I keep thinking of the old Schoolhouse Rock song about how a bill becomes a law (“I’m just a bill, yes I’m only a bill…”). We’re at that crucial point when one chamber in our bicameral system, the Massachusetts House of Representatives, has passed something (which we called “a good start”, but not enough), and now the state Senate is figuring out its version.
What they didn’t mention in the Schoolhouse Rock video was the part where lots of people and organizations (and lobbyists) try to strengthen the bill, or weaken it. On the strengthening side, that includes UCS and our many supporters in Massachusetts who have been weighing in as things have proceeded.
That leads us to the temporal doorstep of the Senate vote. The Senate chair of the joint House-Senate energy committee, Sen. Ben Downing, and the chair of the Senate Ways and Means committee, Sen. Karen Spilka, unveiled their version on Friday. The next step is the floor of the Senate, where the bill will be taken up tomorrow (Thursday)—amendments, debate, vote.
What we’re thinking about the bill is expressed in the letter we sent to senators yesterday. Overall, we wrote “in strong support” of the version unveiled last Friday, and urged senators to back most of what’s in there. Sen. Downing in particular has been a strong champion of progress on clean energy and climate for years, and that is definitely reflected in the bill.
We also recommended a handful of modifications, ones that would “enhance the clean energy economy and protect consumers, and… strengthen our efforts to reduce global warming pollution more generally.” That includes in the transportation sector; there are likely to be amendments around increasing transparency around the oil we buy to fuel our cars and trucks, and around moving more quickly on electric vehicles.
Overall, we said, with the Senate version we are very close to “an energy bill we can all be proud of…, and that re-asserts Massachusetts’s leadership position on energy and climate issues.” Sen. Downing, in an op-ed published yesterday, called for the state to “Think big.” And the bill certainly reflects that thinking.
The bill aligns fully with what we’ve been saying (and analyzing) about the potential to use clean energy to reduce our risks of overreliance on natural gas, cut our global warming emissions, bring other benefits, and do it all at modest cost.
That’s a great place to be in. But we’re not done yet.
And if you’re a Massachusetts resident, you still have a chance to say your piece.
Even if you’re not local, stay tuned in. What Massachusetts is on the verge of doing has great implications for not just one state, but the region and the country as a whole.
It’s up to the Senate, and to us.]]>
Solar for All is a product of the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), the Partnership for Southern Equity, and the South Carolina Association for Community Economic Development, and is supported by more than a dozen other state and regional organizations.
The report addresses the important issue of solar equity and access, the idea that we need to do more to make sure underserved populations have better access to solar PV systems and the direct benefits that come from them.
The new work rightly points to the benefits to everyone of solar anywhere: the availability of clean energy, often at times when it’s most needed, potentially with important cost reductions across the electric system, and the economic development potential of such a local, distributed technology.
But the report also rightly points to the challenges for low- and moderate-income (LMI) households, involving upfront costs, access to credit, challenges for renters, and more.
So how can utilities be part of the solution? Solar for All spells out three areas where best practices can be brought to bear: “diverse financing options, community solar programs, and programs leveraging existing low-income and rural energy assistance funding.”
Diverse financing. What the authors are pushing for is a range of options for financing PV, options that make PV more affordable for more people. In some cases that’s just about making available to lower-income households what’s already available to others in many states, and has been key to solar’s incredible growth: third-party arrangements like solar leases or power purchase agreements.
A handful of states don’t allow those, and you could imagine that in-state utilities could push to change that. On-bill financing—having the utility finance a purchase—is another approach.
Community solar. Many of us can’t do solar on our own roofs, or don’t own our roofs (renters, for example). Buying into a community solar system is a way of still getting a piece of the action. Solar for All suggests options like creating a carve-out for LMI customers, doing away with upfront costs, siting some of the solar arrays themselves in underserved communities, and incorporating job training.
Leveraging of existing programs. Federal, state, and local programs that are already in place to serve LMI customers—for energy efficiency, for example—can be expanded to cover solar, too, the report suggests. In some cases, that might work best when coupled with efficiency upgrades.
Solar for All offers a range of examples involving solar or energy efficiency, cases of utilities demonstrating interventions that expand access and improve their customers’ situations.
The report focuses on southern utilities, where the authors are based, but includes a broader swath of the country in the examples, and a lot of their points would apply to electricity providers nationwide, even given different regulatory environments.
