Portsmouth to Proceed with Long-Awaited, New Sewage Treatment Plant

Jun 22, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The Portsmouth, New Hampshire, City Council recently reaffirmed its commitment to build a new sewage treatment plant at the site of the present antiquated facility on Peirce Island. Completion of the long-awaited upgrade may still be a few years away, though it could have happened sooner if the City had elected to shift its plans to a location at the Pease Tradeport. But the decision to rebuild at Peirce Island is still good news for the Piscataqua River and Great Bay estuary, which can’t afford further delay.Google PI

Portsmouth’s current sewage plant at Peirce Island is still failing to meet one of the most basic requirements of the Clean Water Act – so-called “secondary treatment” to reduce suspended solids and other pollution. While EPA has provided a ramp-up period to achieve that standard, until the upgrade is completed, it continues to exceed Clean Water Act discharge levels by 475 tons per year of total suspended solids and 877 tons per year of biological oxygen-demanding pollution. And, the plant’s potentially high discharges of bacteria and viruses have resulted in the closure of the shellfish beds in Little Harbor and along the Atlantic coast south to Odiorne Point. Upgrading Peirce Island to modern standards, and addressing these and other pollutants, is critical to restoring the health of our estuary.

We’ve worked for years to ensure progress at Portsmouth’s Peirce Island sewage treatment plant – one of the largest controllable sources of pollution in the estuary. We’re pleased to see the City Council avoiding the further delays that would have resulted from a last-minute change of plan, and we’ll continue to work to ensure the project stays on track. As towns like Exeter and Newmarket make progress upgrading their sewage treatment facilities, it’s important that the Seacoast’s largest city does the same.

New England Canyons and Seamounts are the Atlantic’s Deep Sea Treasures

May 20, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

New England is a region full of remarkable marine landscapes. An area like Cashes Ledge speaks to the immense beauty and diversity found in our local ocean, but it is not the only one.

Approximately 150 miles off the coast of southern New England, where the continental shelf drops off into the ocean abyss, lays a chain of undersea canyons and nearby seamounts that are home to an incredible richness of marine life. The canyons plunge thousands of feet deep, some deeper than the Grand Canyon, and the seamounts rise as high as 7,000 feet above the seafloor, higher than any mountain east of the Rockies.

Much like Cashes Ledge, these habitats give rise to an elaborate underwater world of marine species. Communities of brilliant cold-water corals line the walls of the canyons and seamounts supporting a  diverse deep-sea ecosystem and providing refuge for abundant fish and invertebrate species. Nearly 1,000 species have been identified in the New England Canyon and Seamount region, and researchers are discovering more with every expedition.

The nutrient rich cold water brings an abundance of plankton, squid, and forage fish, such as mackerel, This in turn attracts schools of tuna, sharks, seabirds, and marine mammals, such as endangered sperm whales and North Atlantic right whales – both rare, iconic species of the region.

The depth and ruggedness of the region have naturally protected the New England Canyons and Seamounts from human disturbance thus far, but this may not always be the case. This region is particularly vulnerable to fishing and offshore development. One sweep of a bottom trawl would have devastating effects for the fragile deep-sea community, and future any development in the region, such as drilling or mining, would pose great risk to marine mammals and fish.

A colony of bamboo coral observed on Mytilus Seamount. Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer.

A colony of bamboo coral observed on Mytilus Seamount. Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer.

Scientists have also suggested that deep-sea coral communities are among the most vulnerable to ocean warming and ocean acidification. Maintaining the health of the canyons and seamounts will be imperative in the fight against climate change.

The New England Canyons and Seamounts region is another special place that deserves protection.

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

Dec 23, 2014 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week on TalkingFish.org – October 27-31

Oct 31, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

October 27 – Lost in the Fog – I was having a bit of an out-of-the-body experience last week when the Council’s Science and Statistical Committee (SSC) re-thought setting the Acceptable BIOLOGICAL Catch (ABC) for the collapsed Gulf of Maine cod stock. Most of the debate was driven by economic issues, not biological issues. The discussion was focused mainly on identifying the various estimated economic impacts associated with various ABC levels. There was surprisingly little said about whether any catch of the collapsed cod population was acceptable.

