Massachusetts Clean Energy Revolution Picks Up Steam: What We Need To Do Now

Jun 6, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

This spring, clean energy is sprouting up all over Massachusetts. The Commonwealth is now in a terrific position to further solidify its promising trajectory and show the nation how it’s done – so long as we take a few critical actions.

By necessity, CLF and others continue to play serious defense. This includes directly confronting the region’s dirty and uneconomic coal plants, and partnering with local advocates to fend off new power generation facilities that would increase air pollution. This work continues to be an essential part of what we do.

But equally important is our work to advance clean energy solutions. This work is about “keeping the lights on” while reducing the pollution that contributes to climate change and worsens asthma attacks and other health impacts. In the wake of some energizing recent events, let’s take a moment to reflect on the progress we’re making in Massachusetts on the clean energy solutions side of the equation and what we need to do to keep it up.

Governor Patrick Fires Up the Troops

In a rousing and inspired clean energy address before over 200 clean energy leaders last week, Governor Patrick touted Massachusetts’s long list of recent clean energy achievements. It’s an impressive list, including a suite of forward-looking clean energy laws enacted in 2008: the aptly named MA Green Communities Act, Global Warming Solutions Act, and Green Jobs Act. These policies not only are reducing power plant pollution, they also helped spur the clean energy sector to become one of the few bright spots in the recent recession – with more than 60,000 new clean energy jobs in MA alone. At a time when families are struggling, this is indisputably good news.

Particularly inspiring was the Governor’s connecting of clean energy dots: as he noted, we can replace all of Massachusetts’ remaining dirty and uneconomic coal-fired power plants with clean offshore wind. This isn’t pie-in-the-sky futuristic thinking. We already have the tools we need to get the job done. With further contributions from other renewable energy resources, we can redirect the billions of dirty fossil fuel dollars Massachusetts currently sends out of state and instead re-power the Commonwealth with clean alternatives that promote local jobs and improve public health.

Reinforcing that everyone can and should be part of the solution, Boston Bruin Andrew Ference joined the Governor in touting the Massachusetts green revolution. Ference leads by example: he conserves energy by riding a bike, walking or taking the “T” to get around, recycling and composting. All of these simple and healthy alternatives reduce energy waste and associated energy impacts. And the Commonwealth must continue to bring the same dedication and ferocity to the fight for clean energy as Ference does to the rink.

Toughest environmentalist around Andrew Ference May 30, 2012

Cape Wind Hearings Reflect Major Shift

Further evidence of the clean energy revolution in Massachusetts came through a series of Department of Public Utilities (DPU) public hearings in May. The hearings provided opportunities for the public to comment on a 15-year contract for the sale of some of the Cape Wind offshore wind energy project’s output to NSTAR electric. Even at the hearing on Cape Cod, where some opposition long has simmered, Cape Wind supporters vastly outnumbered opponents. The shift more strongly in favor of clean energy was palpable. Dozens of people lined up, often waiting for hours to say that they are willing to pay a modest premium for clean energy from Cape Wind.

One notable dynamic that was not reflected in media reports: an overwhelming number of young people and parents spoke in support of purchasing Cape Wind’s clean power. It’s about choosing a thriving future.

Massachusetts is on a roll. But we cannot afford to stall out just as we’re on the crest of the clean energy wave. Here’s what we need to do now:

Enact MA Green Communities Act Part II. The 2008 MA Green Communities Act has been a resounding success, propelling Massachusetts to the head of the nation with respect to reducing energy waste, saving Massachusetts hundreds of millions of dollars (and counting), and giving a much-needed boost to the deployment of clean, locally available renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. But some of the Act’s modest programs soon will be maxed out. Fortunately, the MA Senate recently took action through Senate Bill 2214 to build upon the 2008 Act’s key renewable energy programs. Now, we look to the MA House of Representatives to take action to advance these key clean energy measures to the Governor’s desk by July 31.

Fully implement the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act, including the adoption of regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act requires Massachusetts DEP to adopt regulations to keep Massachusetts on track to meet its clean energy and climate objectives. Among other advantages, such regulations will provide clear signals to the burgeoning market for clean energy alternatives, and will ensure that global warming pollution is reduced gradually over time. Despite the law’s clear mandate, DEP blew the January 1, 2012 deadline for adopting these critically important regulations. To ensure MA stays on track to meet its 2020 target, it’s essential that DEP take action to adopt smart, effective regulations without further delay.

