Working with the ISO to Integrate Renewable Energy in New England

Sep 15, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The ISO is the organization that operates the New England-wide electricity grid and runs New England’s wholesale electricity markets.

You can read more about what the ISO is, and why CLF works on ISO committees and working groups.

I have written before about CLF’s work with the ISO. You can read those prior blog posts here, here, and here.

As I have said before, CLF is one of the very few environmental organizations to work with the ISO, and no other environmental organization is as heavily engaged in the ISO as CLF is.

A few days ago, I wrote about one of the major criticisms of renewable energy – that it is too expensive – and how changes that CLF is seeing at the ISO are, even now, making that argument a thing of the past. Today I want to describe another frequently heard criticism of renewable energy, that it is not always available and so it cannot be relied upon like fossil-fuel generation can.

We renewable energy advocates hear that argument a lot. For example, the nationally prominent, anti-renewable-energy Heritage Foundation wrote on May 5, 2010:

Wind, like solar energy, is not a dispatchable power source; that is, it cannot be turned on at will. As a result, increasing dependence on wind adds variability and uncertainty to the power grid that must be offset by quick-ramping power sources like natural gas turbines to maintain a relatively constant flow of electricity.

When the Heritage Foundation discusses an electricity source being “dispatchable,” it means both being turned on and off at will, and being able to increase or decrease its electricity output at will. Here in New England, the ISO, which runs our electricity grid, “dispatches” every electricity generator in the region. The ISO tells those generators when to run and when not to run; and it tells them exactly how much electricity to churn out. This is essential to maintaining the reliability of the electricity grid, because the aggregate supply produced by all the generators in the region has to be exactly equal to the aggregate demand of tens of millions of customers every minute of every hour of every day of the year.

What the Heritage Foundation means to say here is that the wind does not always blow and the sun does not always shine. For these reasons, up until now, renewable energy has not been a dispatchable power source.

But here is the really cool news from the ISO: the ISO is now on an irreversible track to make intermittent renewable energy sources like wind fully dispatchable in the New England power grid. In fact, the ISO expects to have wind fully dispatchable in New England by late 2015 or early 2016!

According to the ISO, there are three requirements, or prerequisites, for making wind (and, eventually, other intermittent renewable energy sources) fully dispatchable.

The first requirement is that the wind farms, wherever they are located, be in constant electronic communication with the ISO’s control room in Holyoke, Massachusetts. The ISO refers to this requirement as “telemetry.” The telemetry between wind farms and the ISO control room is already in place; it exists today.

The second requirement for making renewable energy fully dispatchable is that the ISO needs to have reliable, accurate five-minute-ahead weather forecasts for things like wind speed and sunshine intensity. The ISO has been running trials for months now of five-minute-ahead forecasts; and at a meeting I attended this month, the ISO reported that the five-minute-ahead weather forecasts it has been receiving have been completely reliable and accurate and fully satisfy the requirements of the ISO control room.

The third, and final, requirement for making renewable energy fully dispatchable in New England is the creation of the actual computer algorithms that the ISO control room will use to dispatch renewable generators when the time comes. The ISO plans to issue a so-called “DNE Order” to every dispatchable renewable generator for every five-minute interval of every day. This DNE Order will set an upper limit (i.e., “Do Not Exceed,” hence, DNE) for that generator for that five-minute interval. As long as the generator does not go above its DNE limit, the generator will be considered (by the ISO) to be operating “within dispatch,” and will get paid for its electricity output.

It is this third, and final, part that is still needed to make renewable energy fully dispatchable. And at the ISO meeting I attended this month, the ISO decided to start the actual work on those computer algorithms. These algorithms will take some time to complete; but when they are done, the ISO will treat wind as fully dispatchable in New England.

Many owners of fossil-fuel-fired power plants are very unhappy that the ISO is moving so inexorably toward making renewable energy fully dispatchable. Those fossil generators know, correctly, that having renewable energy fully dispatchable by the ISO will tend to undermine the economic viability of their dirty, old power plants. This is especially true now because the ISO-New England, like other ISOs in other parts of the country, is also rolling out “negative price offers” that will make renewable energy resources even more economically competitive compared to fossil-fuel plants. (I discussed that development in my blog post a few days ago, which you can see, here.)