October 28 – Souring Seas: What Ocean Acidification Might Mean for New England – The Gulf of Maine could be the “canary in the coal mine” for acidifying oceans, according to one presenter at an event designed to get people in New England thinking about how souring seas might affect them.

October 31 – Sorry Charlie: The Real Problem with Baker’s Fish Story – It’s hard to see how Baker’s spotty recall of an encounter with a fisherman matters much. What matters about this fish story is that both major party candidates for governor have their facts wrong about the disastrous state of cod fishing in New England and neither seems willing to even confront reality, much less offer helpful solutions.

October 31 – Fish Talk in the News – Friday, October 31 – In this week’s Fish Talk in the News, a Gulf of Maine cod emergency action plan can be expected in mid-November; NOAA released the 2013 Fisheries of the United State Report; MA gubernatorial candidates debated New England fisheries issues; Dartmouth, MA attempts to replenish its shellfish beds; NMFS closed the Gulf of Maine Atlantic herring fishery; NEFMC announced its member elections; NEFMC released its November meeting agenda; ASMFC may shut down the Maine shrimp season; ASMFC cut Maine’s elver quota; ASMFC but Atlantic coast striped bass catch by 25%; ASMFC approved a FMP for Jonah crab and is amending the American lobster FMP; a new fish bypass opened on the Naugatuck River; Downeast aquaculture received a $2 million grant; MA is seeking $8.3 million for fisheries aid phase two; select-sized lobster prices fell; Maine lobster processors have trouble finding workers; a letter to the Boston Globe called attention to the mackerel fishery; NMFS is seeking new council member for the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Advisory Panel; a judge order Joe’s Lobster Mart owner to sell all fish stock before closing; and the Island Institute released a new video relating Maine lobster to Florida oysters.

3 Things No One is Telling You About Rising Energy Costs

Oct 3, 2014 by  | Bio |  5 Comment »

Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s first White House chief of staff, was once quoted as saying “You never want to let a serious crisis go to waste,” referring to the opportunities to pass sweeping bills in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown. Over the past weeks, we’ve seen that sentiment put into practice by some of New England’s major energy industry players. They’ve been fanning the flames of fear over expected winter price spikes to support their continued push for building massive new gas pipelines, even though new pipelines have no chance of helping to address the risk of price spikes for this winter.

Here are 3 things you’re not being told about what’s really responsible for the increased rates and how to deal with rising energy costs now:

  1. New pipelines can’t and won’t address the rising rates for this winter (or the next three winters).
    • Even under the most optimistic scenarios, new natural gas pipelines of the scale that were being considered as part of the now-stalled New England Governors’ initiative could not be permitted and built earlier than November 2018. Even if they lived up to the Governors’ promises after that, they would do nothing for consumers this winter and the next three winters.
    • New England isn’t the only region of the country that experienced price spikes this past winter. New York, an area that had just expanded its pipeline capacity still experienced higher prices last winter, and the regional electric grid known as PJM (because it covers, in part, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland) also experienced price spikes even though it is located in the epicenter of abundant Marcellus shale gas supplies.
  2. The real problem isn’t a major deficit of pipeline capacity, but a failure to deal adequately with the increased use of natural gas for power generation.
    • We now use a lot of natural gas for power generation in New England, which helped modernize the system by moving us away from old, polluting, and inefficient sources like coal and oil. Because of this, and the way the regional grid’s electric market works, natural gas prices now generally set the price for electricity in New England.
    • Unlike natural gas utilities that supply homes and businesses with gas for heating, which buy gas on long-term “firm” contracts that guarantee access to gas, the companies that own natural gas power plants typically buy cheaper “interruptible” contracts because there isn’t currently a mechanism that allows them to pass-through the additional costs of buying firm supply.
    • In the winter time, people are often turning on the heat at the same time that they are turning on the lights, so the system experiences high demands on gas for both uses in the mornings and afternoons. These “coincident” demands led to price spikes between 10-42 days in each of the last winters, and retail electric prices are now catching up as the market is expecting a repeat of last winter’s high prices.
    • Now that natural gas makes up so much of the electricity we use, the volatility of gas prices has a bigger impact on electric prices and leads to higher rates. We have been far too slow in deploying demand-reducing energy efficiency measures in homes and businesses and in increasing the amounts of local renewable energy on the system, both of which would help reduce market prices for electricity and protect us from volatile gas prices.
    • The increased use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports should help to moderate the price spikes to some extent this year, but more can be done through market reforms without risking overbuilding gas capacity.
  3. Energy efficiency is the best way to reduce your bills and stay warm this winter.
    • Even though rates are going up, you can still lower your total bill by lowering your demand. Massachusetts has some of the best energy efficiency programs in the country which means that you can apply for rebates, incentives, and assistance to help you install efficient measures. Other New England states have programs as well.
    • If you don’t own your home or apartment, there are still some inexpensive steps you can take to cut your bills. There are many ways to conserve energy for a very small investment of time or money. Check back in for a look at how Senior Attorney Shanna Cleveland is getting her apartment ready for the winter.

