Clean energy intrigue alleged

Environmental advocates say RFP favors hydro over wind, solar

Environmental advocates say a 1,200 megawatt clean energy solicitation developed by the Baker administration is biased in favor of large-scale hydro projects favored by some of the state’s utilities.

The energy diversity legislation authorizing the clean energy procurement was approved last year on Beacon Hill with a provision giving preference to hybrid projects that deliver hydroelectricity in tandem with either wind or solar power. But the environmental advocates say the draft request for proposals includes provisions that make it difficult for wind and solar to compete for space in any procurement.

“It’s an energy diversity bill that stifles diversity,” said George Bachrach, the president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts.

Bachrach said he is wary of the contracting process because the state’s electric utilities are not only helping to write the RFP with the Department of Energy Resources but expect to benefit from it by building the transmission lines that deliver the power.

Eversource Energy, for example, helped craft the RFP and is also working closely with Hydro-Quebec on the Northern Pass project, which would deliver hydroelectricity only on a transmission line running from the Canadian border to southern New Hampshire. “How many hats can you wear?” Bachrach asked.

One provision in the draft RFP requires any project combining hydro and either wind or solar to include an annual schedule of deliveries on an hourly basis. Another would require the energy sources to produce at least 60 percent of the highest annual single hourly delivery during the winter peak. Failure to comply with either provision would trigger financial penalties.

Both provisions are problematic for variable energy sources such as wind and solar, whose output depend on the weather. Solar, in particular, would have a problem with the winter peak requirement, since the sun typically is down by the time the winter peak occurs.

Peter Shattuck, the Massachusetts director of the Acadia Center, an environmental advocacy group, said the RFP should be changed. “As written, the RFP would favor large hydro over the wind and solar that we need to diversify the energy mix, drive in-region economic development, and achieve renewable power requirements,” he said.

Kevin O’Shea, a spokesman for the Department of Energy Resources, issued a statement that did not address the concerns raised by environmental advocates but said Massachusetts “continues to lead in its pursuit of a diversified renewable energy portfolio in order to provide the Commonwealth’s residents with a cost-effective and reliable clean energy future.” His statement said all feedback on the draft RFP will be evaluated and considered.

Environmental advocates aren’t the only ones raising issues with the RFP.  Ed Krapels, the president of Anbaric Transmission, which is working with National Grid to import hydroelectricity from Canada along with wind power from New York, said the RFP is very complex. “It will be hard for wind and, therefore, wind and hydro, to bid into this RFP,” he said in an email. “Small solar projects may find it easier because they may not be as dependent on new transmission. I’m sure [Massachusetts officials are] getting lots of comments from stakeholders, so maybe they’ll fix it.”

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Peregrine Energy Group, which was hired as the independent evaluator of the contracting process, raised some of the same issues as the environmental advocates in its report on the RFP. But Peregrine didn’t seem overly concerned, saying the issues could be addressed by tweaking some of the RFP’s language. Peregrine raised more concerns about other requirements outlined in the RFP, which the company said “will likely limit participation of wind projects as bidders.”

In a conference call on Wednesday with financial analysts, top officials at Eversource sounded very optimistic that Northern Pass, which has yet to win regulatory approval in New Hampshire, will not only pass muster in the Granite State but land at least a portion of the Massachusetts clean energy contract.

Jim Judge, the CEO of Eversource, said on the conference call that Republican Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire is a strong supporter of Northern Pass. He indicated the project should win approval in the fall. As for the Massachusetts RFP, which is expected to win final approval and go out later this spring, with bids due three months later, Judge was optimistic. “We believe Northern Pass is well positioned for this RFP,” he said.

–BRUCE MOHL

  • Andrei Radulescu-Banu

    Environmental energy policy is way too politicized in this state. All are claiming to want to save the environment – when in reality they pursue their own economic interest.

    This article is a good example: the goal is to reduce energy emissions, but there isn’t a single figure in the article describing the energy emissions of hydro, compared with solar and wind., and how that adds up towards the reduction goals mandated by state law.

    Why are there no figures provided? Because the interest is not to meet the reduction targets… The interest is to protect this or other industry.

  • Richard Mann

    News from Ontario, Canada. The problem is Wind and Solar are not reducing C02 and our government will not admit this costly failure. Ontario’s professional Engineers, those tasked with generation, transmission and billing, have reported the problem. our government continues to build more wind and solar.
    Reference: “Ontario’s Electricity Dilemma – Achieving Low Emissions
    at Reasonable Electricity Rates”. Ontario Society of Professional
    Engineers (OSPE). April 2015.

    (Archived at: http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.ospe.on.ca/resource/resmgr/DOC_advocacy/2015_Presentation_Elec_Dilem.pdf)

    Page 15 of 23. “Why Will Emissions Double as We Add Wind and Solar Plants ?”

    – Wind and Solar require flexible backup generation.

    – Nuclear is too inflexible to backup renewables without expensive engineering changes to the reactors.

    – Flexible electric storage is too expensive at the moment.

    – Consequently natural gas provides the backup for wind and solar in North America.

    – When you add wind and solar you are actually forced to reduce nuclear generation to make room for more natural gas generation to provide flexible backup.

    – Ontario currently produces electricity at less than 40 grams of CO2 emissions/kWh.

    – Wind and solar with natural gas backup produces electricity at about 200 grams of CO2 emissions/kWh. Therefore adding wind and solar to Ontario’s grid drives CO2 emissions higher. From 2016 to 2032 as Ontario phases out nuclear capacity to make room for wind and solar, CO2 emissions will double (2013 LTEP data).

    – In Ontario, with limited economic hydro and expensive storage, it is mathematically impossible to achieve low CO2 emissions at reasonable electricity prices without nuclear generation.