Solving New England’s Natural Gas Problem (Hint: It’s Not through Big New Pipelines)

Sep 17, 2015 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

For a few hours a day, on 50 days of the year, New England has a gas problem – not enough natural gas is available to meet demand for both heat and electricity. Two years ago, this problem led to dramatic spikes in the price of natural gas and the cost of electricity. Since then, how to solve that problem has been the source of political, economic and environmental debate.


Download our white paper to learn how liquefied natural gas can help solve New England’s gas problem – without hurting our climate, our wallets, or our drive towards clean, renewable energy.

The solution most often pushed by many corporate and government entities is to “flood the market” with new gas via one or more big new pipelines, with the multi-billion dollar cost to be borne by electric ratepayers (in other words, all of us). But that’s hardly the only solution – nor is it the most efficient, timely, or cost effective.

Since that troubled winter two years ago, as the clamor for big new pipelines has grown, Conservation Law Foundation has been examining alternative solutions. In a new white paper developed for CLF by Skipping Stone Consultants, we show how we can avoid the expense and long-term impacts of new infrastructure by instead maximizing the use of the pipelines and other infrastructure we already have. This solution not only addresses the supply problem on those few hours of the 50 coldest winter days, it also saves industrial, commercial, and residential customers millions of dollars. And it circumvents the need for costly and enormously inefficient infrastructure that will ultimately undermine regional efforts to meet the urgent challenge of climate change.

The Myth vs. The Reality

Pipeline proponents would have us believe that there is a gas shortage in New England and that the only way to save businesses and individuals from unreasonable electricity price spikes is to build massive new pipelines into and across the region.

It’s true that, as managed now, New England’s natural gas delivery system – its pipelines, storage and import facilities – can’t deliver enough natural gas to meet demand during that short winter period when gas is in high demand for heat and electricity. But the reality is, New England’s pipeline problem is not one of capacity, but of deliverability. For the majority of the year, the region’s natural gas system operates at less than 50% capacity. On those coldest days when natural gas is in highest demand, the problem comes down to efficiency and deliverability – meaning we can’t get the gas to a specific location at a specific time to meet that demand.

Understanding New England’s current “gas problem” as one of deliverability rather than pipeline capacity reframes the debate – and makes clear the most efficient, timely, and cost-effective solution: increasing our use of the region’s existing liquefied natural gas (LNG) infrastructure.

New Pipelines Will Hurt, Not Help

Building the massive new pipelines currently proposed is the most expensive and least effective means of addressing our current problem. It takes years to build a new pipeline – meaning it will be years before any of us see any benefits in our electric bills. What’s more, you and I could even see an increase in our bills if proposals to fund these new pipelines on the backs of ratepayers move forward.

These hard costs of construction and ratepayer impact are easy to track. What’s harder to measure – and arguably more important – is the long-term impact on our climate if we fail to take meaningful steps to shift our power grid away from reliance on fossil fuels like natural gas. Yes, gas is considered cleaner than coal and oil by many – but that’s all relative, given that methane, a byproduct of natural gas production, is up to 80 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon. With regulatory regimes like the Clean Power Plan and existing New England state regulations mandating aggressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, major investments that would increase our consumption of natural gas simply don’t make environmental or economic sense.

LNG Can Make A Difference This Winter

The best means of solving New England’s winter gas issue is to better utilize our existing natural gas infrastructure – specifically, our existing LNG facilities. LNG import terminals provide a ready supply of natural gas on pipelines from the east that are currently underutilized – the use of which will relieve constraints on the remaining pipeline system. Local gas distribution companies have LNG storage facilities that have ten times the capacity of our existing pipeline system. Right now, those storage tanks are filled at the beginning of the winter and then drained down over the heating season.

We propose that this storage be supplemented all winter long, to ensure supplies can be available and distributed throughout the existing New England-wide storage network. This would shore up the amount of LNG stored in the region during the winter months. The combination of LNG from the import terminals to the east and from storage units throughout the region would supplement the natural gas supply coming in through existing pipelines – freeing up more of that existing pipeline capacity for use by electric power plants.

The LNG needed to supply this approach can be contracted for with short-term contracts, unlike the locked-in 20-year commitment of a new pipeline. This means lower costs, saving local gas distributors and all of us ratepayers more than $340 million a year – and as much as $4.4 billion over 20 years – compared to building a big new pipeline. It also means greater flexibility for New England to make the necessary transition to rapidly developing clean alternatives – such as battery storage and increased distributed solar. And, even better, this solution is technically feasible and could be implemented this winter.