Meet the CLF Dive Team

Jun 2, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

CLF-Dive-Team-1

The team getting ready for action.

With the CLF dive team busy exploring Cashes Ledge and other sites in the Gulf of Maine, we thought we’d introduce you to our star-studded team of ocean adventurers!

 

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Brian Skerry is a renowned underwater photographer praised around the world for his aesthetic sense and evocative scenes. His images tell stories that not only celebrate the mystery and beauty of the sea, but also help bring attention to the threats that endanger our oceans and their inhabitants.

A contributing photographer for National Geographic Magazine since 1998, Brian has covered a wide range of stories, from the harp seal’s struggle to survive in frozen waters to the alarming decrease in the world’s fisheries. His latest book, a 160-photo monograph entitled Ocean Soul, was published in 2011.

Skerry is also a passionate ocean advocate. After three decades of exploring the world’s oceans, the Massachusetts native has returned to the Gulf of Maine to document and protect its exceptional diversity of marine wildlife and habitat.

CLF-Dive-Team-3

Jon Witman is a professor of biology at Brown University. He has studied the ecology of subtidal marine communities for over 30 years, and has conducted research in six of the world’s seven oceans.

Jon led the first ecological study of overfishing in the Gulf of Maine. He has published numerous peer-reviewed papers and book chapters on the invertebrate and fish communities that thrive on the rocky seafloor at Cashes Ledge, and he has also studied the internal waves that support primary productivity in the area. He is committed to protecting the ecological and scientific value of this unique marine habitat.

Jon will also be joined on the expedition by his Ph.D. student Robby Lamb.

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Evan Kovacs started his filming career in 2003 on the History Channel’s underwater adventure series Deep Sea Detectives.  He has also had an ongoing filming relationship with the Emmy award winning Lonewolf Documentary Group, and recently the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).

With WHOI’s Advanced Imaging and Visualization Lab, Evan has filmed on the deep submersible ALVIN and the ROV Jason. Currently he is working with the lab to develop the next generation of 3D and 2D cameras and shooting techniques for topside and underwater imaging. Evan has been diving for over 18 years and has dived on shipwrecks, caves and reefs across the world.

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Luis Lamar is a scientific technician with WHOI’s Advanced Imaging and Visualization Lab. He has filmed and photographed marine life around the world, from New Zealand to Micronesia. Lu has assisted Brian Skerry on numerous dive expeditions and has captured video of the kelp forests on Cashes Ledge for Conservation Law Foundation.

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Ken Houtler is the captain of WHOI’s R/V Tioga, a research boat launched in 2004 and designed for day and overnight trips in coastal waters. Ken has led the vessel on countless research expeditions in New England waters, including trips to deploy and recover autonomous oceanographic instruments, to collect data on harmful algal blooms, and to tag endangered North Atlantic right whales.

