On clean energy, we need a 7th inning stretch

Time to take stock of where we are and where we’re going

HERE IN MASSACHUSETTS we guard against exuberance and premature celebration.  We know no lead is safe at Fenway Park, that it’s wrong to put away snow shovels on March 1, or rejoice in dodging a single Route 1 pothole.

But while reticence may be a welcome part of our New England DNA, self-reflection can often chart a long-term, successful course. For the Commonwealth, now is an appropriate time to take stock of significant accomplishments since the electric industry restructured in 1996.

Technological innovation and the development of new, clean energy sources were among the primary goals of that undertaking more than two decades ago. Energy efficiency programs and support for renewable power sprang from new obligations on electric distribution companies. Some, like energy efficiency, were very effective while others, like renewable power, have taken longer to gain traction.

Over the past 20 years there were changes in state laws that added requirements for electric companies: subsidies for solar development, expansion of the renewable portfolio standard to boost renewables, and an alternative portfolio standard to shepherd along new generation technologies, to name a few. In baseball vernacular, they are the singles and doubles that help put numbers on the scoreboard.

More recently, with the Legislature and the Baker-Polito administration working in concert, several major Massachusetts energy policy initiatives have moved forward.  First, a goal of an additional 1,600 megawatts of solar generation was established and rules are being finalized. Second, the electric distribution companies were asked to solicit 1,090 megawatts of clean energy and up to 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind.  Third, a new clean energy standard was initiated, which expands the RPS, requiring that a percentage of distribution company load come from clean energy sources including hydro-electric.

These achievements highlight Massachusetts’ success in being among the leading clean energy states in the country and help to further reduce the state’s dependency on fossil fuels.  These moves are more like home runs that make the crowd stand up and cheer.

For those who do rise and take notice, what they would see is a significant amount of clean power present and operational in Massachusetts. This is a very good thing.

Marcy Reed of National Grid.

In 2018, any electric distribution company or competitive supplier must account for approximately 26 percent of their base load by complying with current clean energy mandates.

By 2022, when the clean energy and offshore wind projects come online, combined with the increasing requirements for the renewable portfolio standard, the clean energy standard, and the alternative portfolio standard, approximately 48 percent of National Grid’s electric load in Massachusetts will fall under one of these clean energy programs. In 2030, that will total approximately 58 percent as the three mandated programs increase annually.

In addition, the state later this year will finalize details of the next 1,600 megawatts of large-scale solar, an expansion on top of the existing 1,600 megawatts of solar already installed. And while this activity is going on, small and residential solar systems are continually being installed around Massachusetts, unaffected by caps on programs established to limit subsidies paid for by electric distribution customers.

These recent clean energy procurements, coming on top of our overall positive track record, should prompt an accounting of what’s been accomplished, what works best, and what the next play should be – a seventh inning stretch.

With a couple months left in Beacon Hill’s legislative session, some are calling for accelerating or increasing the pace toward renewables. Those suggesting an increase in the renewable portfolio standard should understand that there are consequences of such a proposal. Any increase in the renewable portfolio standard beyond the increases already scheduled will eventually negate the benefits of the clean hydro-electric generation recently selected. As written, the renewable portfolio standard legislation would overtake and crowd out clean energy that doesn’t qualify under the renewable portfolio standard. Under Massachusetts statute and policy, large hydro-electric is not considered renewable and therefore doesn’t qualify under the renewable portfolio standard. Do we really want to undercut the use of clean energy that we are currently in the process of procuring?

At National Grid, we strive to balance any additional policy changes with helping our customers manage their energy costs, including energy efficiency programs introduced more than 30 years ago. Our 1.2 million customers come from many communities, including the Gateway Cities of Lynn, Brockton, Lowell, Worcester, and Fall River, among others.  We constantly try to keep their interests in mind while evaluating potential programs that could increase their utility costs.

We have a lot to be proud of as a Commonwealth, and there will be future policy initiatives that deserve attention, including an expanded focus on the transportation and heating sectors, key drivers of greenhouse gas emissions.

Meet the Author
We know there remains work to be done as we transition to a clean energy future.  The Commonwealth has many moving parts currently in play, and it’s important to understand their ramifications and potential customer impact. For now, a thoughtful pause that takes into account the diverse needs of its citizens best enables us to write the next successful chapter.

Marcy Reed is the Massachusetts president and executive vice president of policy and social impact at National Grid.