Learn More

Download our white paper to read more about how better use of our LNG infrastructure can address our gas deliverability problem efficiently and effectively – in ways that are good for our wallets and our environment.

Low Cost of Renewable Power

Sep 10, 2015 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

photo courtesy of Theodore Scott @

photo courtesy of Theodore Scott @

Whether you are looking to put solar panels on your roof or joining with neighbors for a new community solar project, you know that the cost of renewable energy has come down a lot in the past few years.

For many customers, using solar or wind guarantees stable or lower electric bills for years to come.

And it reduces pollution as we collectively rely less and less on dirty and polluting fossil fuels to keep our gadgets going and our homes comfortable.

On a larger scale, renewable energy is having the same effect on electricity prices in New England.  Apart from reducing pollution, a key benefit to most renewable energy, like wind and solar, is their low or zero fuel cost. When the sun shines or the wind blows, they produce power and no one is sending them a fuel bill.

Most power plants in the region need to pay for coal, oil, gas or uranium for fuel. The operating cost for these plants depends heavily on their cost of fuel. The cost of fuel gets passed on to customers and often dictates the price we pay for electricity. When fuel prices go up, the cost of electricity goes up.

As more and more renewable power becomes available in the region, low or zero fuel costs from the wind, sun or water are driving down the cost of electricity for everyone.

A recent report and activities by the ISO-New England, which is responsible for maintaining the reliability of our electric grid, confirms this.

This is good news for our pocket books and for the environment.

Our electric grid is a marvel of physics. Because electricity cannot be easily stored, the grid must balance the supply from large and small power generators with the demand caused by anything that we plug in. It is a bit like having a big dinner party and needing to keep everyone’s water glass filled without using a pitcher of water. You’ll have to keep the water from springs, wells and hoses available at just the right amount, and then keep the flow in the faucet to the exact amount needed, all the time.

To do this for electricity, the grid is managed in part by calling on generators to run when needed. The price for this wholesale power is set on an hourly basis by using auctions. The least expensive generators are called into service first and the last generator called into service to meet demand sets the price for all generators during that hour. That is why we pay a lot for electricity on hot summer days. Meeting demand when many air conditioners are running requires lots of electricity, including running some of the most expensive fossil-fuel plants.

Supplies that can operate at low cost, like wind and solar, can and do set the price we all pay during some hours. During the polar vortex in 2014, wind power reduced the wholesale price in New England by $26 million.  For a few hours last winter, renewable energy supplies actually set a negative price.

The value of their renewable energy credits, which they sell for every kilowatt hour they produce, mean that their operating cost is actually less than zero. The low cost of renewables drives down the wholesale price. If coal, gas or nuclear plants are operating in those hours, they not only don’t get paid for their energy, but they will have to pay the ISO. This puts further pressure on polluting plants to close down and not operate.

As renewable energy supply continues to grow to meet our region’s climate change mandates, our grid will have more and more of these lower cost power resources available. These will not only push aside fossil fuel plants that will be too expensive to run, it will also lower overall electricity prices for everyone.

One study in connection with the almost 500 megawatts of wind power expected from the Cape Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts estimated a price reduction benefit of about $185 million annually. That is not only a lot less money that we will all pay for electricity, but a lot less pollution as well.

Governor Baker’s Solar Bill Misses the Mark

Aug 25, 2015 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Anticipating the release of his promised solar power legislation, we encouraged Governor Baker to be bold in strengthening and continuing the solar-friendly policies, including net metering, that have made Massachusetts a national leader in solar energy. Unfortunately, his proposed bill falls well short of that goal. At a time when our changing climate demands urgent action on clean energy, the people of Massachusetts deserve better.

Net Metering: The What and the Why

So what is net metering and why is it important? Economics.

Strategic investments in renewable energy sources will reduce our reliance on climate-changing fossil fuels. Photo credit: CLF

Strategic investments in renewable energy sources will reduce our reliance on climate-changing fossil fuels. Photo credit: CLF

Net metering is the billing arrangement with Eversource and other utility companies that encourages the use of solar power by making it a good investment for businesses and families. When the sun is shining, your panels either power your home directly, or run your meter backwards – selling your excess solar power back to the utility. At the end of the month, you pay the difference between the electricity you consumed and what you sold back to your electric company – the “net” amount of electricity you purchased. The savings – over buying all your electricity from the utilities – can allow an average Massachusetts home installation to pay for itself (with other federal and state credits) in as little as five to six years. It’s a win-win: You get cheaper electricity; we all get cleaner air, a more resilient grid, and fewer climate warming emissions.