This is a very exciting time for CLF to be participating in ISO matters, because the ISO is moving on multiple fronts to integrate new renewable energy resources in to New England’s electricity grid.

For years, opponents of renewable energy have claimed that renewable energy, while clean and non-polluting, is too expensive for average ratepayers. But on December 3, 2014, ISO is introducing negative price offers, that will make renewable energy cheaper than ever before and drive down the cost of electricity for all New England ratepayers.

And for years, opponents (like the Heritage Foundation) have argued that renewable energy is not dispatchable. But even now the ISO is taking the final steps to make intermittent renewable energy resources fully dispatchable – and is writing the computer algorithms that the ISO control room will soon use to dispatch wind farms.

These are exciting times in the world of renewable energy development, and CLF is playing an active role in those developments.

The ISO – and How Renewable Energy Can Save Ratepayers Money

Sep 11, 2014 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Everyone’s heard someone claim that renewable energy is too expensive. This criticism often overlooks one of the most important benefits of renewable energy – not the environmental benefits (which are also very important!) but the price-suppression benefits. CLF is an active participant in the ISO-NE, and, as such, we get to see some of the ways that renewable energy saves ratepayers money – and we sometimes see this in ways that many members of the public do not.

ISO-NE stands for “Independent System Operator – New England.” The ISO is a nonprofit corporation, licensed by the federal government, that both operates the New England-wide electricity grid and runs New England’s wholesale electricity markets. In other words, the ISO tells every electricity generator in New England (whether powered by coal, gas, oil, nuclear, wind, or solar) when to be on (or off) and how much electricity to put into the grid – and the ISO runs the markets that determine how much you and I will pay for that electricity.

You can read more about what the ISO is, and why CLF works on ISO committees and working groups. And I have written before about CLF’s work with the ISO; you can read those prior blog posts here (discussing distributed generation), here (discussing reducing carbon emissions), and here (discussing energy efficiency). CLF is one of the very few environmental organizations to work with the ISO, and no other environmental organization is as heavily engaged in the ISO as CLF is.

First, let’s look at the price-suppression benefits that renewable energy (like wind and solar) have now in our electricity markets. Then, let’s take a look at how the ISO is planning to change the New England wholesale electricity market in a way that may increase those price-suppression benefits in the future.

How Renewable Energy Suppresses Prices Now

Electricity in New England is priced hourly, with the price each hour set by the most expensive marginal resource for that hour. That is, during every one of the 8,760 hours in a year, the ISO “turns on” the least expense generators first, and turns on the most expensive generators last. (That’s why electricity prices are highest on the hottest afternoons of the summer – because the ISO has turned on those last, most expensive generators when there is the most demand on the system, and those generators are setting the clearing price for the entire system.) The layering of generator bids, for every hour of the year – with the lowest bids on the bottom and the highest bids on the top – creates what the ISO calls the “bid stack.”

Thus, every generator on the system is paid the same clearing price for the same hour of the same day. And that clearing price is set by the last, “marginal” generator at the top of the bid stack, the most expensive generator operating during that hour. Of course, the overall clearing price paid by ratepayers is lowered when more low-cost power is bid in; and the overall clearing price is raised when more high-cost power is bid in.

Most renewable energy projects bid in to the New England electricity wholesale energy market at zero dollars for every day and every hour that it is available. This makes sense when you think about it. Most conventional generators (say, coal, oil, or natural gas) bid a price into the ISO-run energy market that reflects the price of the fuel that they burn. Wind and solar generators have free fuel.

The fact that renewable energy projects bid in to the ISO’s energy markets at zero means that the clearing price for all electricity for all ratepayers in New England gets lowered because of the presence of renewable energy at the bottom of the “bid stack” (in fact, at zero). This lowering of electricity prices paid by ratepayers due to the presence of renewable energy on the grid (and its presence in the ISO’s bid stack) is called the “price-suppression effect” of renewable energy.