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Liz Kintzing is the expedition’s dive captain. Liz supervises the academic diving program at the University of New Hampshire’s School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering, and she also sits on the board of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences. She has been diving with Jon Witman on Cashes Ledge for over 20 years.

Distributed Generation and Net Metering in Rhode Island: Poised for Growth

Mar 4, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

This post is the third in a series about a new distributed generation bill introduced in the Rhode Island General Assembly.

On Friday, February 28, a new renewable energy bill – H-7727 and S-2690 – was introduced into the Rhode Island General Assembly. The bill is designed to provide for a steep increase in the amount of so-called “Distributed Generation” (or DG) in Rhode Island. You can read general background about the new bill here. This blog post focuses on two specific, innovative aspects of the bill, both of which concern “net metering.”

What is Net Metering? As I explained in my prior post, net metering allows utilities and owners of small DG projects to track how much electricity is produced by these projects. Most people have electricity meters from the utility that only run one way – measuring (and then billing for) the electricity the ratepayer uses in a month. With net metering, the ratepayer gets a meter that runs both ways. When the ratepayer produces more electricity than she actually uses, the electricity meter literally runs backwards. In some cases, the utility will actually end up sending a check to the ratepayer at the end of the month for the excess electricity put back into the grid.

Designing New Rates for DG and Net Metering Rhode Island’s new DG bill provides that the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which sets utility rates, must open a docket to re-examine electricity rates in light of the anticipated huge growth of DG and net metering (which this new bill is designed to make happen).

net-metering

photo credit: nocklebeast via photopin cc

Why this is important. Traditionally, all utilities have recovered their costs (and made their profits) on a volumetric basis – the more electricity (or gas) a utility sells, the more money it takes in. The growth of net metering and DG undermines that traditional revenue model, since this growth will mean the utility will sell less commodity. Thus, unless this problem is addressed, utilities will always be opposed to net metering and DG. Moreover, utilities have legitimate costs associated with running the electricity distribution system; and these costs will continue to have to be met, even in a new world where there are huge increases in net metering and DG. Creating a new rate design that provides appropriate compensation to the utility in the new world of widespread net metering and DG will remove an important disincentive to utility support for these programs. Importantly, the bill carefully sets forth what the PUC must consider, including reducing carbon emissions and properly accounting for the many benefits of distributed generation.

Adding a Second Meter A second innovative provision of the new bill is that it will require renewable energy generators who net meter or receive a DG tariff to add a second electricity meter. Under the current system (in which generators have one meter), the utility only knows net flows for net metered and DG customers; the utility does not have any idea how much load is on site “behind the meter.” Installing a second meter will enable the utility to learn what is going on behind the meter, and understand how much electricity is flowing both ways.

Why this is important. This provision has broad implications for the electricity grid and ISO-NE, the company that runs New England’s electricity grid. (You can read more about CLF’s work with ISO-NE in a prior blog post of mine, here.) Historically, environmentalists have stressed to the public – and to state legislatures – the ratepayer benefits of net metering and DG by emphasizing the money that can be saved by ratepayers at times of peak load when the presence of DG means that the ISO does not need to dispatch (or “turn on”) the most expensive electricity generators on the system. However, the ISO estimates that 85% of the DG now on the system across New England is invisible to its Control Room in Holyoke, MA. Crucially, the ratepayer benefits of DG only occur if the ISO knows about it; if the DG actually on the system is invisible to the grid operator, then it unnecessarily dispatches generators that it doesn’t need – and ratepayers never see the benefits of the DG that is already on the system. This new system of metering will begin to address this problem, with all net metering and DG customers having two meters and making the energy visible to the ISO. The provisions for a rate-design docket at the PUC and for better monitoring of all renewable energy generators) are quite technical. But both are designed to remove disincentives and obstacles from the development of renewable energy. We believe that these innovations may well serve as a model for other states.