Caps Are Bad for Business (and Our Climate)

For historical reasons we’ll discuss in just a moment, the number of solar installations that are allowed to “net meter” in Massachusetts is capped; in much of the state, we’ve reached the cap, or we’re about to. The result: fewer solar installations exactly when we need more (and more!) clean solar power to help us get rid of the dirty fossil-fuel generators that are destroying our climate. That’s why we encouraged the Governor to join the state Senate in raising Massachusetts’ net metering caps all the way to the state’s 2020 goal of 1,600 megawatts of installed solar – or, better yet, to get rid of them altogether as Rhode Island has successfully done.

But the Governor’s bill did neither, instead simply bumping the caps up again from about 9% of the utilities’ total load to about 13%. That’s well shy of what’s needed to either re-energize the state’s solar industry or to get the state to its 1,600 megawatts goal. That small bump should help a few solar projects that have been waiting in the wings in certain parts of the state, but there is every indication that, with those projects and others, we would quickly hit the new caps if this bill were to become law.

And that’s a problem.

According to a recent study by the National Renewable Energy Lab, when the number of solar installations in a state approaches the level of a net metering cap, uncertainty about the availability of net metering impedes the market. To thrive under a cap, the study found, the solar market needs clear and strong signals regarding the future availability of net metering.

Baker Bill Is a Set Up for Solar Deja Vu

Unfortunately, Governor Baker’s bill would keep the future of solar in Massachusetts an open question. Instead of moving decisively to build up our solar industry and ensure that we reach our goal in 2020 and beyond, the bill would guarantee that in the very near future, we will have to (again) press pause on solar installations across the state while we (again) argue about whether, when, and by how much to (again) raise or remove the caps.

Moving ahead in such fits and starts seems particularly short-sighted for at least two key reasons. First, climate change demands serious action, not halting baby steps, right now. Second, the need for net metering caps vanished years ago. In Massachusetts and elsewhere, caps were imposed in the early days of solar power, when we were all a bit uncertain as to how much variable solar power our steady-state grid could accommodate without becoming unstable. In that context, volumetric caps on installations made sense as a way to judiciously control the system. But those days are long gone.

We now know that solar power brings extra value to our electric power system beyond the electrons it produces. We also know that the existing grid, without significant modification, can be expected to operate reliably and safely with renewables like solar power providing up to about 30% of our power. Here in Massachusetts, that’s more than nine times the amount of solar power we hope to have by 2020 – and just over ten times more than allowed by the Governor’s proposed new caps!

It should come as no surprise, then, that a majority of the members of the state’s recently concluded Net Metering and Solar Task Force voted in favor of doing away with net metering caps altogether as long as the value of solar is accurately priced (more on that soon).

So the imperative remains: To ensure Massachusetts remains an innovator and leader in the drive to a clean energy future, the Legislature should immediately lift the net metering caps system-wide to at least our 2020 goal of 1,600 megawatts-installed or, better yet, remove them altogether to allow the true value of solar to shine through!

Sunny Days Ahead: Securing Massachusetts’ Role as a Renewable Energy Leader

Aug 7, 2015 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Governor Baker’s administration announced late last week that it would file, this week or next, legislation designed to continue the growth of solar power in Massachusetts and achieve the state’s goal of 1,600 megawatts of installed solar capacity by 2020. No details have been released yet on the draft bill, but those are goals that CLF enthusiastically supports.

Solar panels at Exeter Area High School (photo credit: flickr/SayCheeeeeese)

(photo credit: flickr/SayCheeeeeese)

Solar is a sustainable source of carbon-free electricity that must play a central role in our clean energy future. In addition to providing low-cost, clean energy whenever the sun is shining, solar brings extra value to our electric power system. Particularly when oriented to the southwest, solar panels generate power when we need it most, during “peak load” in the late afternoon.

That reduces the need, in the short-term, to turn on dirty, climate-warming fossil fuel “peaker plants.” In the long term, it reduces the need to build more of those plants and the expensive transmission and gas pipeline infrastructure they require.