And the amount of this benefit can be significant. In a recent report by a leading international consulting firm, Charles River Associates (CRA), on the price-suppression effect of the 468 megawatts of wind power expected from the Cape Wind project, CRA estimated the benefit to ratepayers to be about $185 million annually, or about $4.6 billion over the expected 25-year life of the project. These figures are controversial, and other experts put the dollar value of the price-suppression effect of Cape Wind significantly lower. Nevertheless, the price-suppression effect of renewable energy is real – and the CRA estimate was accepted into evidence in 2010 by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities in the D.P.U.’s Docket 10-54, which examined the proposed contract between Cape Wind and National Grid. The CRA report is entitled “Analysis of the Impact of Cape Wind on New England Energy Prices,” and is dated February 8, 2010. (You can see the full text of the CRA report on the organization’s website.)

What the ISO Is Going To Change

These price-suppression benefits exist in the New England energy markets now, with renewable energy resources bidding in to the market at zero dollars per hour.

But on December 3, 2014, the ISO is going to begin allowing renewable energy generators to bid into the energy market at minus-$150 per megawatt hour! (Actually, all generators – even coal, oil, and gas generators – will technically be allowed to bid into the energy market at negative amounts; but in the real world, it is likely that only renewable generators will actually do that.) When renewable generators bid into the energy market at less than zero, those bids will be called “negative price offers.”

Of course, negative price offers have the very real potential of driving the overall clearing price of electricity in New England – the price for electricity paid by every ratepayer – down even further.

What do “negative-price offers” really mean? When a conventional generator (say, a plant that is fired by natural gas) makes a positive price bid into the energy market (say, $100/MWh), that generator is, in effect, saying, “I’ll sell my electricity into the market if the market will pay me $100/MWh for all the electricity I sell.” When a renewable generator (say a wind farm) makes a negative price bid into the energy market (say negative $100/MWh) that generator is, in effect, saying, “I’ll sell my electricity into the market – and I’ll give the market $100/MWh for all of my electricity the market takes.”

Pretty good, huh?

So, how can renewable energy generators stay in business if they are willing to pay the market to take their electricity? It’s simple. Renewable energy projects sell not only electricity, but also the Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) from their projects. But the projects can sell those RECs if, and only if, their electricity is going into the grid. Sometimes, the value of the RECs to the renewable project owner will be worth enough money that the project will be willing to sell its electricity into the grid at a negative price!

The Energy-Pricing Paradigm Is Changing!

Renewable energy has been around for decades. Over the past decade, as the public’s awareness of the climate change emergency has increased, environmentalists have had some success in promoting renewable energy. But for as long as environmentalists have been promoting renewable energy, the overall structure of the argument has been the same: sure renewable energy is clean and reduces carbon emission; but renewable energy is far more expensive than conventional power, and we just can’t afford it.

That paradigm is now changing. It won’t change all at once. But as the ISO introduces the new negative-price offers into the New England wholesale electricity markets, the general public (including government officials and, indeed, all electricity ratepayers) will more and more see the cost-savings from the price-suppression benefits of renewable energy.

And, wholesale electricity markets will see another consequence of renewable energy being recognized as more cost-effective than fossil generation as a result of the new negative-price offers: old, dirty, fossil-fuel generators will start losing market share and then they will start losing money. That’s why at every ISO meeting I have attended over the last two years at which negative-price offers have been discussed, the owners of dirty, old fossil-fuel plants have been noticeably discomfited. Those owners of dirty, old fossil fuel plants know something (correctly) that the general public is about to learn: the old paradigm in which renewable energy could be plausibly criticized as being too expensive is changing.

In the new paradigm, renewable energy will be not only cleaner than conventional electricity, but it will be cheaper, too. In fact, the ISO that runs the California electricity grid already allows negative-price offers from generators down to negative-$150/KWh; and the ISO that runs the New York electricity grid allows negative-price offers from generators down to minus-$1000/MWh.

Although the general public does not know these facts, the owners of fossil-fuel generators sure do! That’s why they are so unhappy that the ISO is introducing negative-price offers into New England – even though we ratepayers will benefit significantly.

Three Ugly Numbers Behind the Governors’ Push for Canadian Hydropower

Jul 10, 2014 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

 

canadian-hydropower

As the New England Governors and the Eastern Canadian Premiers gather in Bretton Woods for their annual conference next week, it’s likely there will be much discussion of building new transmission lines to enable additional imports of Canadian hydropower into New England. Indeed, financing such transmission lines is the centerpiece of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s pending energy bill and the supposedly “clean” half of the New England Governors’ massive gas pipeline and hydropower plan.

