No 7th inning stretch needed, just clean energy home runs

National Grid baseball analogy provokes strong response

This commentary was written by Joel Wool.

I’VE NEVER BEEN A FAN of baseball metaphors. If we’re talking efficient use of energy rather than exercise or entertainment, it’s hard to see the utility of hitting a ball and running in circles.

But since opponents of clean energy reforms have called for a “7th-inning stretch” to pause and reflect on climate progress achieved to date, allow me to respond in kind. We are dangerously close to striking out on climate. We need a home run. And then another.

In 2016, the last round of major energy legislation, investor-owned electric companies solicited and won an amendment literally entitled “remuneration,” obviously increasing costs to ratepayers by adding a fee onto long-term energy contracts. The same utilities, who administer Massachusetts’ ratepayer-funded, three-year energy efficiency plans, have proposed energy efficiency savings targets that are so unambitious one wonders whether the Green Communities Act, which directs the state to pursue all “cost-effective” efficiency measures, is being taken seriously.

While there have been major victories in the past few years to advance innovation and assert clean energy as a public good—for example, the Legislature in 2016 called for 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind and new energy storage programs while defeating efforts to create massive ratepayer subsidies for gas pipelines from the Marcellus Shale—there have also been setbacks. Our solar programs have become more unequal over time, disadvantaging renters and low-income residents who receive lower on-bill benefits than homeowners with perfect roofs. The Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), perhaps the most important energy policy Massachusetts has on the book, is inching along while corollary policies in other states fly forward.

The Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standard will reach 13 percent by the end of 2018. To put this in perspective, Hawaii’s RPS will reach 100 percent by 2045. By contrast, Massachusetts will not reach the same level until 2105. New York and California, among other states, have legislated 50 percent by 2030 targets and there is significant pressure to go even faster.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts has asserted that accelerating the RPS may interfere with 20-year hydropower contracts. In order to do so, RPS Class I resources, for which large-scale hydropower is ineligible, would have to achieve a percentage so high prior to the initial contract’s expiration that the 9,450,000 megawatt-hours allowed under statute or the 1,000 megawatts procured would not fit into the remaining percent of retail electric supply. This is unlikely because (1) the RPS would have to increase at an enormous rate to accomplish this and (2) because the overall megawatts of electric generation and supply are likely to increase as the region’s vehicle fleet transitions from gasoline, diesel, and propane to electric power.

In reality, the RPS will, after these initial long-term contracts expire, begin to replace out-of-region contracts for energy sources with ones that are local, promote in-region economic development, reduce environmental impact, and address local energy constraints. These energy source could also be more energy efficient and could easily be cheaper. During the period between then and now, the RPS will support the continued growth of local wind, solar, anaerobic digestion, and other distributed resources as long-term contracts also advance offshore wind and transmission to import hydropower.

Whether or not one believes the RPS should ever reach 100 percent—which I do—it’s quite clear that Massachusetts policy to incentivize local renewable energy is falling behind that of peer states. Communities frustrated with lack of progress on energy issues have taken to municipal aggregation in droves, with an increasing number of communities procuring renewable energy at a rate that exceeds Massachusetts’ RPS and with many achieving cost savings in the process.

Changes in energy policy, technology, and climate science will surely necessitate further waves of energy reforms moving forward. If the state decided at any time between 2018 and the next 20 years or so that the statute should incent greater amounts of hydropower and needed to be adjusted to do so, the Legislature could act. What is inexcusable is inaction on crises we see facing our economy and environment today. Let’s not subject Massachusetts to blue-state climate denial that eschews science in the name of preserving outdated energy regulation, outdated energy business models, centralized ownership of power, and continued dependence on fossil fuels.

Joel Wool is a resident of Dorchester and previously worked on energy policy for Clean Water Action, a national environmental advocacy organization. His  opinions are his own.

Metaphors fall short

This commentary was written by Craig S. Altemose.

IN A RECENT Commonwealth piece, National Grid President Marcy Reed called for a “seventh inning stretch,” saying that “we know no lead is safe at Fenway Park” and “that it’s wrong to put away snow shovels on March 1″ and that we should therefore not accelerate our transition to renewable energy. But her metaphors—and thus her conclusions—fall short in several respects.