Importantly, with the cost of installing solar power steadily dropping – down 45% since 2010 nationwide and almost 5% just in the last year in Massachusetts – solar also makes great economic sense. Massachusetts has a healthy, growing solar industry that employs more than 10,000 people statewide. And, for every dollar invested in solar, the state sees $1.20 in economic benefits returned to our local economy – some $950 million dollars last year alone.

So the time is now to continue our leadership in solar energy. Despite its small size and northern latitude, Massachusetts currently ranks an impressive sixth in the nation in installed solar capacity thanks to the solar-friendly policies that we encourage the Baker administration to strengthen and continue.

First and foremost among those policies is net metering, which makes it economical for individuals and businesses to either install solar on their own property or share in the benefit of solar power installed nearby. Despite the state’s commitment to reach 1,600 megawatts of installed solar in the next five years, installations across Massachusetts have slowed as we’ve bumped up against old, outdated net metering caps put in place before we knew solar power’s full value – for the utilities, for the grid, and for the people of Massachusetts. As we anticipate the filing of the Governor’s solar bill, we urge the administration to include provisions to lift those caps (as the state Senate just voted to do) or, better yet, to remove them altogether (as Rhode Island has successfully done).

As Massachusetts works to further develop a comprehensive, long-term renewable energy strategy, we encourage Governor Baker to be bold and secure the state’s role as an innovator and leader in the drive to a clean energy future. Stay tuned for our analysis of the strengths of the final bill once it’s filed.

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Experts Weigh In: Maine Doesn’t Need New Gas Pipelines

Jul 17, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

This week consultants hired by the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) concluded that Maine should not enter into contracts to purchase gas pipeline capacity because the costs of doing so would outweigh the benefits to Mainers.

In many ways, this was a foregone conclusion – one that CLF predicted nearly a year ago and that the PUC itself (unofficially) reached before soliciting proposals from pipeline companies and spending taxpayer dollars on a lengthy consultant’s report. It’s a cautionary tale not just for Maine but for all of New England as the region weighs its energy future – and decides whether it will overinvest in natural gas or blaze a trail based on cleaner, renewable resources.

This process all started back in March 2014. After a cold winter sparked region-wide fears of an imminent shortage of natural gas to power our homes and businesses, Maine’s PUC was tasked with determining whether the state should contract for additional gas capacity under the Maine Energy Cost Reduction Act (MECRA). The PUC approached this work in two phases: first, soliciting and examining evidence and testimony from a variety of interested parties, including CLF, as to the need and economics of gas pipeline capacity procurement. And, second, if the economics made sense, to request proposals from pipeline companies.

CLF testified before the PUC as it gathered the evidence and data it would need to make their determination. We reasoned that Maine should not enter into new contracts with pipeline companies – both because the legal basis for them was suspect (the investment in these new projects would have been paid for by ratepayers, which is unprecedented and risky) and because the costs – to our wallets and our climate – would ultimately outweigh the benefits to consumers.

PUC staff agreed with the economic argument in their own preliminary report, but the Commission nonetheless went ahead and accepted supply proposals from pipeline companies. As required by MECRA, the PUC hired an independent consultant, London Economics International (LEI), to examine these proposals. The consultant’s detailed report compared scenarios in which the state didn’t contract for additional pipeline and ones in which it did (based on the actual proposals the state had received).

LEI’s analysis reinforces both CLF’s testimony and comments and the PUC’s own staff report issued during the first phase of this proceeding: The costs of any contract for Maine to buy natural gas pipeline capacity trumps the benefits. In fact, LEI concluded that, even without Maine entering into a gas contract, gas prices should drop by 25% for Maine customers over the next few years due to already planned, market-based gas capacity expansions. The group also found that electricity prices should drop by 15% due to these lowering gas prices.

The LEI report rightly calls into question whether the PUC should have accepted proposals from gas companies in the first place – a process that has been costly to all participants, expended valuable resources of the PUC, and resulted in no different a conclusion than the PUC’s own staff analysis.

Maine law requires that, for any contracts like these proposed expansions, the benefits must outweigh the costs. The conclusions drawn by the PUC’s expert consultant in their report should prevent Maine from entering into such a contract any time soon.