Earlier this year, after the Governors’ energy plan emerged, I broke down three big questions about increasing hydropower imports through new transmission projects: namely, cost, environmental impact, and reliability. We’re not alone in asking these questions. Just yesterday, the Boston Business Journal’s managing editor argued that the region deserves a fuller, better accounting of the total costs of the Governors’ initiative to customers.

As we outlined in our preliminary briefing on the documents obtained from the states on the origins of the Governors’ plan, it appears that the economic and environmental analysis commissioned by the Governors is flawed and incomplete. In the search for hard data points, we offer three of our own.

$800 million
per year 
above current market prices

That’s the cost, according to CLF’s analysis of Hydro-Québec and Northeast Utilities regulatory filings, to generate the power from Hydro-Québec’s new hydropower facilities on the Romaine River (now under construction) and deliver it to the New England electric market through a transmission project like Northeast Utilities’ proposed Northern Pass project in New Hampshire. On a per kilowatt-hour basis, we estimate the cost at 15.2 cents, which is more than three times the cost of energy efficiency and nearly twice that of recent land-based wind power contracts. You can access the full fact sheet with all assumptions and references here or by clicking on the image above. It appears that New England States Committee on Electricity’s (NESCOE) economic analysis, on which the Governors’ plan rests, inexplicably assumed that the cost would be four times less than the public Romaine/Northern Pass figures used in CLF’s analysis.

70%
the carbon pollution of natural gas power over the next decade

That’s the greenhouse gas emissions that can be expected, according to Hydro-Quebec’s own scientific research, during the first ten years following the construction of a new large-scale hydropower facility, such as the Romaine projects discussed above. This research, which CLF has extensively discussed in past posts, utterly debunks the false assumption, contained in all of the studies of hydropower imports on which the Governors’ plan, Massachusetts’s climate plan, and Northern Pass marketing rely, that imported hydropower has no emissions. If new imports are to come from new dams in Canada and will principally displace natural gas power, the promised emissions reductions through the end of the next decade are overstated by more than threefold.

canadian-hydropower

24
times Hydro-Québec chose to curtail exports 
in one cold month of winter 2014

That’s at least how many times, during cold weather in January 2014, Hydro-Quebec chose to limit its power exports to New England over existing transmission lines, according to an internal NESCOE document that CLF made available in the archive released to the public last month. In other words, at the times of greatest electric system stress and despite very high wholesale market prices, Hydro-Québec chose not to send power to New England, presumably to meet its own domestic needs. This number casts considerable doubt on the reliability benefits of building more transmission lines, which could go unused or underutilized during the cold weather periods when, the Governors say, we need more power to ensure reliability.

canadian-hydropower

These numbers are illustrations of why CLF is pushing so hard, in appeals filed this week, to get documents from NESCOE and the states. It is time for robust public debate and transparent scrutiny of all the data and assumptions leading state officials and grid operator ISO-NE to call for a multi-billion dollar tax on electric customers to finance new gas pipeline and hydropower transmission lines. If they have badly miscalculated, as these ugly numbers suggest, the plan can be shelved in favor of more cost-effective, market-oriented, and environmentally sound energy solutions that the Governors are now ignoring.

Documents Reveal Governors’ Gas and Hydropower Plan Shaped by Industry and Incomplete Analysis

Jun 24, 2014 by  | Bio |  24 Comment »

In January, the New England Governors announced a plan to finance new gas pipelines and electric transmission lines across the region with billions of dollars in funding from residents and businesses. In an effort to bring transparency to the process that led to and continues to inform the Governors’ plan, in March, Conservation Law Foundation filed public records requests, seeking documents from the states and the New England States Committee on Electricity (NESCOE), the agency that is working to implement this massive infrastructure initiative.

Today, we are making available to the public a detailed briefing (PDF) on the documents we have received to date, along with an archive of the 48 documents (zip file, 25MB) cited in the briefing.

In short, the documents we have obtained reveal not only outright hostility to conducting the planning process in the open, but also a troubling willingness on the part of state officials to take enormous risks with our money, our region’s energy progress, and our climate.

  • “Behind Closed Doors.” The states and NESCOE are deliberately working out the details of this plan in secret, consistent with the view of one of NESCOE’s staffers that the plan should be “formulated behind closed doors” because the “court of public opinion can be fickle and recalcitrant.” Despite public statements that NESCOE is open to feedback, the agency and state representatives have repeatedly shielded analysis of the plan from public scrutiny.
  • Conflicts of Private and Public Interest. The Governors’ initiative is premised on extensive influence, behind closed doors, from the very pipeline and utility companies that stand to earn billions if this plan is implemented.
    • The documents show, for example, that Maine Public Utilities Commission Chair Tom Welch, a chief architect of the governors’ plan, argued in its favor using a memorandum from Tony Buxton, an industry lawyer who represents both a gas pipeline company and industrial companies that use gas for non-electric purposes. Now, Welch is overseeing a case that will decide whether the State of Maine will invest in financing a pipeline project proposed by Buxton’s client.
    • Through a series of private meetings and calls with NESCOE and state representatives, the electric and gas utilities who stand to benefit most from the governors’ plan are now helping to define their roles as middlemen. In fact, Northeast Utilities itself drafted the document the states and NESCOE are using to manage conflicts of interest when utilities buy power from their own transmission projects, like NU’s Northern Pass project.
  • Ignoring Smaller, More Affordable Solutions. Despite public statements to the contrary, NESCOE and the states agree in private that they “are not looking for market adjustments as alternatives to our current investment infrastructure path” that could be far less costly – to the public’s wallets and to our climate.
    • During a private meeting in Washington, D.C., regional grid operator ISO-New England’s CEO admitted that the point of the governors’ plan is to “overbuild” gas pipeline. However, as Vermont Governor Shumlin suggested recently, overinvestment risks “huge stranded costs” for customers in decades to come. This effort is not about reliability, as NESCOE would have us believe. It’s about directing public money to large energy companies outside of public oversight.
    • As for the governors’ interest in buying more Canadian hydropower by forcing customers to pay for new international power lines, the documents include recent analysis showing that hydropower doesn’t need long-term contracts or other help and that it wasn’t even available to New England when we wanted it during the coldest days of last winter. However, the states and NESCOE appear to be disregarding these findings entirely.

Ultimately, CLF obtained a mere fraction of the documents we requested. Despite acting on behalf of state governments and receiving $2 million annually in public funding through our electricity bills, NESCOE claims that it is not subject to public records laws and is refusing to provide any documents to CLF. Most of the New England states have not yet provided or are actively withholding their documents about the plan.

CLF is considering legal action to force compliance and bring these documents to light. But it’s clear that NESCOE and the governors’ representatives are not interested in a meaningful, transparent planning process that considers the best interest of electric customers and also complies with the states’ legally mandated climate policies. As the customers whose dollars are at risk, we all should have a chance to fully understand what we will be buying with this proposed plan – through an open process based on sound research and analysis, not backroom dealings with industry insiders.

Read CLF’s detailed briefing on the documents here.

Download the archive of documents referenced in CLF’s detailed briefing here.

The Focus of Renewable Energy Remains Climate Change

May 19, 2014 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

A few days ago, I posted a blog on CLF’s website about a newly published study that quantifies the economic-development benefits of renewable energy Distributed Generation (DG). You can read that earlier blog post, here.

In my prior blog, I quoted from the executive summary of the DG Study that said: “The study finds that the [DG program] . . . will result in net positive economic output, job gains, criteria pollutant emissions reductions, carbon emissions reductions, and positive state revenues over the period 2014-2038.” And I summed up the the economic conclusions of the study, thus: “[T]he state reaps economic benefits of $30.65 million per annum, or $556 million over the life of the program (discounted to present value!) at per-ratepayer cost that is almost exactly half of the price of one cup of coffee per month!”

Everything I stated in my earlier blog post was true.  Every figure I cited from the Brattle Report was cited correctly and was completely accurate. My blog was both technically accurate and fairly presented.

However, I sometimes worry about us environmentalists touting the economic benefits of renewable energy. The fact of the matter is that we environmentalists support renewable energy because there is a climate change emergency in the world. The world is hurtling toward a human-created disaster because of carbon pollution. And, although we recognize that there are economic benefits from renewable energy, we do not view renewable energy as primarily a job-creation program.

Let me make an analogy. Think of the United States Supreme Court case that affirmed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Katzenbach v. McClung, 379 U.S. 294 (1964). The case challenging the statute had been brought by Ollie McClung, owner of Ollie’s Barbecue, in Birmingham, Alabama.  Ollie McClung’s argument was the essence of simplicity: this is a free country; the government cannot force me to serve people (blacks) if I choose not to do so.

As everyone today knows, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act.  But the majority opinion, written by Justice Tom Clark, did so on the basis of the Commerce Clause! This is what Justice Clark’s opinion said:  Ollie’s Barbecue is a family-owned restaurant in Birmingham Alabama, specializing in barbecued meats and homemade pies. It is located 11 blocks from an interstate highway and near a railroad station and a bus station.  In the 12 months preceding the passage of the Act, the restaurant purchased approximately $150,000 of food, of which 46%, or $69,683, was meat procured from outside the state.  Some of Ollie’s customers were long-haul truckers who came off the nearby Interstate for a meal. Thus, this case is really about interstate commerce, because both the meat served and some of the patrons eating it had come from out of state. The Commerce Clause in Article I, Section 8, gives Congress the right to control interstate commerce. Therefore. the landmark Civil Rights Act is constitutional because this case is all about commerce.

To his credit, Justice Goldberg wrote concurring opinions saying that the Civil Rights Act was not mainly about commerce (though surely there were economic implications), but rather about human rights: “The primary purpose of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 . . . is the vindication of human dignity and not mere economics.”

So, too, with renewable energy. We environmentalists believe that renewable energy is not mainly about economics and job creation (though there surely are economic benefits to reap) but rather about climate change. We support renewable energy because the consequences of climate change can be catastrophic for humankind, and we want to leave a safer planet to our children and grandchildren’s generations.

The Commerce Clause may be applicable to civil rights, but, in the end, Justice Goldberg was right:  the civil rights act was really about human dignity, not commerce. And renewable energy does create jobs; but, in the end, renewable energy is not about money but about saving the planet.

CLF Files Freedom of Information Requests Seeking to Bring Transparency to the Regional Energy Strategy of the New England Governors

Mar 19, 2014 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

See the first set of documents we have received in response to our public records requests and our briefing of our findings, available here.

Today (March 19, 2014) CLF filed Public Records requests with State Agencies across New England and with the New England States Committee on Electricity (NESCOE) that is acting on behalf of the states.

The requests (PDFs) can be found here: Maine (Utility Commission, Governor’s Energy Office, Public Advocate), New HampshireVermont (attachment), Massachusetts (Utility Commission, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs), Rhode Island, Connecticut (Utility Commission, Department of Energy & Environmental Protection) and NESCOE, and are described fully in the press release below. Responses to these requests will be posted here as we receive them.

In an effort to bring transparency to the process through which the Governors of the six New England states are proposing billions of dollars in new publicly funded energy infrastructure, Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) today filed public records requests in each of the states under their respective freedom of information laws, seeking records from state agencies as well as the New England States Committee on Electricity (NESCOE) – a regional entity through which the states are advancing their plan.

Since the Governors of the New England states first proposed regional coordination of energy planning in December 2013, Conservation Law Foundation has supported the need to replace old, inefficient power plants—as long as the process is fully open and transparent to ensure that billions of dollars in electric utility customers’ money are committed wisely. To date, CLF’s and others’ requests for full disclosure from the Governors and NESCOE about their plans have gone unanswered.

“The Governors’ regional energy plan appears to be the product of backroom deal-making rather than sound public policy informed by open dialogue. Without vital public transparency, the resulting projects are sure to cost more than they should, in dollars as well as environmental impact,” said Seth Kaplan, Vice President of Policy and Climate Advocacy at CLF. “Conservation Law Foundation filed these records requests to shed light on the Governors’ actions and ensure that the public knows more about the projects they would be funding when they pay their gas and electric bills – in terms of types of energy resources, costs, siting, and other elements.”  

