Clean Energy Being Derailed by Messy Process in Connecticut?

Mar 22, 2013 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

On a sloppy March 19, while our changing climate threw a late winter storm of ice, snow, hail, sleet and rain at New England, a legislative hearing room in Hartford Connecticut was the focus of regional energy policy attention. The  Energy and Technology Committee of the Connecticut Legislature was holding a hearing on a bill to revise the Renewable Energy Portfolio standard of Connecticut – the Nutmeg State’s piece of the regional effort that has inspired a rising tide of wind and solar energy development across New England.

The bill before the committee that day, which bears the spine tingling and exciting name of “SB 1138 – An Act Concerning Connecticut’s Clean Energy Goals” was a complex piece of legislation making a whole series of changes to the important law that is Connecticut’s part of a successful regional effort to build new clean energy facilities.

An odd and disturbing subtext was this: at the very same moment that the hearing was going on the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEEP) announced and released online a study of the very program being revised by the proposed law.  This meant that as DEEP Commissioner Dan Esty was introducing and explaining a law to change a critical energy and environmental program his Department was releasing a draft study, which would go through two months of public process, to decide whether to make the very kind of changes that the bill he was introducing would make. This is very similar to a group of kids playing baseball in front of plate glass window while promising to have a really focused conversation about where (and where not) was a safe place to play ball, vowing to do so right after their game ended.

To be fair, there is a real urgency to one part of the bill: the provision that would enable Connecticut to move quickly, perhaps in cooperation with other states, to enter into long-term contracts with windfarms and take advantage of the limited extension of the federal renewable energy incentives that (unless Congress changes its mind yet again) only apply to projects that are in construction by the end of 2013 – a deadline that seems like a long ways away, unless you are trying to build a large facility like a windfarm, in which case you understand that getting contracts in place as soon as possible is needed to have shovels in the ground and construction underway by the end of the year.

But another topic was the main focus of the hearing: the proposal to allow large Canadian hydroelectricity to participate in the program, a change long sought by Canadian provinces who seek to import money in exchange for power – and a change long opposed by those who wanted to keep the program focused on building new wind and solar resources for New England.

The hearing brought forth a flood of testimony. While there were over 100 pieces of written and in-person testimony presented to the committee it appears that only the state-owned Hydro Quebec utility, who would likely handsomely benefit if the bill became law, and Northeast Utilities, who are trying to build the infamous Northern Pass transmission line to bring that power to market, testified in favor of the very controversial change in eligibility benefiting large Canadian hydropower.

CLF’s testimony on Bill 1138 criticized that change in the law as disrupting a very successful renewable energy program, as did the testimony of business leaders and labor unions and many, many others. Our testimony graphically illustrated the ever-rising progress of wind power in New England as RPS-inspired projects came on line and fed clean power into the regional grid.Rise of wind energy in NE 2009-13

Some members of the committee, including Rep. Brian Becker, actively raised the question of whether the urgent portion of the bill that would allow Connecticut to move forward with procurement of wind and solar this year, in tandem with other states, could be severed from the other controversial portions of the bill that could be reviewed and discussed separately. No real response was ever given to this very legitimate concern.

In the aftermath of the hearing some of the environmental and business groups who testified delivered a letter to the legislative leadership summarizing the situation and, extraordinarily, officials in Massachusetts state government expressed concern about the bill – telling reporters that:

Massachusetts has taken the lead, working very closely with other New England states, in putting together a regional procurement plan for renewable energy. While we embrace a wide range of clean energy initiatives, we have serious concerns about how Connecticut’s proposed changes to its renewable portfolio standard will affect the region’s renewable market

Undeterred by this criticism and controversy and ignoring the clear issues of good government and process, as well as the need to foster business development through clear and consistent rules adopted after careful process, the Committee met and considered a very slightly revised version of the bill on March 20 in a meeting recorded in an online video.  Eight members of the Committee expressed real concern about the deep and systematic changes being made to a critical clean energy program. They, once again, aired the idea of severing the one small provision that needed to be moved rapidly, considering the rest of the bill after the study, already underway, was completed. Again, they did not get a public response.  The final vote of 16-8 shows who on the Committee stood where.  It is indeed striking not one of the 16 who voted “yea” was willing to defend their vote.

All signs point to the bill continuing to move ahead at a very rapid clip – in fact it may come to the floor of the legislature for a vote as soon as March 27 – when new gun laws being considered in the wake of the Newtown tragedy will be absorbing public interest.

