilometers, or more than three Lake Winnipesaukees. Drowned vegetation and biological material decompose over time and release carbon dioxide and methane into the water column and then into the atmosphere. In addition, the flooding destroys northern forested landscapes that can be potent carbon sinks (and are often called “lungs of the planet”), increasing the net greenhouse gas emissions of the reservoir by the amount of any lost capability to sequester carbon.

The key question is how much net greenhouse gas pollution a reservoir produces for its power output over time. To assess the climate effects of new imports of hydropower, pollution from the facilities supplying the power can be compared with the emissions of displaced power here in New England.

It’s also important to understand the effects in the province supplying the power and in neighboring regions, like New York or Ontario. If Canadian hydropower is merely shifted from those markets to ours and the gap is filled by fossil fuel power plants, the imports won’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions overall.

What Hydro-Québec Gets Wrong About Its Own Research

In its press release, Hydro-Québec says that “CLF asserts that hydropower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are much higher than they actually are … by cherry-picking data contained in a scientific study on emissions from a recently created reservoir in Québec…. What that study really indicates is that hydropower is one of the lowest-emission generating options per kilowatthour produced.”

Here again, as with hydropower costs, Hydro-Québec misstates CLF’s point. The number I cited does not pretend to describe all hydropower, or even all Hydro-Québec hydropower.

The 70% number clearly and expressly describes the emissions from a new large-scale hydropower facility during the first ten years of operation. It is taken directly from peer-reviewed scientific analysis by Hydro-Québec and academic researchers of data collected at the Eastmain 1 reservoir, a new hydropower facility in northern Québec. My blog post includes the relevant graph, presented in a scientific paper that a Hydro-Québec scientist co-authored, showing a direct comparison of these emissions with natural gas and supporting CLF’s statement that a new large-scale hydropower facility can emit 70% of the greenhouse gases of natural gas power plants in the decade following development.

A 100-year life-cycle analysis shows lower long-term emissions, but in a world where climate change is accelerating and we desperately need to reduce emissions now, the early emissions of Hydro-Quebec’s new facilities—several of which are under construction and slated for development in the coming few years—are vitally important. Moreover, it is these new facilities that Hydro-Québec intends to rely on to support new exports to the United States, likely making their carbon footprint more relevant to New England’s current decisions to increase imports than the footprints of existing reservoirs that are supplying Québec customers.

It is worth noting that the 100-year emissions described in the research are much higher than the numbers that Hydro-Quebec’s press release implies that the study confirms. The paper says that 100-year emissions are 40% of the emissions of natural gas power plants, about ten times more than the factor Hydro-Québec quotes and much higher than solar and wind power, which emit no pollution once installed.

While Hydro-Québec says CLF is “cherry-picking” a data point from its research, it ignores that the data point is a key finding of what is now seminal research, which Hydro-Quebec touts on its website as the first time ever that researchers have measured the emissions of a landscape developed for hydropower both before and after flooding:

Project EM-1 is a world first, since this is the first time that GHG emissions are measured before and after the creation of a hydroelectric reservoir. This will make it possible to precisely identify the impact hydroelectric reservoirs have on greenhouse gases.

Despite its billing, Hydro-Québec’s Eastmain research does not provide a full picture. In particular, there are many important differences between hydropower facilities in Québec, and the differences’ effects on reservoir emissions haven’t been fully researched.

For example, Hydro-Québec’s new dams along the Romaine River, now under construction, are creating somewhat smaller reservoirs than Eastmain (collectively, only one and a half Lake Winnipesaukees), suggesting that they might produce less net pollution. However, the flooded landscape along the Romaine and the flooded landscape at Eastmain are quite different. Hydro-Québec’s research at Eastmain suggests that the flooded landscape wasn’t a carbon sink prior to reservoir construction, whereas the landscape along the Romaine is more heavily forested and could provide much more vegetation that will decompose over time as well as a greater value as a carbon sink, which is now being lost.

And of course, the project’s emissions rate depends on how much power the reservoir produces. A vast reservoir that produces a relatively small number of megawatts of power will likely have a higher emissions rate than a smaller reservoir in the same landscape that produces a higher number of megawatts. That’s why true “run-of-river” hydropower facilities, which are powered by the flows in existing rivers and do not require enormous dams or flooding, are much lower carbon resources than large-scale hydropower.