First off, I don’t know how long it takes Marcy Reed to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” but I can usually belt that out in around 34 seconds. A “seventh inning stretch” doesn’t allow much time for “an accounting of what’s been accomplished, what works best, and what the next play should be.” That happens fluidly during the ball game, which has time for reflection built-in (e.g., work on your outfield strategy while your teammate is at bat). Unfortunately, Reed is calling for a break that would last closer to a decade than a minute, and that’s just unacceptable. That would be the equivalent of saying the Red Sox should not change their line-up for a decade.

The truth is, you don’t stop the clock in a baseball game, just like you can’t with climate change. The closest thing in either case is refusing to take the field while the other team is at bat.  And if Reed tried that strategy while managing the Red Sox, they would be mocked by the other team and booed out of the stadium by their own fans. Thankfully, that’s not how baseball works. And with the stakes this high, it’s not how energy policy can work either.

Reed may think that the game she’s playing is the utilities against the environmentalists, but the real game is humanity against catastrophic climate change. And the stakes are literally life and death. We’re not playing for peanuts and crackerjacks. We can’t push for a delay of game and keep on polluting while we ‘figure things out.” If we don’t win, it’s more than “a shame”; communities will flood, forests will burn, people will die.

We have figured out the key pieces: burning coal, oil, and gas causes climate change. Using solar and wind does not. We need less of the former and more of the latter. Our current state energy policy (that Reed claims is sufficient) will see us phasing out fossil fuels in our electricity sector by 2105, whereas California will do so by 2045 and Scotland (served by Reed’s National Grid British counterparts) will reach that goal in 2020. Massachusetts current policies will have us hit 50 percent renewable energy in 2055, while California, New York, and Hawaii have all set goals of getting to 50 percent renewable electricity by 2030.

If Reed’s team at National Grid can’t figure out how to do what people in California, New York, Hawaii, or Scotland can do, then she needs to clear out her roster and hire a new team. Or perhaps the team at National Grid is ready and willing to charge forward and help build a clean energy future, but their manager is more concerned with maximizing profits than winning the game?

The sad truth is that utilities—which, let me remind you, are government-protected-monopolies —currently make more money from building new gas pipelines than installing solar panels (wonder which one they’re prioritizing?). And yet when policy advocates call for the Department of Public Utilities to make the rules of the game more commonsensical and better align their incentives to the needs of the moment, National Grid and fellow clean-energy-laggard Eversource instead use their government-protected ratepayer income to lobby our Legislature to prioritize their profits over the health of our communities and our climate.

Reed’s appeal for a pause in the growth of renewables is not only a clarion call to support Senate Bill 2545 and match California and New York’s 50 percent-by-2030 renewable energy mandate; it’s also a charge to reimagine the role of utilities in Massachusetts, and keep them from using our money to lobby against our interests. If our home team legislators want to hit a grand slam, they should keep their eye on the ball and enact laws to meet or exceed a 50 percent-by-2030 target. That’s when it will be time to rise in the grandstands and cheer.

Craig S. Altemose is the Senior Advisor of 350 Massachusetts for a Better Future, a statewide network of climate activists that advocates for strong climate policy in Massachusetts.

We’re in the bottom of the ninth

This commentary was written by Bill Ashley.

In her recent article, Marcy Reed demonstrates a real fondness for her baseball analogies.

In terms of the bad effects of climate change on the atmosphere since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution – the correct evaluation of that timespan –  we’re in the bottom of the ninth inning in the all-important final game of the World Series.  So this is no time for procrastination, for sticking with weak-hitting batters/solutions.

Singles and doubles (rather than solo-home-run measures such as climate engineering) are indeed  the order of the day; that’s why legislation requiring an annual increase of 3 percent in our renewable portfolio standard is being forcefully pushed at this time –  in this particularly crucial game that Reed is underrating.

Meet the Author

Joel Wool

Masters in urban and environmental policy/Boston City Council aide/Clean Water Action, Tufts University
Meet the Author

Craig S Altemose

Senior advisor, 350 Massachusetts for a Better Future
Meet the Author

Bill Ashley

Member , Climate Action Now
Bill Ashley is a resident of Holyoke and a member of Climate Action Now.