Major New Distributed Generation Bill Introduced in Rhode Island General Assembly

Feb 28, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

This post is the first in a series about the new Distributed Generation bill.

A significant new bill designed to dramatically increase the amount of clean renewable energy generated in Rhode Island has been introduced into the 2014 session of the General Assembly. The lead sponsor of Senate Bill-2690 is Chair of the Senate Environment Committee Susan Sosnowski; the lead sponsors of House Bill-7727 are Representatives Deborah Ruggiero and House Environment Chair Arthur B. Handy

I was pleased and honored to have worked over a period of months with the bill’s sponsors and with other collaborators – including National Grid and the New England Clean Energy Council – to craft the bill.

If this new bill passes, it will quadruple the size of Rhode Island’s existing Distributed Generation (DG) program. DG involves the development of projects that produce renewable energy – like solar panels on residential rooftops or a single wind turbine at a town hall or school – rather than utility-scale projects like Cape Wind or a large land-based wind farm. While both types of projects (large and small) are important to developing a renewable energy future, it often takes different laws, providing different financial incentives, to get each type of project built.

Rhode Island’s current DG program was enacted in 2011 as a pilot program designed to get 40 megawatts (MW) of DG projects up and running over a four-year period. The pilot program has worked exactly as it was intended; so far, 18 separate renewable energy projects have been approved and are under construction in Providence, East Providence, Portsmouth, Lincoln, Westerly, Bristol, West Greenwich, East Greenwich, Hopkinton, Middletown, Cumberland, North Kingstown, North Smithfield, and West Warwick.

Still, the pilot program was – well, a pilot program. As such, it was relatively small. In contrast, the newly introduced bill would ramp up DG development to an additional 160 MW over the next five years.

The bill is designed especially to facilitate rooftop solar projects for residences and small businesses by giving home and business owners a generous financial incentive for these smallest projects – and by making the process for getting that incentive very easy. Solar developers anticipate that these provisions will jump-start a strong and robust rooftop solar industry in Rhode Island.

Distributed-Generation-Bill-in-Rhode Island

photo credit: Greens MPs via photopin cc

The bill also has specific provisions designed to facilitate (and pay for) non-solar DG projects, like wind and small, local hydro. Like Rhode Island’s existing DG Statute, the new bill creates a mechanism for setting payments for DG owners – payments that are designed to be high enough to get projects actually built, yet low enough to still be competitive.

The new bill would also remove the aggregate statewide limit (currently at 3% of statewide electricity load) on net metering. Utilities and owners of small DG projects use net metering to track how much electricity these projects produce – and to make sure that the owner of the project gets properly paid. Most people have electricity meters from the utility that run one way – measuring and then billing a ratepayer based on how much electricity she uses in a month. With net metering, the ratepayer gets a meter that runs both ways. When the ratepayer produces more electricity than she actually uses, the electricity meter actually runs backwards. In all cases, the ratepayer won’t pay for that unused electricity, and, in some cases, the utility will end up sending the ratepayer a check at the end of the month for the excess electricity she put back into the grid.

Net metering provides an important way for individuals and businesses to pay for the renewable energy projects they own. Until now, Rhode Island – like most states – has capped how much net metering can be done in the state. This bill removes that cap – a goal that CLF has been fighting for in the State House for years. If passed, Rhode Island will become one of the first states in the country to remove all caps on net metering.

In future blog posts, I will discuss two additional features of Rhode Island’s new DG Bill. Both are important, because they are designed to remove major, existing disincentives to utility company support for developing a robust renewable energy future. One provision moves payment for DG projects away from contracts and to tariffs. The other creates a new method for compensating utilities, which will allow for rapid growth of renewable energy distributed generation.

Rhode Island is now poised for rapid growth of renewable DG. The newly introduced bill – H-7727 – represents a major step forward for Rhode Island.

CLF’s Most Read Blog Posts for 2013

Jan 2, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment