A View from Inside (and Outside) the Annual Meeting of the New England Governors

Aug 7, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Last week I found myself on the beautiful shores of Lake Champlain in Burlington Vermont at the 36th Annual meeting of the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers.

Normally, this meeting is a low key affair that doesn’t have a big impact on the place where it is being held. That was not the case this year. Protests outside the meeting drew attention to issues, like potential import of tar sands oil into New England, that were not on the formal meeting agenda.

An Op-Ed by CLF President John Kassel which ran in a number of regional newspapers before and after the meeting and can now be found on the CLF blog, as well as those protests and pointed inquiries by the press in the meeting forced drew focus towards important and contentious issues like tar sands oil imports and the Northern Pass project.

But the action inside the conference was real and important.  Some notable highlights:

  • The Governors adopted a plan for “regional procurement” of renewable energy that creates an important framework for getting much needed clean renewable energy to get built across New England
  • The Governors and Premiers came together to hail the progress that has been made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across our shared region since 2001 and to lay out a framework for further action
  • A plan was adopted for moving towards a cleaner transportation system that maintains and builds mobility while moving away from gasoline and other dirty fuels that produce a range of pollutants

The overall story here is of a cross-border region that is struggling to do the right thing for its economy and its environment.  The challenge we all face is ensuring that our states and provinces live up to the promises of their words, making the difficult transition away from dirty fossil fuels and providing leadership to both the United States and Canada to build a new clean energy economy.

Can New England and Canada Achieve ‘Frenergy’?

Aug 6, 2012 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

Against a backdrop of protesters vehemently opposing bad proposals to bring energy from Canada into New England, governors from the six New England states this week demonstrated their commitment to a clean energy future for our region. They resolved to pool their buying power, regionally, for renewable energy. This will boost wind and solar energy, among other clean sources, at the best available price — a much-needed step on our path to affordable renewable energy and independence from dirty fossil fuels.

The resolution was announced at the 36th annual meeting of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers, held July 29th and 30th in Burlington, Vermont. The protesters outside the meeting had the attention of high-ranking officials from Canada, whose energy system has been linked with ours – in small ways so far – for decades.  That linkage could grow dramatically in the future, for mutual benefit.  Eastern Canada has the potential to serve markets all over New England with low-carbon, low-cost and clean electricity from renewable sources. And New England needs it, if we get it on the right terms.

The wrong terms are exemplified by the Trailbreaker proposal and the Northern Pass transmission project, the two Canadian energy proposals galvanizing protesters outside the meetings in Burlington. Trailbreaker would send slurry oil derived from tar sands in Western Canada to Portland, Maine by reversing the flow of the Portland-to-Montreal pipeline that has cut across Quebec, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine since it was built over 50 years ago. Northern Pass would cut a route running the length of New Hampshire, including through the White Mountains, for a high-voltage DC transmission line to deliver Canadian hydropower to parts of New England. In both cases, the environmental burdens far outweigh any benefits for our region.

However, long-term supplies of hydro, wind and other sources of power – that respect and significantly benefit the landscape through which they are transmitted, support rather than undermine the development of New England’s own renewable energy resources, replace coal  and other dirty fuels, keep the lights on at reasonable cost, and accurately account for their impacts – are what New England needs. The details will be complicated, but they can be worked out.

Conversations inside the meeting were tilting in the direction of such productive cross-border cooperation, and the announcement of a regional resolution to bring clean, affordable energy to New England may have provided some salve for the protesters. Still, we need to continue to be vigilant about Trailbreaker and Northern Pass and we will spend the effort to defeat them if we must. But any effort spent on these deeply-flawed proposals –whether advancing them or fighting them – is an unfortunate use of precious time for both countries, given the urgent call of climate change.

The sooner we get to the task of building our shared clean energy future the better, for New Englanders and our friends to the north.

Nature is tapping us on the shoulder too, but her pockets are empty. Is that why the Senate isn’t listening?

Oct 14, 2011 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island took the Senate floor yesterday in defense of science and reason – two topics that seldom seem to influence the decisionmaking of the Senate lawmakers these days when it comes to climate change.  Speaking out against the two big lies permeating the halls of congress: 1) environmental regulations are a burden to the economy; and 2) the jury is still out on climate change, Senator Whitehouse convincingly argued why both claims are false.  “The jury isn’t out,” he said, “the verdict is in!”  “More than 97% of publishing scientists accept that climate change is happening and that humans are causing it,” the Senator said in a twenty-four minute floor speech in which he cautioned his colleagues that the Senate is failing, “earning the scorn and condemnation of history” because while it considers repealing laws designed to prevent pollution, it cannot repeal the laws of nature.  “The dark hand of polluters can tap so many shoulders and there is a lot of power and money behind that dark hand, but nature is also tapping us on the shoulder, and we ignore that tapping at our own grave peril,” said Senator Whitehouse.  I must admit, I don’t have a lot of confidence that nature’s hand will win the contest in Washington, D.C., but my confidence is a bit restored when a Senator has the courage to speak the truth to his colleagues … giving nature’s tap a fighting chance.  Senator Whitehouse (RI) Floor speech on climate change

Wind Power and the Bowers Project – Who’s Right?

Jul 11, 2011 by  | Bio |  5 Comment »

It’s constant, it’s overwhelming, and it’s likely never to go away. What is it?  It’s information overload. We live in an age where everyone has an opinion, everyone wants a voice in the debate, and everyone thinks they’re right. With the Internet at our fingertips and the media hounding us with article upon article, it’s hard to know where to stand on hot topics like renewable energy.

We’ve probably all experienced that moment – eating our eggs and toast in our favorite diner, enjoying our cup of joe, and reading the morning paper – when we come across a letter to the editor arguing that wind power will improve energy security, energy prices, and climate change. Confusion sets in. You’re unsettled, perhaps even bothered. Didn’t yesterday’s article lambast wind power for its inefficiency, its price tag and its destructive scenic impact? Who has the facts right and who has the facts wrong? If wind is supposed to bring energy prices down, why is the electric bill creeping up month after month? If wind integration makes the grid more stable, why do you keep hearing that wind will only cause more power plants to be built? And if wind is so great, why are parts of the West disassembling their wind farms and halting project development? Why, wind proponents, why?

These are the right questions to be asking, and we’re glad you’re asking them.  These very same questions are being asked of wind project developers here in New England, most recently by the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) in connection with First Wind’s proposed Bowers Wind Project, a 27 turbine wind power project to be located in the Downeast Lakes area of Maine. Opposition to the Bowers Project stems almost exclusively from the visual impacts the project might have on a portion of the local economy, guided fishing. In all other respects, the project is commendable – Bowers will make use of existing logging roads and transmission lines and anticipated environmental impacts from the project’s construction are expected to be minimal.

CLF supports this project and, anticipating the confusion under which LURC might be working, submitted testimony from two experts to dispel some of the myths that the wind debate has generated. Specifically, Dr. Cameron Wake testified on the impacts of climate change on Maine and New England’s natural resources and how wind power is one tool to be used in addressing that challenge; and Abigail Krich testified on the systemic benefits of integrating wind power into the electric market.

After peppering Ms. Krich with questions, the Commission walked away with two major takeaways from her testimony:

  • Wind power does result in cost-savings because it brings the costs of generating electricity down. Unfortunately, those savings are all but wiped out by the increasing cost of transmitting electricity.
  • Increasing the amount of wind power generated and used in New England will not require the construction of additional power plants to balance wind’s variability. The New England Wind Integration Study, performed by ISO-NE, concluded that even if 12,000 MW of wind power were integrated into the system, no new power plants would be needed to balance wind’s variability.

While CLF appreciates that the scenic impacts of these projects are, at the end of the day, a highly personal matter (or as my Latin teacher would say, “de gustibus non est disputandum” or “taste is not a matter of debate”), it’s important that objective facts not be obscured by subjective, and ultimately misleading, ones.

CLF Intervenes in Northern Pass Transmission Proceeding

Dec 16, 2010 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

CLF intervened today in proceedings regarding the proposed Northern Pass electricity supply and transmission project in New Hampshire. The proposed project, which involves creating 180 miles of new transmission lines in the state and installing new transmission infrastructure in the White Mountain National Forest, is intended to import 1,200 megawatts (MW) of electricity generated in Canada by Hydro-Quebec, the Canadian public utility. If constructed, the project would have significant impacts on New Hampshire communities and the environment.

CONCORD, NH  December 16, 2010 – The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) intervened today in the Presidential Permit proceeding recently initiated by the U.S. Department of Energy, for the proposed Northern Pass electricity supply and transmission project.  The proposed project – involving 180 miles of new transmission lines in New Hampshire – is intended to import 1,200 MW of electricity generated by Hydro-Quebec, in Canada.

“This project could profoundly affect New Hampshire’s energy future,” said Jonathan Peress, director of CLF’s Clean Energy and Climate Change program.  “It remains to be seen whether it will help or hinder our efforts in New Hampshire and New England to achieve necessary greenhouse gas reductions and develop a clean energy economy.  Unfortunately, the application is more noteworthy for what it omits, rather than the sparse information it provides.”

The proposed project would include the construction of new transmission corridor in northern-most New Hampshire, as well as the installation of new transmission infrastructure through the White Mountain National Forest. Read more>>