Governors and legislatures can and must play a role in establishing energy policy through publicly debated and adopted mechanisms, like the laws that have resulted in the launch of job-creating renewable energy and energy efficiency programs in the New England states. When Governors seek to commit public money to new energy resources, their actions must be consistent with the climate, environmental and customer protection laws and policies of the states—and the secretive planning process underway has not publicly demonstrated that it meets this test. Through NESCOE, the Governors have asked ISO New England to impose billions in costs on the public to pay for new gas pipelines and massive imports of Canadian hydropower, leading many to point out that the Governors’ focus on gas and Canadian hydro seems to be a “package deal” resulting from private negotiations between the Governors and energy industry representatives.

Freedom of information laws provide a critical check on the authority of Governors and their agencies by ensuring that backroom dealing can be exposed for public scrutiny. NESCOE, as an entity through which the Governors are acting to commit public resources – the money the public pays through utility bills – is likewise accountable to the public.

CLF intends to make the results of these records requests available on its website at www.clf.org/FOIA

Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) protects New England’s environment for the benefit of all people. Using the law, science and the market, CLF creates solutions that conserve our natural resources, build healthy communities, and sustain a vibrant economy region-wide. Founded in 1966, CLF is a nonprofit, member-supported organization with offices in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

 

A Big Day for Offshore Wind: Federal Court Overwhelmingly Rejects Cape Wind Opponents’ Claims

Mar 14, 2014 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

In a sweeping decision issued today, a federal court in the nation’s capitol ruled against Bill Koch’s Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound and other Cape Wind opponents on a series of claims they had brought against the nation’s first offshore wind project. The decision is a significant milestone for the 130-turbine Cape Wind project, which today took a huge leap forward after more than a decade of exhaustive reviews. It’s also a critical milestone for the United States, which lags many years behind other nations in tapping into abundant, clean, renewable offshore wind resources.

The decision was issued in connection with several cases that collectively embodied an “Everything-AND-the-Kitchen Sink” approach to challenging the project. The court rejected a variety of claims brought under the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2006, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act. The Court also rejected plaintiffs’ efforts to pursue a fishing expedition for additional documents and information outside the scope of the federal government’s lengthy and detailed review.

Alliance-to-Protect-Nantucket-Sound

Will turbines similar to these soon be gracing New England waters?

While the court’s decision directs the federal government – specifically, US Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service – to take additional procedural steps with respect to two limited issues, we are confident that these steps can be swiftly completed based on extensive information and analysis already on hand. And CLF will continue to support Cape Wind, together with our partners NRDC and Mass Audubon, who joined us in submitting “friend of the court” briefs in the federal litigation.

So, why is Bill Koch’s Alliance claiming victory and crowing that Cape Wind supposedly will be “sent back to the proverbial drawing board”? Good question. The Court found that the federal government’s review was thorough. The judge overwhelmingly rejected opponents’ broad array of claims. Today’s decision also essentially provides a roadmap for completing two limited additional procedural steps. So, the Koch-funded Alliance’s rallying cry rings more than a little hollow.  Kind of like more wishful thinking from opponents driven by a strategy of “delay, delay, delay…”  Thankfully, today’s decision propels Cape Wind forward and is good news for the nation’s clean energy future.

First Distributed Generation Public Hearing in Rhode Island a Success

Mar 12, 2014 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

The first public hearing on the new Distributed Generation Bill, S-2690, was held today in the Senate Committee on the Environment and Agriculture; the hearing was an unalloyed success. You can see background information on the DG Bill in my February 28 blog post.

The hearing was held in one of the largest rooms in the State House, and the room was filled to overflowing. Every person who testified during a long hearing spoke in favor of the bill; not one person spoke against it.

Committee Chairwoman Susan Sosnowski started the hearing with a panel of the three principal authors of the bill: Ron Gerwatowski, of National Grid; Janet Besser, of the New England Clean Energy Council (NECEC); and me. Chairwoman Sosnowski thanked us for our work on the bill.  In turn, each of us spoke about the broad support that the bill has received across sectors, including Rhode Island’s dominant electricity utility, National Grid; renewable energy developers; and the environmental community. That remarkable cooperation was further emphasized by the fact sheet that we gave to the committee, highlighting the major provisions of the bill. As you can see, that fact sheet includes the logos of Grid, NECEC, and CLF.