Hydro-Québec’s Faulty Math

So why is Hydro-Québec so upset with CLF’s characterization of the utility’s own groundbreaking research? The core of Hydro-Québec’s disagreement with CLF is this: the utility likes to cite a greenhouse gas emission rate (pollution per unit of energy generated) that assumes its Eastmain reservoir alone powers two generation stations (meaning that the emission rate equals the reservoir’s emissions divided by the output of both stations). When the utility is in charge of the presentation, it highlights this number, which reflects a steep drop in the emission rate after the newer generation station came online by early 2012. The peer-reviewed version of the research, published in 2012, refuses to make that assumption and leaves out the newer generation station from the reservoir’s power output. Why?

The new station (Eastmain 1-A) was constructed to include flows made possible and channeled to the Eastmain reservoir by Hydro-Québec’s massive project to divert the Rupert River. That means that the net effects of the landscape changes associated with the diversion project are key to understanding the emissions of the Eastmain complex as a whole. A major element of the diversion project was the creation of two diversion bays totaling about 350 square kilometers, or the flooding of about two additional Lake Winnepauskees. While Hydro-Québec’s favored number assumes that this flooding has no net effect on emissions, the peer-reviewed research says the effects are unknown and therefore does not include the power from Eastmain 1-A in its calculation of the Eastmain emission rate.

That leaves us with the table from the peer-reviewed paper itself, which is where CLF got its number. We are also informed by the thorough research summary from Synapse Energy Economics on this topic that CLF released more than two years ago, which shows that new hydropower facilities have significantly higher emissions than have been assumed and advertised.

CLF has attempted to engage Hydro-Québec in a serious dialogue on this issue. While there have been several interactions—like this one on our blog after CLF released the Synapse report—we have yet to see anything that meaningfully addresses CLF’s concerns or corrects its misleading public relations campaign.

The Need for Honest Numbers

If this all seems complicated to you, you’re right. The research on hydropower emissions is not complete, and it is probably fair to assume there is significant variation from reservoir to reservoir. Some likely have a larger carbon footprint than Eastmain and some smaller; some are decades old, with relatively low emissions going forward, and others are newer, with a larger carbon footprint now and in the near term.

For many years, policymakers and large-scale hydropower boosters have assumed this complexity away. Hydropower emissions were either presumed to be zero or were pegged at a level based on extrapolations from simple measurements of greenhouse gas emissions from reservoir surfaces, including reservoirs flooded many decades ago. In many cases, including in Canada’s inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, a single miniscule emissions figure is used to characterize all large-scale hydropower facilities. These assumptions are at work in Hydro-Québec’s press release, including in its comparisons to other power sources and its statements about avoided emissions from its energy sales.

We know now that the old simplifying assumptions can be way off, which is one reason why CLF and others have identified a need to “tag” the energy from individual power facilities in Québec that are used for exports to the United States and define, with at least some reasonable approximation, the energy’s source and its environmental attributes and emissions profile.

The developers of the Northern Pass transmission project and Hydro-Québec are continuing their campaign to gloss over the very real greenhouse gas pollution that hydropower projects create. Despite Hydro-Québec’s own research, they are advertising numbers and slogans that inaccurately minimize reservoir carbon footprints or deny the pollution even exists. Unfortunately, it’s also the case that many New England policymakers and the federal officials reviewing Northern Pass’s permit application appear thoroughly disinterested in getting to the bottom of what Canadian hydropower projects really mean for the climate or in insisting on an accurate accounting from Hydro-Québec. For example, we have not received a single substantive response to our August 2013 request that the states meaningfully assess this issue as part of their regional efforts around hydropower imports.

As with the costs of Canadian hydropower, New England deserves honest information about the emissions of the product that Hydro-Québec wants to sell us. Instead of impugning CLF for raising questions, Hydro-Québec and American transmission developers like Northern Pass that want to bring New England its power should start offering New England the basic respect of fair dealing and real numbers.

Coming next in this series, what Hydro-Québec’s defense of its product gets wrong—on the reliability benefits of new imports for the New England electric grid.