Get Cape Wind over the finish wire. More than a decade in the permitting and environmental review process, this project is primed to go forward and begin delivering huge amounts of clean power. CLF will continue to advocate before the Massachusetts DPU for approval of a 15-year contract for Cape Wind to deliver 27.5% of its output to NSTAR Electric customers.

There’s no question that Massachusetts has made tremendous progress on clean energy in the past few years. But as the Governor wisely noted in his clean energy address last week, “winners don’t stand still.” So, Massachusetts, let’s keep moving!


Stand Up for Cape Wind at MA DPU Public Hearings

May 22, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Starting tonight, public hearings will be held around the state on the Cape Wind / NSTAR long-term power purchase agreement. These hearings provide a key opportunity for people to attend and voice their support for this critically important and long-overdue clean energy project.

Note that these hearings are not an opportunity for resurrecting a tired old debate regarding whether or not Cape Wind should be built. State and federal authorities – as well as the strong majority of people of Massachusetts – have answered that question with a resounding YES after over a decade of review. The focus here is on the long-term Power Purchase Agreements signed between Cape Wind and NSTAR.

Hearings will be held at the following locations at the following times:

Natick, Massachusetts
Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 7:00 p.m.
Natick Town Hall
13 East Central Street
Edward H. Dlott Meeting Room
Natick, Massachusetts 01760

Barnstable, Massachusetts
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 at 7:00 p.m.
Barnstable High School, Knight Auditorium
744 West Main Street
Hyannis, Massachusetts 02601

Boston, Massachusetts
Wednesday, May 30, 2012 at 7:00 p.m.
Department of Public Utilities
One South Station, 5th Floor
Boston, Massachusetts 02110

Recent polls confirm that the people of New England overwhelmingly recognize the need to address the threat of climate change and are willing to pay more for clean energy. With Massachusetts electric bills at a six-year low, the NSTAR/Cape Wind contract would only cost a small premium – about a dollar a month for the average residential customer.  And whenever fossil fuel prices increase again, as they always do, that premium will shrink to an even smaller amount – all while Cape Wind reduces our dependence on polluting and uneconomic fossil fuels like coal. So please join CLF and others in attending these hearings and voicing your support!


NU/NStar & FERC Order 1000: Our Shared Energy Future

Mar 22, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

A few weeks ago I attended a conference in Washington, DC that brought together environmental groups from all over the country. In speaking with my colleagues, I was reminded of how this country is a patchwork quilt: each of us brought a unique set of challenges, a strong independent sense of identity, and solutions to regional challenges – solutions that are sometimes adopted at the national level. This certainly is true of New England.

Over the last year, two events have emphasized the importance of interregional coordination. In the process, they have reminded me of New England’s long history of regional cooperation to advance nation leading clean energy projects, and of the way in which those have been adopted on the national stage.

The first of these issues is FERC Order 1,000 – a significant reform to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s position on “electric transmission planning and cost allocation requirements for public utility transmission providers” issued in June of 2010. That Order, and material explaining it, can be found on the FERC website. The new rules announced in that Order mandate that utilities operating wholesale electricity systems across the country engage in a process of regional planning. Here in New England, we have been doing that for as long, if not longer, than anywhere else in the country, so that part of the order will prompt new regional innovations largely elsewhere in the country. Another part of the order instructs regional operators of the electric grid to consider the public policy mandates of the states in their region in the planning they do for their part of the grid. The New England states have a variety of innovative policies intended to bring about a clean energy future. How our regional grid operator accounts for those in its planning is very likely to break ground for the rest of the country.

Similarly, the recent breakthrough settlement agreement by the Patrick Administration in the proposed merger between NStar and Northeast Utilities also reminded me of the need for regional coordination. Consider the scale of the proposed utility: As The Boston Globe reported, “the proposed $17.5 billion merger… would create the largest utility in the region, [and serve] nearly 3.5 million electric and gas customers from Westport, Conn., to Pittsburg, N.H., near the Canadian border.”

With a reach extending from southern Connecticut to Northern New Hampshire by way of Boston, the resulting utility has obligations under a variety of critical state policies intended to protect the environment and build a resilient clean energy economy. The right to operate as a state-sanctioned monopoly is conditioned on the utility meeting those obligations. The initial terms of the proposed merger did not meet those requirements; the merger as revised by the settlement, as my colleague Sue Reid said, “ensures that this powerful new utility will be in lockstep with Massachusetts’ nation-leading clean energy policies and propel the state forward instead of backwards in implementing them.”

This cases highlight the need for advocacy groups to be able to field their teams  on a scale and in a manner that that rises to the challenge of the moment. The NU/NStar merger required us to play on a regional scale; FERC Order 1,000 provides a chance to use the federally regulated planning process to advance critical state policies that are designed to build a cleaner and thriving New England. The challenges we face, and the institutions we engage (like utilities), are large and extend across our region and beyond, not respecting traditional boundaries. CLF must meet this challenge with size, scale, intentions, goals, and strategies that are appropriately sized to meet those challenges.

Given New England’s strong tradition of leadership on energy and environmental issues, I have confidence we have the tools required. However, as my conversations in DC emphasized, what is appropriate here in New England is not appropriate for every region.

Given the differences between the various regions of the country, and various areas within those regions, I wonder: To what extent can we successfully plot a common future? These questions are as relevant within New England as between regions.

Driving south from Acadia National Park in Maine or Hanover, New Hampshire, or east from Springfield, MA and Hartford, CT the scenery changes, the weather warms and the population becomes more dense. Though each place is in New England, each feels very different – and, if you ask someone on the street, chances are they’ll tell you just how unique and independent their town or city is. The same is true as you travel north from Atlanta or NYC to Boston, or east from Chicago or San Francisco. Within New England, as within our country, our differences can be easier to see than our shared future, but it is the latter that requires our attention.

More and more, we have the tools. That puts us in a good position to work together, town by town, region by region, for a thriving New England, and a thriving country.

Boston Globe Columnist on the NU/NStar Settlement and Hydroelectric Power from Quebec

Feb 17, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Steven Syre, in his widely read Business news column in the Boston Globe, delves into one of the many important aspects of the settlement between the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Northeast Utilities and NStar, setting the stage for those two utilities to proceed with their plans to merge. As he notes, most of the attention (understandably) about that settlement has been focused on the provision regarding the purchase of power, by NStar on behalf of its customers, from the Cape Wind project.

However, Syre discusses the provisions of the settlement regarding imports of power from large hydroelectric facilities in Quebec into New England. He notes that the settlement includes a commitment by the Massachusetts utilities signing the agreement that they would not use any large hydropower to meet state-mandated renewable energy targets for the next five years and describes the concerns that lead to this conclusion.

Syre describes how, “State officials and others point to several reasons why it would be a bad idea to count hydropower as a source of power that qualifies as renewable energy. They say that such a designation could increase the price of hydropower and hinder the long-term development of other forms of renewable energy.”

He notes that:

“Other critics even think Hydro-Quebec’s environmental benefits are being oversold. A new study commissioned by the Conservation Law Foundation says large-scale Canadian hydropower will produce ‘substantial greenhouse gas emissions that are comparable to those of modern natural gas-fired power plants.'”

CLF’s take on the agreement grows out of our deep involvement in the merger proceeding and our engagement with many issues that are addressed in the settlement. These include both the Cape Wind project and the questions about the net environmental impact of large hydroelectric power. CLF commissioned the study that Syre discusses, as well as a related analysis that highlights the existential threat to New England-based renewable power from designating large hydropower as eligible for financial incentives under our renewable energy laws.

All of the provisions of the agreement work together to move towards the goal of net gain for the customers of the merging companies and movement towards attaining the important environmental goals of Massachusetts. As Sue Reid of CLF, our lead advocate on the merger, said about the settlement, it is a significant advancement for Massachusetts and all of New England in a number of regards:

  • It removes the last major hurdle to building Cape Wind;
  • It ensures that the Commonwealth will continue to reap the cost savings and environmental benefits of the Massachusetts Green Communities Act;
  • It will help ensure that imported hydropower does not diminish other renewable energy deployment in Massachusetts and beyond;
  • It will reduce barriers to installation and operation of small, distributed renewable energy generating facilities in Massachusetts; and
  • It will freeze the merged utility’s rates for 4 years, will require transparent public review of NSTAR’s electric and gas rates before the rate freeze expires, and will deliver – upon approval of the merger – an immediate 50% credit to Massachusetts customers based on expected merger savings during the first 4 years following merger approval.