In my testimony, I highlighted the degree to which the current DG bill builds on the considerable success of the earlier DG statute enacted in Rhode Island in 2011. You can read the text of my prepared remarks.

For me, the highlight of the hearing was the parade of renewable energy developers who spoke in favor of the bill. One developer told committee members that he has five DG projects in Rhode Island under construction now (under Rhode Island’s existing DG statute); that those projects are in West Greenwich, Middletown, Quonset, and Johnston; and that he has invested $12 million in those projects to date.  This developer then said that he plans to commit an additional $10 million to these projects in 2014. Finally, he said, the new DG bill under consideration would ramp up renewable energy development at a rate that has not been possible in Rhode Island up until now.  It was apparent to all that this testimony made a big impression on the committee members.

Successful renewable energy developers from Massachusetts and even New Hampshire attended the hearing to say that they look forward to developing local projects in Rhode Island when this bill is enacted.

A representative of the City of East Providence spoke, saying that his city has developed a large solar DG project on the site of a closed landfill, and the city looks forward to developing additional projects of the new DG bill is enacted.

I expect that the hearing in the House Environment Committee will be held later this month. After that, I hope the bill will be quickly passed and signed into law.

A Danish Lesson for New England about the Power of Wind

Mar 7, 2014 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

There was a moment about ten years ago when the building of wind energy facilities, and in particular offshore wind farms, was just getting going in Europe and it appeared that the United States, and New England in particular, would not be far behind.  The Horns Rev project in Denmark was brand new and the folks at Cape Wind Associates were proposing to replicate that model of a successful offshore wind farm near a resort area here, giving Cape Cod the same opportunity that the vacation town of Blaavandshuk in Denmark has had to welcome tourists to a visitor center and museum with a wind-farm view.

Fast forward to the present and you can see a massive proliferation of clean, zero-polluting offshore wind farms in Europe.  The numbers and facts (PDF alert) are strong and clear: 418 new offshore wind turbines in 13 offshore wind farms in 2013, bringing the total (at the end of 2013) across Europe up to 2,080 turbines now installed and grid connected, a cumulative total of 6,562 MW, in 69 wind farms in eleven European countries.

The result of this expansion is striking and clear. As described by a blog post, and illustrated below, the nation of Denmark now sometimes produces more energy than they consume – a state of affairs that one can see play out in real time on the internet in images like this one from early in the morning of March 3, 2014. At that particular moment 3,893 MWs of energy was generated by wind turbines (the equivalent of more than three and half nuclear power plants like the one in Seabrook, New Hampshire, running all out) while the electricity consumption of Denmark at that moment was 3,875 MWs. (Note the European notation uses a decimal point instead of a comma between thousands and hundreds.)

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Screenshot of Danish electric system

This is not an isolated phenomena – a review of wind production and energy use in Denmark shows that it is not a rare occurrence, during any given hour, for wind-energy production to approach or exceed Danish nation energy use.

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This image tells a powerful story about a potent resource that can be an essential element in a clean-energy future. Of course this one resource alone can not carry our energy load – it will also need to work with other resources like energy efficiency, demand response, solar power and hydroelectricity. Indeed, in the short term, while other clean resources come online, it can also be supplemented by quick-start natural-gas-fired generation that is properly permitted and limited in its life and operations.

While we have a lot to be proud of here in New England, from the creation of a regional cap-and-trade program limiting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, to tremendous investments in key states in energy efficiency and solar power, the reality of wind development in Denmark and Europe is a sharp contrast to the situation here.

Since that day more than a decade ago when the Cape Wind developers came to talk to CLF, a massive expansion of wind-energy development (and offshore wind development in particular) has played out in Europe generally and in coastal nations like Denmark in particular. In contrast, the pace of wind development here has been slow and we have yet to bring on-line a single commercial offshore wind project. While Cape Wind is finally moving towards reality it is hard not to look back over the last decade and consider the progress we could have made on this front.

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