Ultimately, there’s a larger lesson here – one for every state in the region considering its electricity future. Over this year-long process, the PUC spent hundreds of thousands of (tax-payer) dollars on experts and an intense, litigation-like process, only for their experts to conclude what was readily apparent at the outset – that subsidizing the gas industry on the backs of ratepayers is a bad idea, both economically and for the environment.

Those gas shortage fears that sparked this whole process in the first place ended up being completely unfounded over this past winter. Since then the economics of the energy markets have started to shift, with wholesale electric prices declining by 50% over the past year alone. Meanwhile, energy efficiency is decreasing the need for energy resources, fuel-free renewables are supplanting polluting power plants, and liquefied natural gas has become cost-competitive and available at times of peak need. With at least two new small-scale pipeline projects already set to come on-line and reduce energy costs even more over the next two years, now is the time for the New England states to invest in the stability of the cleanest energy future we can create – one that weans us off of natural gas within the next 35 years.

UPDATE: Take Action: Restore Energy Efficiency Funding in Maine

Jun 23, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

UPDATE: Governor LePage vetoed the revised bill on Tuesday, June 23, but the state legislature voted overwhelmingly to override his veto that same night. “With their override vote, the legislature has served the best interest of all Mainers by restoring funding for energy efficiency,” CLF’s Executive Vice President, Sean Mahoney, said in a statement.

From here, it’s up to the Public Utilities Commission to draft a new rule that will properly fund energy efficiency. Thank you to everyone who contacted their legislators and asked them to stand strong on efficiency in Maine. Your voice made a difference.

My original blog post follows:

Do you like wasting energy? How about paying more for electricity? What about leaving nearly $200 million in energy savings on the table every year because a single “and” was accidentally left out of a law?

Who would say “yes” to any of those questions? Governor Paul LePage.

If Governor LePage gets his way, then Maine will leave more than $200 million in energy savings

If Governor LePage gets his way, then Maine will leave more than $200 million in energy savings on the table.

With one stroke of his veto pen, Governor LePage plans to wipe out $38 million in funding for energy efficiency in Maine by vetoing a bill that simply restores the missing “and” into the law.

Contact your state legislators today. Tell them to stand behind their decision to restore energy efficiency funding. Tell them to override LePage’s veto.

Less energy efficiency funding means losing hundreds of jobs. It means fewer residential homes and commercial businesses in Maine will be able to install energy efficient light bulbs and HVAC equipment. It means fewer energy assessments to help Mainers reduce their electricity bills. It means fewer rebates for solar panel installation. And the list goes on. Energy efficiency fuels our economy. It’s the foundation of a strong energy future. The stakes could not be higher.

Here’s the back story on how energy efficiency funding has come under threat and why it’s so important that you act now:

Efficiency Maine Trust lost $38 million in funding due to an accidental omission of the word “and” when the Maine legislature passed the Omnibus Energy Act in 2013. The legislature has now wisely acted to correct that error and passed LD 1215, an act that restores the missing “and.” The bill to restore energy efficiency funding received nearly unanimous support from the Maine legislature! But Gov. LePage is threatening to veto it.

LePage’s threat to veto is nonsensical. Energy efficiency measures not only benefit the environment and help address climate change, but they also save the state — and all of us — money!

Luckily, the Maine legislature has the power to override Governor LePage’s veto. Tell your legislators to do what’s best for Maine and vote to override LePage’s veto. The veto could come anytime today. The legislature could vote to override it in the next 48 hours. So please act now!

Please contact your Maine legislators immediatelyThis is an opportunity to thank your senator and representative for their initial vote (the lone vote against the bill came from Rep. Ricky Long) and let them know how important it is that they override a veto.

Take action to restore energy efficiency today! 


Newly Released ISO White Paper Confirms the Value of Renewable Energy in New England Wholesale Electricity Markets

Jun 11, 2015 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

ISO-NE, the nonprofit entity that runs the New England electricity grid, is circulating a 12-page White Paper on (in the ISO’s words) how “To Ensure Reliability as the Grid Adapts to a Renewable Energy Future.”  In a memorandum accompanying the paper, the ISO says that it is hoping to stimulate a broad discussion on the paper at meetings of stakeholders and regulators this month.

You can read background on what the ISO is and what it does, here.  And you can read the full ISO White Paper, here.