All of these provisions are significant and are reason to hail this agreement as an important landmark in the evolution of our energy system and the march towards a cleaner and better future where our economy, environment and communities can all thrive.

NU NStar Merger Agreement: Game Changer For MA Clean Energy Benefits

Feb 15, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Today, the Patrick Administration reached a breakthrough settlement agreement in the proposed merger between NStar and Northeast Utilities, which, if approved, will create one of the country’s largest public utilities. The agreement is a big win for renewable energy, as it positions Massachusetts to finally unleash the power of Cape Wind, our region’s most promising new clean energy source, and to lead the rest of the country forward on offshore wind.

The settlement ensures that this powerful new utility will be in lockstep with Massachusetts’ nation-leading clean energy policies and propel the state forward instead of backwards in implementing them.

This is a significant advancement for Massachusetts and all of New England in a number of regards:

  • It removes the last major hurdle to building Cape Wind;
  • It ensures that the Commonwealth will continue to reap the cost savings and environmental benefits of the Massachusetts Green Communities Act;
  • It will help ensure that imported hydropower does not diminish other renewable energy deployment in Massachusetts and beyond;
  • It will reduce barriers to installation and operation of small, distributed renewable energy generating facilities in Massachusetts; and
  • It will freeze the merged utility’s rates for 4 years, will require transparent public review of NSTAR’s electric and gas rates before the rate freeze expires, and will deliver – upon approval of the merger – an immediate 50% credit to Massachusetts customers based on expected merger savings during the first 4 years following merger approval

We applaud the Administration for recognizing that a lot of ground needed to be made up in order for this merger to benefit the public and for covering that ground with thoughtful terms that benefit ratepayers and the environment both in the short and the long-term.

For the press release, as well as background materials on CLF’s long standing engagement on this issue, click here.

Northern Pass Attacks Land Conservation in New Hampshire, Loses in the First Round

Dec 28, 2011 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

courtesy Society for Protection of New Hampshire Forests

Last week brought a fitting capstone to the botched year-long rollout of the Northern Pass project.  In a disturbing turn of events, the project developers sought to scuttle a historic plan to preserve a storied wilderness in New Hampshire’s North Country. Their attempt failed, but what the episode says about their future tactics is anything but encouraging for New Hampshire and the region.

Northern Pass Transmission, LLC (NPT) – a partnership between Northeast Utilities and NSTAR – has spent 2011:

It has been clear for some time that the current proposal is really about two things – securing profits for Hydro-Québec and propping up NU subsidiary PSNH’s weakening bottom line. CLF is not alone in wondering: what’s in it for New Hampshire?

Last week was a vivid preview. And if you care about New Hampshire’s iconic wilderness landscapes or the organizations that protect them, it’s not a pretty picture.

Earlier this fall, we learned that NPT was bidding to purchase a strip of land through one of the North Country’s crown jewels – the magnificent Balsams estate in Dixville Notch – from its owner, the Neil Tillotson Trust.

Enter the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF), a key collaborator with CLF on Northern Pass advocacy and one of the state’s leading land conservation organizations. Culminating a decade of effort to preserve the Balsams landscape, SPNHF secured from the Trust a conservation easement over 5,800 acres of spectacular wilderness surrounding the resort, provided that SPNHF raises $850,000 for the easement by mid-January. (You can follow the effort here. Word is that, as of today, SPNHF is nearly a third of the way there.) The easement would preclude any transmission corridor.

The land is an ecological and scenic marvel, and the deal marks a historic land preservation achievement for SPNHF, the Trust, and New Hampshire as a whole.

The Balsams Resort in winter (photo credit: j-fi/flickr)

NPT’s bizarre and audacious response: launch a legal attack on the conservation plan.

Last week, NPT asked the state Attorney General’s Office to disapprove the easement on the ground that NPT’s earlier bid was higher. Then on Friday of last week, NPT made a very public offer to buy both the transmission corridor and the conservation easement, which would secure a right to site the Northern Pass project on the Balsams property. The last move was particularly odd because most bidding wars don’t involve publicly bullying a seller – a respected charitable trust no less – into accepting an offer.

As noted in the Concord Monitor and on NHPR, news came late Friday afternoon that the state Attorney General’s Office had approved the sale of the conservation easement to SPNHF, despite NPT’s objections and richer offers. The approval letter noted that it was well within the Trust’s charitable purposes and discretion to sell the easement to SPNHF for less than NPT’s offer. In other words, the Trust should be free to decide that preserving the Balsams property for the benefit of the North Country is more important than the Trust’s financial return.

Why was NPT’s attack on the conservation plan so troubling?

  • NPT sought to undermine land preservation efforts throughout New Hampshire. Land preservation almost always requires generosity – the landowner’s decision to accept less than market value or to make an outright donation of an easement. If it had been successful, NPT’s legal attack would have left no room for such generosity, granting any private developer the power to block a landowning non-profit’s preservation of its land whenever the developer offered more money than the conservation organization or community that would hold the conservation easement.
  • NPT is on war footing.  NPT is pursuing the equivalent of scorched earth litigation, resorting to strong-arm tactics and legal appeals to the state, including a threat of litigation to block the SPNHF easement that, as of today, remains on the table. At this early stage of the project’s permitting, this is exactly the opposite of what we need – a well-informed regional and statewide dialogue about our energy future, the project’s potential role if any, and the alternatives to traditional overhead lines along NPT’s proposed route.
  • NPT has broken its promise to find a route “that has support of property owners.”  The Trust made a decision not to sell to NPT; within days, NPT was crying foul to a state official.  NPT’s appeal to the state reveals, for all to see, that NPT will respect the will of landowners only when that will is to sell NPT the land it wants. As others pointed out before the Attorney General Office’s decision, NPT’s carefully-worded disinterest in using eminent domain (except as a “very last resort,” in the words of PSNH President Gary Long) is no longer credible, if it ever was.
  • NPT is willing to spend huge sums, but only to get the project it wants. Without hesitation or public discussion, NPT offered what amounts to a $1 million donation (of Hydro-Québec’s money) to the Trust, including a $200,000 grant to Colebrook Hospital and the money for the Balsams conservation easement. Clearly, NPT is willing to spend millions above and beyond market costs to get the route it wants, even as it rejects as too costly alternatives that could be better for New Hampshire.

Above all, the Balsams episode shows that NPT is not pursuing the Northern Pass proposal as a public-minded enterprise for the “good of all of New Hampshire.” With so much at stake for the region and New Hampshire, CLF’s work of 2012 is to secure a searching and rigorous public review process that will scrutinize every element of the Northern Pass project and ensure that the public interest – and not the dollars in NPT’s coffers – determines the project’s fate.

For more information about Northern Pass, sign-up for our monthly newsletter Northern Pass Wire, visit CLF’s Northern Pass Information Center (, and take a look at our prior Northern Pass posts on CLF Scoop.

Northern Pass: The 5 million ton elephant in Massachusetts’s climate plan

Dec 1, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo credit: flickr/OpenThreads

The Northern Pass transmission project is being pitched by its developers as a clean energy proposal for New Hampshire. As I’ve pointed out before, Northern Pass is a regional proposal with dubious benefits in the Granite State. Unfortunately, the developers’ hollow promises have found an audience further south, in Massachusetts.

From the public discussion as well as the developers’ PR blitz, you might think that the Northern Pass – a high voltage transmission line that would extend 180 miles from the New Hampshire-Canada border, through the White Mountains, to Deerfield, New Hampshire – is just a New Hampshire issue. It’s not: the ramifications of this project extend well beyond New Hampshire.  The implications are both regional and enduring, as they will shape the energy future of New England for decades to come.

Given this context, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) should be leading a pro-active, regional assessment of the options for additional imports of hydroelectric power from Canada. So far, DOE has squandered its opportunity to lead such an assessment while the Northern Pass permitting process remains on indefinite hold. Since April of this year, CLF has been urging the DOE to use this delay to deliver a fair, big picture review of the Northern Pass. It’s what New England deserves, and what DOE owes the public.

Although you wouldn’t know it from the media or the developers’ “MyNewHampshire” advertising campaign, Northern Pass also is a Massachusetts issue. Why? As if hidden in plain view, it’s at the center of Massachusetts’s plan to combat climate change. You might say it’s the elephant in the room.

Massachusetts’s 2010 “Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2020” (the Plan) seeks to reduce Massachusetts’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) 25% below 1990 levels by 2020. CLF has applauded the Plan as an aggressive, nation-leading effort. However, we long have been dubious of the Plan’s reliance on potential imports of Canadian hydropower.

Regrettably, the final Plan (at pp. 45-46) uncritically bought the Northern Pass developers’ line that Northern Pass will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5.1 million metric tons annually by 2020. Where does the Plan get that figure? The figure was never publicly vetted or discussed during the public planning process in which CLF was an active participant. The only citations are to the developers’ website and to a 2010 report by an energy consulting firm hired by the developers. That’s it. Massachusetts is taking the developers’ sales pitch at face value.

The Plan goes on to claim that Massachusetts can take credit for the entire reduction, even though the current Northern Pass proposal, by design, does not guarantee that Massachusetts customers will purchase any hydropower from Hydro-Québec through Northern Pass or otherwise. So, just how much of Massachusetts’s ambitious GHG reduction goal does Northern Pass’s supposed 5 million tons represent? More than 70% of the Plan’s reduction goal for the electric sector and more than 20% of the Plan’s goal overall. Of the Plan’s “portfolio” of initiatives, the Plan credits Northern Pass with achieving the single highest amount of emissions reductions.

Northern Pass is a highly questionable element of the Plan for a number of reasons. First, it’s not clear how much power Massachusetts will actually get from Northern Pass. Second, the project faces myriad permitting hurdles and isn’t anywhere close to a done deal. Third, Massachusetts has no direct role in the project’s development.

But it’s worse than that. The report by the developers’ consultant – and its 5.1 million ton estimate of Northern Pass’s reductions of GHG emissions – is simply wrong. The report’s error is a contagion that directly undermines the Plan’s ambitious GHG reduction goal.

To make a long story short, the report assumes that Canadian hydropower results in no GHG emissions. That assumption is contradicted by Hydro-Québec’s own field research on the GHG emissions from the recently constructed Eastmain reservoir – the very reservoir where, according to testimony by a developer executive, Northern Pass’s power will be generated.  Together with other scientific literature, the research demonstrates that reservoirs have long-term, non-zero net GHG emissions (in part because they permanently eliminate important carbon “sinks” that absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, such as boreal forests). That makes the  5 million tons, at a minimum, blatantly inflated.

But even more importantly for Northern Pass and Massachusetts’s GHG reduction goal, the same research suggests that Northern Pass may not reduce GHG emissions at all before 2020, if ever. According to Hydro-Québec, a newly inundated reservoir has GHG emissions comparable to a modern natural gas power plant in the decade following flooding.  This chart from a Hydro-Québec paper, which itself likely underestimates reservoir emissions over time, tells the tale:

Natural gas plant and reservoir (Eastmain 1) emissions are similar in first decade of reservoir operation

And according to the developers’ projections, Northern Pass would overwhelmingly displace natural gas-fired generation (itself a missed opportunity to displace the output of coal-fired power plants).  If Northern Pass relies on new hydroelectric facilities in Canada for its power (as the developers and their consultant are assuming), Northern Pass as proposed will have no net effect on emissions in its early years and may never result in meaningful reductions, let alone 5 million tons per year.

Without the claimed reductions from Northern Pass, the Plan cannot come close to achieving the bold 25% reduction in GHG emissions that made headlines, even if every element of the Plan is implemented. In other words, there is a 5 million ton hole in the Plan that Massachusetts needs to fill with real and verifiable reductions.

CLF has been making this case during Massachusetts regulators’ review of the proposed merger of Northeast Utilities and NSTAR – the same companies behind Northern Pass – that week approval to form the largest electric utility in New England. Piggybacking on the Plan, Northern Pass’s developers are citing the emissions reductions from the project as the premier “climate” benefit that Massachusetts will supposedly get from the merger. That benefit appears right now to be a zero; particularly in light of the merger’s negative impacts, Massachusetts deserves a lot more to satisfy the “net benefit” standard that the merger must achieve to gain approval.

In the months ahead, we also will be pushing back against Hydro-Québec and its corporate allies in Massachusetts, who are now urging radical changes to Massachusetts’s clean energy laws that would subsidize large-scale hydropower imports, at the expense of local renewable energy projects that provide jobs and economic benefits in Massachusetts and throughout New England. The Plan itself explains the reason this is a bad idea – large hydro is a mature technology that is economic and cost-competitive without any additional public support; large hydro also has caused dramatic environmental damage and major disruptions to native communities in Canada. If imports secure little or no reduction in GHG emissions, the case for new subsidies disappears altogether.

Some may be hoping that no one is looking seriously at what Northern Pass would mean for the climate and that the Northern Pass debate will remain within New Hampshire’s borders. CLF, however, is committed to securing real scrutiny of Northern Pass’s misleading claims, ridding Massachusetts’s climate plan of its faulty reliance on Northern Pass, and advancing clean energy solutions that will, in fact, meaningfully reduce our region’s carbon footprint while enabling Massachusetts to achieve its full 25% reduction in GHG emissions by 2020.

Standard of Review for Utility Mergers gets Upgrade in MA

Mar 10, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

An important development today in the Northeast Utilities/NStar merger proceeding: the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (MA DPU) announced that it will modernize the standard of review for utility mergers, including requiring that climate change impacts be taken into account. CLF issued the following statement in response:

Sue Reid, director of Conservation Law Foundation’s Massachusetts office, said, “The DPU’s decision to modernize the standard of review for utility mergers and require that climate change impacts be taken into account is a very welcome development. A merger like the one proposed by NU and NSTAR – which would create the largest utility in New England and one of the largest in the nation – appropriately should be required to meet a “net benefit” test, rather than the mere “no net harm” standard used in the past. This change goes to the core of the merger petition filed by NU and NSTAR. These companies now must bear the burden of proof to demonstrate how this merger would benefit the public – in terms of jobs created, consumer choice, renewable energy commitments, and greenhouse gas reductions in keeping with Massachusetts’ ambitious requirements. It also will provide a more meaningful opportunity to address widespread concerns raised by stakeholders from the environmental, business and labor communities about the potential impacts of the proposed merger.”

CLF intervened in the NU/NStar proceeding in January, 2011.

CLF Intervenes in Proposed NU/NSTAR Merger

Mar 3, 2011 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

CLF has intervened in proceedings regarding the proposed merger of Northeast Utilities (NU) and NSTAR, which combined would create the third largest utility in the country and the largest in New England. CLF has intervened in the proceedings before the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to ensure that the merger will only be allowed to go forward if it is “consistent with the public interest.”  This will require a thoughtful analysis of the merged utility’s long-term strategies for delivering energy while fully meeting the greenhouse gas emission reductions, renewable energy and energy efficiency requirements of the MA Global Warming Solutions Act and Green Communities Act.  It also will require a close look at the economic and environmental risks posed by the energy generation assets that would be owned by the merged utility.

One of CLF’s concerns is that NU subsidiary Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) owns and depends upon outdated, inefficient coal- and oil-fired power plants. These plants – which are obsolete and increasingly more expensive and less economic to operate – present risks and liabilities that would be spread to NSTAR’s ratepayers if the merger goes forward.  Another concern is that the merged utility might seek to weaken Massachusetts’ renewable energy standards, as suggested in some of the utilities’ public statements, allowing large hydropower to “flood” the market (pun intended!) and chill development of other renewable energy sources such as small wind and solar facilities.

Currently, the procedural schedule for the merger proceeding pending before the Massachusetts DPU has been suspended while the DPU considers whether to modernize the legal standard it will apply.  CLF and other parties have asked that the legal standard be adapted to account for changes in relevant laws, including the Global Warming Solutions Act and Green Communities Act.

Stay tuned as we await the DPU’s ruling and further action in the merger proceeding!