If you live in Connecticut, or know someone who does, please use our action alert to urge the legislative leadership to stop the rush towards changing this important energy and environmental program.  Instead, very specific and timely action to join with other states to enter into long term contracts with new windfarms is needed and the rest of the changes to the renewable energy program should be carefully studied and considered.

Going Above and Beyond: Deepwater Wind Adjusts Offshore Wind Construction Schedule to Protect Right Whales

Feb 5, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

After extensive discussions with CLF, Deepwater Wind has agreed to voluntarily adjust its planned construction period to minimize potential impacts to migrating North Atlantic Right Whales -- like this breaching beauty here.

Deepwater Wind is taking exciting new steps to build on last month’s historic agreement to protect critically endangered right whales while developing offshore wind projects. The offshore wind developer, expected to begin construction on the proposed Block Island Wind Farm in 2014 or 2015, has announced an agreement to voluntarily adjust its planned construction period to minimize potential impacts to migrating North Atlantic right whales. This announcement follows extensive discussions with CLF, and shows a willingness to go above and beyond to protect North Atlantic right whales in the pursuit of renewable energy.

In order to fasten the five proposed turbine steel foundations into the steel floor, the developer must undergo pile driving, a process of hammering steel pipes up to 250 ft into the ocean floor. This stage of production could potentially harm migrating right whales, which have been documented feeding in Rhode Island Sound throughout the month of April. Deepwater Wind has adjusted its construction schedule accordingly, deciding that no pile driving will occur before May 1 of the project’s construction year.

Deepwater Wind’s decision to alter its construction schedule for the Block Island Wind project follows another agreement to adopt protections for endangered right whales in federal waters. A first-of-its kind coalition of offshore wind developers and environmental organizations agreed to adopt voluntary measures to protect right whales while expediting responsible offshore wind development. This historic agreement sets out measures that developers will voluntarily implement over the next four years in the Mid-Atlantic Wind Energy Areas stretching from New Jersey to Virginia. In it, key ocean stakeholders have shown great leadership in setting a model for future coalitions, and they have demonstrated a commitment to developing clean energy projects while protecting critically endangered species.

Wind Power Key to Solving Climate Change

Oct 4, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo courtesy of Dave Clarke@flickr.com

Wind power plays a key role in addressing climate change. Developing wind power and other clean sources reduces the use of fossil fuels, reduces carbon dioxide emissions, and helps to stabilize our climate.

Climate change, with record-breaking droughts, catastrophic floods, and unprecedented heat waves, is upon us.  The only way to keep the crisis from getting much worse is to sharply reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

We can do a lot with efficiency. We can insulate and air-seal our homes, businesses, and public buildings. We, as a nation, can choose to build and drive more fuel-efficient cars. We can drive our cars less, choosing to carpool, bicycle, or take public transportation whenever possible.

But efficiency is not enough.  As long as we use electricity, it must come from somewhere. That’s why all the New England states have specific goals for getting more electricity from renewables.

Every wind turbine, solar panel, or hydro turbine reduces the use of fossil or nuclear power. Eighty-eight percent of the electricity used in New England is generated from either fossil fuels or nuclear power. Nuclear power leaves behind radioactive waste that remains poisonous, essentially, forever. We urgently need to generate more clean, low-carbon, renewable power. We need to use all clean sources, use them together, and use them now.

All energy production takes its toll on the environment. In addition to the climate impacts of fossil fuels, all energy has local impacts where it is mined or produced. Because of this, our first priority must be to be to use less energy through efficiency and conservation.

But we also need to decide where the energy we do use comes from. When we in New England get our energy from fossil fuels and large hydro, we export some of our environmental impacts. By making our own energy, we take responsibility for ourselves.

Wind power is one of the cheapest and most abundant sources of renewable energy. According to the federal Energy Information Agency, electricity from new, utility-scale wind projects costs one-third less than comparable large solar projects. A 60-MW solar project, large enough to replace the wind power from Sheffield or Lowell, would also take up a lot of land – about 1 square mile, or 640 acres.

Home-scale power generation, such as rooftop solar, provides an essential piece of the puzzle; but it alone, or even coupled with efficiency, is not enough to meet our power needs. We still need other sources of power.

Every day, people and businesses in New England use electricity. We turn on lights, TVs, air conditioners and computers. Every time we hit that switch, the electricity comes from somewhere. Wind power generated in New England is part of a responsible choice to meet our power needs and tackle climate change.

Winds of Change: The Promise of 3 Offshore Wind Farms in New England

Sep 21, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Photo courtesy of phault @ flickr

This is an exciting time for clean energy in New England. Why? Because our region could have not one but three offshore wind farms constructed by 2016.  Not only that, these would be the first three in the nation!

The Cape Wind Project, off the coast of Cape Cod, will site 130 wind turbines between 4–11 miles offshore and produce an average of 170 MW of electricity, or about 75% of the average electricity demand for Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket Island. Block Island Wind Farm is scheduled to be constructed in Rhode Island state waters next spring. It is a 5 turbine, 30 megawatt demonstration-scale wind farm about three miles off of Block Island which will generate over 100,000 megawatt hours annually, supplying most of Block Island’s electricity with excess power exported to the mainland. And on a very exciting note, here in Maine, international energy company Statoil’s proposal to build a four turbine floating wind park is moving forward. For recent news coverage, read here.

Clean energy is sprouting up all around New England. For some projects, it’s about time. Recent FAA approvals on Cape Wind, for instance, come after more than a decade of exhaustive reviews and strong opposition from dirty energy-funded opponents. Each of these projects has enormous potential. Together, if built, these three offshore wind farms would transform New England’s energy mix.

Here in Maine, Statoil’s unsolicited bid to develop the floating wind farm is moving through the federal review process. The Bureau of Ocean energy Management (BOEM) has published a notice to determine if there are other developers interested in competing to use the area and to solicit comments about the proposal. The notice is published here.

CLF will provide comments that balance our commitment to helping New England develop clean renewable energy with protecting the ocean environment. BOEM published a second notice that it will prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) when Statoil submits its construction and operations plan (COP). The EIS will consider the environmental consequences associated with the Hywind Maine project. BOEM will accept public comments about the environmental issues that should be considered in the EIS until November 8. For more, read here.

In addition, the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is reviewing the proposed terms of a long-term contract that would permit Statoil to sell the energy generated from the wind farm  into Maine’s energy grid over the next 20 years. The PUC’s authority to approve this contract flows from Maine’s 2010 Ocean Energy Act, which supports research and development of offshore wind energy technology. The PUC may decide whether to accept the proposed contract terms within the month.

For a current and accurate summary of the state of offshore wind off the Atlantic Coast, please read the National Wildlife Federation’s report released on September 24, “The Turning Point for Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy.” CLF helped write sections of the report and co-sponsored it.

There’s no question we’re making incredible progress – but there is more to be done. If you support this work, sign up to become a CLF e-activist to keep informed about our work. And check back in regularly for updates as we try to get these projects built!

Generating Clean Energy and Efficiency Across Massachusetts

Aug 28, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

How does a community balance the potential costs of siting clean energy projects with the economic benefits they provide? What are the local economic realities of hosting distributed clean energy generation facilities and energy efficiency projects in a community? CLF Ventures explored these questions and others in a recent webinar we co-sponsored with the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) and the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s (MMA) Massachusetts Municipal Energy Group.

The first in a three-part series CLF Ventures is co-hosting this summer and fall, the August 15 webinar featured a presentation by James McGrath, Park and Open Space Program Manager for Pittsfield, a Massachusetts Green Community that has hosted several large-scale solar projects and implemented robust, community-wide energy efficiency programs. He spoke about how to initiate clean energy projects, the advantages of clean energy at the local level, and strategies to manage the most common roadblocks in implementation.

The webinar series is targeted to municipal officials and volunteers who are already engaged in clean energy and energy efficiency issues or interested in learning more about how to site and finance clean energy facilities and programs in their communities. Building on themes explored in CLF Ventures’ earlier work with MassCEC on siting land-based wind energy projects, the webinar series gives participants an opportunity to learn first-hand from municipal leaders and technical experts as they share their experiences implementing clean energy and energy efficiency projects across Massachusetts.

Upcoming webinars on September 12 and October 24 will explore how to engage the public when siting solar and wind energy projects and the ins and outs of financing clean energy through power purchase agreements. For more information or to register for upcoming webinars, email liz.carver@clf.org.

The Next Opportunity for Growing Renewable Energy in New England: Going Big by Going Regional

Jul 23, 2012 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

The story of renewable energy development in the United States has included many important moments in which the states have provided leadership – most notably through fostering the shaping and building of new markets for renewable energy markets through programs like Renewable Energy Standards (also known “Renewable Portfolio Standards”).  These efforts have been of great value to the states who put them in place and have complemented and reinforced the incentives and programs to build up renewable energy resources like wind and solar by the Federal Government.