The ISO’s White Paper is both interesting and important.   As the title of the document makes clear, the entire paper is about the impact of and the importance of renewable energy in the wholesale electricity markets.  Of course, environmentalists and renewable energy developers have been discussing the importance of renewable energy for years.  So, it is nice to see that several of the things we have been saying are now receiving confirmation from the operator of the New England electricity grid!

I.  Renewables Are Going To Lower Electricity Clearing Prices in New England. For years the overall structure of the public debate about renewable energy has been that environmentalists argue that we need renewable energy to avert a climate-change disaster, while consumer advocates sometimes argue against paying a premium for the environmental benefits of renewable energy.  Now the debate is changing.  As I pointed out in a blog last year, renewable energy resources are now bringing down the cost of electricity for customers.

The just-released ISO White Paper confirms that what CLF and other environmentalists have been saying about this is true.  Specifically, the ISO says:

  • “State subsidies for renewable resources will put downward pressure on energy-market prices . . .” [Page 1, ¶ 2.]
  • And this: “Additional renewables are expected to decrease wholesale electric energy prices . . . .”  [Page 1, ¶ 3, emphasis supplied.]
  • And this: “As the penetration of wind and solar resources grows, the price-reducing effects of renewables on electric energy prices will increase.”  [Page 3, ¶ 5.]

The paradigm is changing.  Where once it was thought that customers would have to pay more for renewable energy, it is now widely understood that renewable energy is working to drive down electricity costs in New England.  And the important thing is that it is not the environmentalists that are saying this; it is ISO-NE, the entity that runs the electricity markets that set prices for all electricity customers in New England.

II.  Clean, Low-Cost Renewables Are Going to Drive Coal, Oil, and Nuclear Out of the Market.  This is another point that environmentalists have been making for years – and, here, too, it is wonderful to see the ISO confirming what we have been saying all along:

  •  Wind and solar will “in turn increase the financial pressure on . . . nuclear and coal.”  [Page 3, ¶ 5.]
  • “The addition of large quantities of renewable resources . . . will affect what resources retire . . . and not all resource types will be affected equally.  New England has already experienced a number of retirements of coal, oil, and nuclear units in recent years . . . . With the expected increased penetration of renewable resources, more such retirements should be expected in the future.”  [Page 7, ¶¶ 3, 4, 5.]

Points I and II, taken together, mean we are going to get a cleaner environment with less carbon pollution – and at a lower cost to electricity customers.

III.  New England’s Forward Capacity Market is Working the Way It Was Meant to Work.  There is another consequence of the large number of “retirements” of coal, oil, and nuclear power plants in New England:  the clearing prices in the last two “Forward Capacity Auctions” in New England (specifically, for FCA-8 in February 2014; and FCA-9 in February 2015) have been higher than the clearing prices for prior auctions run by ISO-NE.  (For background on what these capacity auctions are, and how the capacity market relates to the electricity market, read this.)   The fact of higher auction clearing prices in the last two auctions shows that the ISO-run Forward Capacity Market (FCM) is working properly, and in exactly the way it was designed to work and meant to work.  The FCM was carefully designed specifically to send appropriate price signals to create the proper economic incentives for the entry of new generation resources into the market when those resources are needed.

The reason that the first seven Forward Capacity Auctions (2007 through 2013) cleared at very low prices is that, back then, there was excess generation capacity in New England; thus, there was no need to incent new generation to enter the market.  The reason that the last two FCAs cleared at relatively higher prices is that the dirty old coal, oil, and nuclear plants are retiring; thus, the auction is sending the very price signals that it was designed to send and meant to send:  for new generation capacity to enter the market.  As I discussed in a blog post a few months ago, the capacity market is working the way it was meant to work.  And that conclusion is confirmed by the  ISO’s White Paper, on pages 8 through 12.

Summing It All Up:  ISO-NE runs the entire New England electricity grid in real time, and also runs the wholesale markets that determine the price of electricity for all customers in New England.  CLF has been working for years to push the ISO to more fully integrate renewables into the New England electricity grid and compensate renewable generators more fully for their contributions to the grid.  The underlying themes of the just-released ISO White Paper are about the impact and importance of renewable energy in the energy and capacity markets.  This is a big deal.  The ISO is recognizing – and not tacitly, either – the increasing importance of renewable energy in the New England wholesale electricity markets!

In a very real sense, this newly released White Paper is a validation of work that CLF has been doing at the ISO literally for years.  Hooray!

