Now is the time to triple down on renewables

Increasing gas production is not the answer to runup in prices

RECENTLY, BOTH branches of the Massachusetts Legislature approved a new compromise climate bill. This legislation, which now sits on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk for review, represents significant progress as the Commonwealth seeks to meet its goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Equally encouraging was the Biden administration’s announcement at the shuttered Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset where he outlined new executive actions on extreme heat, environmental justice communities, and the development of offshore wind. While neither are the silver bullet response being called for by activists, they are meaningful and important steps in the right direction.

In short, this is the kind of national and local leadership we need today.

That is why it was disappointing to read about the American Petroleum Institute’s vision for New England’s energy future, following CEO Mike Sommer’s recent visit to Boston. As Sommers himself notes, for all the discussion regarding the current energy landscape, things are not working out right now. However, that is not a rationale for taking our foot off the accelerator when it comes to dealing with climate change. In fact, high gas prices – largely caused by the war in Ukraine – should not allow us to lose focus or revert to traditional ways of thinking about energy security. In moments like this – as the Bay State’s average gas price remains far above the $4 benchmark – we should resist kneejerk responses, such as calls for increased gas production at home or making nice with leaders of OPEC.

There will always be reasons not to act swiftly in our transition to a greener, cleaner economy, but now is simply not the time to lose resolve. Rather, the recent fears about energy security mean we should immediately triple down on our investment in renewables. That means more offshore wind and solar if it accomplishes our shared goals of improved energy security while also combatting climate change, an existential threat to our planet and future generations.

Of course, there will be a transition period to an entirely clean economy – and now is the time to expedite the process and look for every opportunity to encourage the building of green infrastructure and investing in carbon-free energy sources.

Some critics point to concerns about costs and the affordability of renewable energy. It is true that the recent dramatic rise in gas prices, as well as incredible market volatility and unpredictability, has hit everyone’s pocketbooks this summer. But this latest crisis only reenforces the obvious – fossil fuels are not the answer to affordable energy. The old adage is true: we cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.

For instance, district energy systems – which were powered by fossil fuels for decades – can utilize different sources to increase energy efficiency. At Vicinity Energy, we are in the process of pivoting to electrification and offer an affordable, carbon-free path for commercial building owners in Boston and Cambridge. Our district energy operations are flexible and are becoming an incredible tool for local facility managers and developers to reach their decarbonization targets affordably.

With a commitment to net zero, Vicinity Energy is making investments on behalf of our customers to offer renewable thermal energy, cost effectively. Our goal is to make it comparable to the cost of gas. Our eSteam tool, which we recently launched in Massachusetts, is poised to do exactly that as it rapidly decarbonizes the highest source of emissions in major cities, commercial buildings.

District energy is just one example of how we can use existing infrastructure to accelerate the transition to a greener future. At a time when the responsibility is increasingly being placed on municipalities as well as the business community to drive change, this is how we need to focus our efforts to achieve energy security in a forward-thinking way and thoughtfully address climate change.

Jaclyn Bliss is the chief customer officer for Vicinity Energy.