We are at a critical moment in the history of renewable energy development.  The collapse of coherent federal renewable energy policy, due to congressional inaction, in the form of failed attempts to put in place a Renewable Energy Standard and renew the Production Tax Credit, has created a greater need for state action – especially when clean renewable energy is an essential puzzle piece in solving the fundamental climate crisis that we face.

An interesting new element in this story is the quest by the New England States, working through a variety of vehicles, to develop a new “regional procurement” strategy that will allow the states to minimize the cost and maximize the benefits of renewable energy development for the region. This idea, also being discussed by leading scholars, could be a way to move forward smart and effective energy and climate policy, producing great value for a very reasonable investment.

This is far from a theoretical question.  Last year, in July 2011, the New England Governors directed their staff and the New England States Committee on Electricity who work with that staff, to continue to develop and build a mechanism for regional procurement. On July 29-30, 2012 the Governors meet again in Burlington Vermont and will hear a report on how that work has gone.  Will they take the critical step of moving beyond study and consideration of this idea and take action?

Maine Offshore Wind: Statoil Public Meetings Scheduled

Jun 6, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Image courtesy of Statoil.

This January, my colleague Sean Mahoney and I met with representatives of Statoil – one of the largest oil and gas companies in the world – to discuss the company’s plan to develop a floating wind turbine project, known as Hywind, off the Maine Coast. Statoil was also considering a location off the coast of Scotland. Recently, the company decided to move ahead with the initial stages of evaluating the potential for the project in the Gulf of Maine. Specifically, Statoil will evaluate the economic and environmental feasibility of a4 turbine array roughly 12 nautical miles from Boothbay in 460 to 520 feet of water.

A Norwegian company, Statoil is also one of the first energy companies to make a sizeable investment is the field of offshore wind.  In 2009, Statoil launched the first floating turbine off the coast of Norway to test how wind and waves affect the structure. Since startup in 2010, that turbine generated 15 MHw of electricity..

The Statoil floating wind turbine consists of a turbine mounted on a floating steel cylinder filled with a ballast of water and rocks that extends 100 meters beneath the ocean surface and is attached by a three-point mooring spread. Floating turbines can generate electricity further offshore, in locations that minimize visual impacts, accommodate existing fishing uses and shipping lanes, and have consistent and stronger wind flow. They can also be clustered together to take advantage of common infrastructure such as power transmission facilities.

As an initial step forward on Hywind, Statoil will hold a series of public open houses regarding the project later this month.  (For a calendar of these meetings, click here.) The company told CLF it intends to determine whether the Hywind Maine project is feasible by year end 2012, make a final investment decision in 2014, and potentially be installing the floating turbines in 2016.

The schedule of Statoil’s public introductory meetings is:

June 25, 2012:
Boothbay – Boothbay Firehouse (4 – 7pm)
911 Wiscasset Road, Boothbay, Maine

June 26, 2012:
Rockland – Rockland Public Library (5:30-8pm)
80 Union Street, Rockland, Maine

June 27, 2012:
Portland – Gulf of Maine Research Institute (4 – 7pm)
350 Commercial Street, Portland, Maine 

All sessions will be in Open House format so individuals can speak to Statoil team members.

For more information, please contact:

Ivy Frignoca, CLF Maine
Sean Mahoney, VP & Director CLF ME

Massachusetts and Federal Government Team Up to Tap Abundant Offshore Wind Energy Resource

Feb 3, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

From left: Barbara Kates-Garnick, Carl Horstmann, Tommy Beaudreau, and Sue Reid. Credit: Meg Colclough.

Earlier today my colleague Sue Reid, VP & Director of CLF Massachusetts, joined state and federal officials to announce the latest milestone for obtaining plentiful and clean renewable wind energy from the Outer Continental Shelf offshore of Massachusetts. Specifically, they initiated the process for developers to begin leasing and site assessment, and for data gathering and public input, to facilitate off shore wind deployment in an area approximately 12 nautical miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and 13 nautical miles southwest of Nantucket. (The federal press release can be found here.) The “Call Area” as it is termed, was identified following consultation with ocean users, such as fishermen and other stakeholders, through an intergovernmental renewable energy task force led by Massachusetts officials.