New Legislation in Vermont

May 18, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Lake Champlain

New legislation passed this session could help clean up ailing Lake Champlain.

It was a long and tiring Legislative session this year in Vermont.

On a very warm Saturday in May, Vermont’s legislators headed home. But not before making some good progress on key CLF priorities.

Clean Water

The key water quality bill, H.35,  focused on Lake Champlain. It sets a roadmap for further work. It provides funding for some additional staff for education and outreach as well as enforcement. It also creates a Clean Water Fund to keep track of funds spent on water quality.

Renewable Energy

The RESET law, H.40, finally eliminates the odd practice in Vermont that allowed the sale of Vermont created renewable energy credits to customers in other states while still claiming the power is renewable for meeting Vermont’s renewable energy goals.

The bill would set the highest standard of any place in the region for renewable energy – 75% by 2032. Much of this energy will come from existing facilities including from power imported from Hydro Quebec.

The new law will also require that 10% of the electricity in 2032 come from smaller scale renewable projects and provides for a new innovative program that encourages utilities to reduce overall fossil fuel use including from transportation and heating.  A troubling amendment that placed a cap on energy efficiency efforts was eliminated.

Toxic Soils

With growing development in downtown areas, disposing of contaminated soils has been challenging. A proposed bill, H.269, would have created a very broad exemption until new state rules are in place. CLF opposed the broad exemption and worked to strengthen the bill. As passed, the law provides a clear and safe way to manage soils from downtown developments. It avoids giving a broad handout to developers and makes sure that soils are managed to protect against any contact with people or water. It also provides a good test of effective soil management that should be helpful as the State develops rules.

The Alternatives to New Natural Gas Pipelines

May 15, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Now that we’ve made it through the winter, policymakers in Massachusetts are taking a look at the state of energy in the Commonwealth and trying to sort out what to do about the big energy policy questions currently on the table. First among these questions is what, if any, public policy support and funding should be invested in natural gas pipeline infrastructure.

How policymakers answer this question is important because now, more than ever, we must look beyond fossil fuels and ensure that our energy system is one built on the cleanest energy sources. Overinvestment in natural gas is simply a bad bargain for our climate, for consumers, and for our economy.

For several years now CLF has been calling for caution in the pipeline debate by debunking myths presented by pipeline proponents, exploring the environmental and economic ramifications of overbuilding natural gas infrastructure, and highlighting alternatives to pipeline investments. I had the opportunity this week to present CLF’s broad vision for the future of energy in New England to the Massachusetts legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy. The plan I presented to the legislators:

1. Strategic public investment in the resource with the best rate of return for ratepayers: Energy Efficiency.

2. Strategic public investment in clean electric generation that is not tied to fossil fuel prices: Renewables.

3. Encourage the electric and gas markets to utilize existing gas storage and pipeline to meet peak gas demand.

4. Overall, the need for new gas pipeline has not yet been demonstrated, but if it occurs, we should begin with small pipeline upgrades and peak storage projects first.

5. If we still need more pipeline capacity after doing all of the above, go incremental first (by increasing the capacity of existing pipelines), and let the markets support the capital costs rather than putting them further on the ratepayers.

CLF is skeptical about new gas pipeline infrastructure buildout and efforts to put additional public money toward such projects. This skepticism is based in 1) the climate implications of entrenching gas further in our energy system, 2) the short-term economic effects of building new infrastructure when we’re not maximizing the infrastructure we already have, and 3) the medium- to long-term economic effects of fossil fuel prices dictating our energy prices.

Strategic investments in renewable energy sources will reduce our reliance on climate-changing fossil fuels. Photo credit: CLF

Strategic investments in renewable energy sources will reduce our reliance on climate-changing fossil fuels. Photo credit: CLF

Rather than more investments in fossil fuel-based energy, then, let’s instead invest wisely in energy efficiency and long-term contracts for renewable energy. And where the use of natural gas is currently necessary, let’s use LNG to supplement natural gas supply during periods of peak usage. Expanding our natural gas pipelines and our reliance on this carbon intensive and price volatile fuel should be New England’s last resort.

Effective, clean and economic alternatives are available now and they’re certainly a better deal for our climate and for ratepayers in Massachusetts and across New England.

My full slides and written testimony are available here and here. And, speaking of this winter, check out this paper collecting my colleague Christophe’s blog series on the energy lessons to be drawn from the performance of New England’s energy markets this winter.