Mass. should boost renewable targets

Omnibus bill offers opportunity to go further

MASSACHUSETTS HOUSE LEADERS are currently drafting an omnibus energy bill to secure new supplies of electricity as much of the region’s fleet of aging nuclear, coal, and oil power plants are now set to retire. Any proposed energy legislation should achieve three key goals. First, the bill must provide reliable and affordable clean energy to all residents, especially those that have been overburdened by pollution or energy costs and underserved by regional economic growth and opportunities.  Second, it must act as an engine for regional economic growth by keeping more of our energy dollars and jobs in New England. Finally, it should maintain Massachusetts’s leadership on clean energy policy and ensure we meet our targets for reducing climate-disrupting carbon pollution.

A policy change that advances all these goals will double the rate of increase for our Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), as proposed by state Sen. Ben Downing. The RPS sets the amount of renewable energy electric utilities are required to purchase each year. The RPS is currently set at 11 percent and increases by 1 percent a year.  At that rate, by 2030 only 25 percent of our power will come from clean energy. In contrast, Maryland just increased its RPS to 25 percent by 2020, a full ten years ahead of us, while California requires 50 percent by 2030 and Hawaii will be all the way to 100 percent by 2045.

We can and must do better.  Massachusetts is ranked first in the country at reducing energy waste through the state’s successful energy efficiency programs. These programs have stabilized electric bills for businesses and families and brought energy costs well below the national average, while reducing energy demand. However, Massachusetts residents still spend $22 billion a year on energy and more than 80 percent of that money leaves the state.

Today, renewable energy is more competitive than ever. In 2013, the Commonwealth’s electric companies signed cost competitive contracts for onshore wind power in New England and the price has only dropped since. The average cost of solar power, prior to any incentives, has decreased nearly 50 percent since 2008 and the cost of offshore wind electricity is expected to drop over 33 percent by 2023, if we support robust deployment.

Doubling the demand for clean, renewable energy by increasing the RPS to 2 percent per year would go a long way to restore our clean energy leadership and boost our economy, while reducing our dependence on costly and dirty natural gas.  While some have been claiming we should spend billions of ratepayer funds on new fracked gas pipelines, their argument has been undercut by the news of Kinder Morgan cancelling its Northeast Energy Direct project due to a lack of customer demand.

A November 2015 study by Attorney General Maura Healey concluded that we can meet our current and future energy needs without new pipelines that destroy conservation lands, devalue private property, and increase our dependence on the carbon pollution and price volatility of fracked gas, and Kinder Morgan has provided ample vindication for her stance.

We strongly support legislation that rejects new fracked gas pipelines, and that boosts offshore wind, onshore wind, and solar. But that is all on the supply side. By doubling the RPS rate of increase to 2 percent annually, and continuing to help homes and businesses save energy, we will be addressing the equally important demand side. Ramping up the RPS will send the necessary market signal that clean energy is here to stay, and coupled with utility procurement using long term contracts, will ensure that new wind projects get built and more jobs are created.

Meet the Author

Emily Norton

Chapter Director, Massachusetts Sierra Club
Meet the Author
We can have affordable and reliable clean electricity that builds a stronger economy.  We just need our officials to make it happen this year by doubling down on efficiency, wind and solar power.

Emily Norton is chapter director of the Massachusetts Sierra Club. Francis Pullaro is executive director of RENEW Northeast.

  • NortheasternEE

    The Sierra Club, and other environmental groups have been duped by wind energy industrialists into believing that wind is an alternative to fossil fuel. To understand why such claims have no merit, one needs to comprehend the difference between the dependable power from conventional plants and the intermittent and variable power from weather dependent renewable resources (wind and solar).

    Convectional power plants provide power as needed. The power from weather dependent wind farms cannot be dispatched or stored and therefore has no value on the power grid. When a wind farm is added to the grid, a power plant must always be available to balance wind’s variability. So, the addition of a wind farm, will not result in the elimination of any existing power plant. Conventional power plants will have to constantly increase or decrease the power they deliver inversely as wind energy is generated.

    This need for balance is what is forcing the early retirement of coal, targeted by the Sierra Club and nuclear as an unintended consequence. This need for balance by flexible fossil fuel power (natural gas) leads to the inescapable conclusion that the addition of wind farms is unnecessary, since the backup power plant can do the job with or without wind farms. So, not only do we have to pay for wind energy at more than four times the going rate, we have to continue to pay for existing power plants just to keep the lights on for when the wind dies.

    Even if the cost of wind energy drops to match the going rate, its cost will always be an add-on. Environmentalists need to understand the limitations of renewable energy, and stop pushing the political class for increases before the price of electricity skyrockets for nothing in return.
    Wind turbines kill birds, bats, destroy neighborhoods with noise, and alter mountain ecosystems forever. It is ironic that the Sierra Club is using its political clout to destroy mountain ridges in Vermont, Maine and in the Berkshires.

    • MA Resident

      These concerns are overstated. The energy costs won’t be an “add-on” because the marginal cost of to generate wind electricity is near 0, while the cost for fossil-fuel based power you always pay for burning that non-renewable resource, so while wind output is high it will be displacing the (more marginally costly) non-renewable power. Imagine a hybrid car, or a sailboat with a motor, you still need the gas engine sometimes, but that doesn’t mean that a mix of technologies can’t lower overall costs (and reduce risks from fickle commodity prices). Certainly there would be engineering challenges to take the grid to 100% wind, but, for example in Iowa they are well over 30% wind electricity and Warren Buffet’s MidAmerica is requesting permission to make an additional $3.6B investment to get to 85% at no cost to rate payers. Iowa also pays some of the lowest electricity rates in the country, and keeps more of the money in the state. Massachusetts is lucky enough to have an additional advantage, best-in-the-nation offshore potential, yet we don’t have a significant wind contribution (yet). I’m excited for the potential for Massachusetts to lead the nation in developing offshore wind jobs and expertise, instead of remaining dependent on imported coal and natural gas.

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