Today’s announcement follows President Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he expressed the compelling need to develop alternative sources of energy. CLF agrees: the environmental imperative and ongoing energy transformation replacing obsolete uneconomic fossil fuel power plants requires deployment of the full range of available renewable energy resources. Because offshore wind is strong and persistent, it is among our most robust emissions-free renewable energy sources. We also support the laudable efforts of the Commonwealth and federal government, who share jurisdiction over marine resources, to join initiatives to expand our clean energy resources with efforts to engage in thoughtful ocean planning, both of which have been major themes in Massachusetts. Massachusetts has been a leader in both coastal marine spatial planning and in offshore wind deployment. Those experiences are now being replicated by other states and the federal government – something CLF welcomes.

In speaking alongside Tommy P. Beaudreau, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director, and Barbara Kates-Garnick, Massachusetts Under Secretary of Energy, on the steps of the Wind Technology Testing Center, Sue said:

“One might think it’s unusual for environmental advocates to be championing efforts to develop energy resources; after all, CLF led the charge successfully fighting off all oil and gas drilling in New England waters. That’s because we recognize that, while we need to pursue a portfolio of clean energy alternatives, there is NO other resource that has the sheer magnitude of clean energy potential as offshore wind. Offshore wind holds promise for displacing many gigawatts of fossil fuel-fired generation, keeping the lights on and homes and businesses thriving while we shut down old, dirty, inefficient coal and oil-fired plants.”

She also underscored how important this work is. She said:

“While most local eyes are trained on a different Tommy, out in Indianapolis for a certain small-stakes football game, we’re thrilled that this Tommy, the new quarterback of the Obama Administration’s offshore renewable energy team, is in Massachusetts, focused on moving the clean energy ball rapidly down the field here, in concert with the Patrick Administration and a host of other stakeholders. This is a battle that we must win. Success is our only option.”

Sue is right – milestones like this help us to realize the potential for a new clean energy future—one that is being fostered in Massachusetts through some of the strongest state renewable energy policies in the nation. Our challenge is to advance from salutary policies to new renewable energy deployment that benefits Massachusetts with jobs, economic activity, cleaner air and a healthier environment. Today’s development was one step on a path just begun.

Leaving Money On the Table, Polluting For No Reason, the Case For Storing Energy

Dec 22, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Our systems for creating, conveying and using energy are full of nooks, crannies, odd corners and unexpected cul-de-sacs. The wholesale electricity system that includes large generators and the wires and associated hardware that moves power to the local distribution system where energy is transmitted to homes, offices, factories, streetlights and your cell phone charger is a great example of this reality.  However, the regulatory system we have developed over the last 15 years means that much of the information about that system is available online with some notable exceptions like specific maps, apparently on the theory that terrorists would have trouble finding massive power plants and giant transmission towers if they only had Google Earth and their eyes to guide them.

One such odd corner is the fact that the wholesale electricity system sometimes runs into problems during periods when electrical demand gets very low.  These moments, which tend to happen at night when there are very moderate spring or fall temperatures and our air conditioners and heaters are idle and the majority of the population is asleep with their lights off.  As explained by the New England System Operator in a newsletter article these moments are known as Minimum Generation Emergencies.

As an electricity system approaches this kind of condition it becomes hard to maintain the frequency of the power, an obscure but important function of a grid operator.  The operator will begin to order the shut down of power plants but some plants (like many coal fired power plants) simply can not switch off on a moments notice and others (like nuclear power plants) are pretty much always allowed to run.  In this kind of situation wind turbines are “curtailed” (turned off).

None of this makes anyone happy.  Wind facilities that could be generating electricity with no effort are being curtailed.  Some powerplants continue to operate, generating pollution from smokestacks and creating dangerous waste products for even less good reason than usual and in fact some power plants are given special payments to turn themselves down or off. And it happens more than you might think, this morning (December 22, 2012) we approached this condition reports the New England Independent System Operator (ISO-NE), triggering the first steps and measures taken to deal with this kind of condition.

As described in the recent ISO-NE wind integration study (previously discussed on this blog) we do not need to deploy new technologies to store electricity any time in the near future as we ramp up our use of naturally variable energy resources like wind and solar.  However, the fact that (even today) these kind of minimum generation emergencies can happen illustrates the value that storage can have.  Energy storage, whether it is in the form of batteries, heat or mechanical energy in a flywheel, can help to create a resilient and flexible system that efficiently meets our needs will minimizes the pollution we put out into the environment.

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