The Market Speaks — Maine (and New England) Should Listen

Oct 2, 2014 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

The preliminary conclusions are in on Maine’s proposed gambit to invest ratepayer money on natural gas pipeline expansion—it’s not worth the risk. Those were the findings of the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) staff in its recommendations to the Commission issued last night. The staff report finds that the cost of using ratepayer money to subsidize investment in natural gas pipeline capacity is likely to outweigh any benefits from such unprecedented public funding. The principal reasons for this risk imbalance are the uncertainty associated with the effects of changing gas and electric markets as well as the impacts of a number of natural gas pipeline proposals that are pending and could affect the outcome of any investment by Maine. The PUC staff’s conclusions are correct and reflect the positions taken by CLF in the proceedings that led up to the report, that exposing ratepayers to the risks inherent in energy markets is the wrong approach.

CLF advocated that, rather than seek to intervene in the energy markets, Maine and the other New England states should instead ensure proper management of those markets to create incentives for the private sector to make economic investments in necessary energy infrastructure that are consistent with state law and policy. As noted in the PUC report, private investment in incremental increases in our natural gas pipelines is now emerging as the natural gas market is churning out new privately-financed pipeline proposals, suggesting that public investment is both unnecessary and risky in light of rapidly changing market conditions. Maine should step aside and allow the private markets to do their thing.

For example, Spectra Energy, parent company of Algonquin Gas Transmission (AGT) which owns existing pipeline in southern New England, and Maritimes & Northeast, a Maine pipeline owner, on Monday filed a proposal with the Maine PUC that discloses its intention for a 200,000-300,000 Dth/day expansion of its Algonquin line in 2017 (without the need for any New England state to purchase capacity) and another expansion of that line in 2018 of between 200,000-1,000,000 Dth/day depending upon market interest.

These announcements mean that commitments to build and expand pipeline are being made in the private markets and that public investment is neither necessary nor advisable. The Spectra projects are in addition to its already subscribed 342,000 Dth/day Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) project and Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s 72,000 Dth/day CT Expansion project, both of which are already undergoing FERC review and are expected to be in-service in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Consequently, New England can expect natural gas pipeline capacity increases over the next several years of 342,000 Dth/day in 2016, 272,000-372,000 Dth/day in 2017 and 200,000-1,000,000 Dth/day in 2018. All told, this could realistically mean that upwards of 800,000 Dth/day of new pipeline capacity, a 25% overall increase, could be in place in New England by 2018, without ratepayers shouldering any of the expansion cost.

So what do these proposed, market-based increases in capacity mean? Well, they have lots of implications, but let me touch upon just a few:

  • They would avoid speculative gas subsidies on the backs of Maine and New England ratepayers. Most importantly for purposes of the Maine PUC’s pending decision and any action by the New England states collectively, it means that the private market is working and private investment in natural gas pipeline is occurring such that ratepayers need not bear the cost of a contract for capacity.
  • They could allow the focus to remain on clean energy and efficiency. Maine and the other New England states can return their focus to maximizing energy and gas efficiency programs that save ratepayers money and reduce overall energy consumption, pursuing clean energy solutions designed to help the region meet its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 and ensuring that we make the best and most efficient use of existing gas infrastructure.
  •  They would avoid unpopular and costly pipeline overbuilds. The proposed 800,000 Dth/day of new capacity is entirely comprised of incremental, smaller expansions of existing pipelines all of which would be in-service by 2018. This eliminates the need for the highly controversial, massive, greenfield Kinder Morgan Tennessee Gas Pipeline (TGP) Northeast Direct project, which would over-supply the region with gas by building out new infrastructure for up to 2.2 million Dth/day of capacity, killing the chances that the New England states can achieve their greenhouse gas emission goals and requirements and subjecting us to future costs associated with climate change.
  • This would be a win for incrementalism. Properly conditioned, incremental expansion of gas pipeline is far preferable to additions of new, capacious pipelines located in undeveloped areas that are environmentally sensitive. Considering capacity additions in small increments ensures that each increment is fully analyzed and that capacity is added based on need and only after cleaner alternatives have been ruled out. Of course, even incremental expansions would need to be conditioned and designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support the development of more energy efficiency and renewable resources, but they certainly provide a much more efficient route to addressing existing deliverability issues without overbuilding.

The PUC should listen to the implications of these proposed projects and the findings of its own staff and should close the natural gas contract docket and call off its effort to speculate with the public’s money.

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.

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