It’s certainly true that this isn’t an issue confined to just one part of the country. Solar equity has even been a focus of the Obama administration, with an initiative launched last year to expand solar access. And the latest approach to the early-action credit under the Clean Power Plan, released last week, actually offers double credit for solar in low-income areas.
“Solar power,” the report says, “presents an opportunity to provide LMI customers with clean, affordable, renewable energy, helping families to control energy costs while expanding investments in local communities.” Utilities need to be active, helpful partners in making that happen.
Lauren Bowen, an SELC attorney, says that the examples in the report “demonstrate the opportunities and benefits solar power can provide for lower income families and communities of color.” And, she says, “It is time for southern utilities to embrace this effort, to bring the power of the sun to all.”
Solar for All sheds important light on how that can happen.]]>
Animals of the wild sort are on my mind because they’ve been in my life more visibly lately. Recently we’ve seen a possum and some fishers (members of the weasel family) in our yard, and a few weeks ago a curious and out-of-place young fox snarled my morning commute. Last month a raccoon moved into our chimney to use it for child-rearing.
But the possum and fishers stayed outside, the fox didn’t make me miss my train, and the raccoons were on the other side of a solid chimney damper (we couldn’t see each other, but my kids gave them names). And, maybe most importantly—given our need for electricity for cooking, cooling, fridging, and more—none of them disrupted our home electricity supply, and the lights stayed on.
Elsewhere, people (and animals) haven’t been so lucky. As it turns out, animals and our electricity interact a lot more than we may realize. Here are a few recent examples that have hit my inbox:
A new website dedicated to tracking such incidents, CyberSquirrel1.com, has so far mapped 1,368 “successful” “Cyber Squirrel Operations” (and climbing…). Squirrels account for more than half of the take-downs they’ve found, followed by birds, raccoons, and snakes. (Even frogs get a piece of the action.)
It’s not just the U.S. homes and businesses under animal attack. In April a weasel took down the Large Hadron Collider, the (otherwise) very impressive particle accelerator, for days. And just last week a monkey knocked out power in all of Kenya for four hours.
As the Washington Post reported earlier this year, the Brookings Institution even uses animal incidents to put cybersecurity in context, with a Brookings expert saying that “squirrels have taken down the power grid more times than the zero times that hackers have.” CyberSquirrel1 quotes a former NSA official saying natural disaster and squirrels probably come ahead of cyberattacks in terms of threat.
None of that is to say that cyberattacks aren’t worth attention, but it’s important to put them in the broader context of threats to our power system as it’s currently configured.
So what’s a person (or household or city or particle accelerator manager) to do about all this? It comes down to realizing (1) that we’ve got problems and (2) that we’ve got solutions.
The idea that our power grid is increasingly not up to the challenges that face it has been the subject of a couple of recent Union of Concerned Scientists reports. Power Failure: How Climate Change Puts Our Electricity at Risk (2014) looked at a range of threats to our electrical grid from global warming impacts, from coastal flooding and drought to extreme heat and wildfires. Lights Out? Storm Surge, Blackouts, and How Clean Energy Can Help (2015) focused on the threats to coastal power infrastructure from flooding and sea level rise.
Fortunately, there are solutions. Lights Out? points to the power of resilient power, systems that are “flexible, can respond to challenges, can quickly recover, and remain available when we need [them] most.” It cites options including solar or wind systems with energy storage, combined heat and power/cogeneration systems, and microgrids. Clean energy options help both avoid climate change and prepare for it.
Those concepts—about the problems, and about the solutions—actually work pretty well for squirrel threats, too. The notion of incorporating onsite generation and energy storage, and a degree of capacity to operate independent of the larger electric grid, can serve people well. Our world is changing, and our power system should be changing, too.
I expect, if they could, the squirrel, weasel, and raccoon communities would vote for upgrades, not just for more resilience, but for prudent hardening—preventing incidents in the first place. Squirrels, the Washington Post has reported, “remain the biggest wildlife nemesis because of their sheer numbers and smarts,” but those “smarts” often get them into situations that end badly for them, not just power customers. (In the case of the weasel and the LHC, the “unfortunate creature did not survive the encounter.” The Kenyan monkey, though, did.)
And as for our little raccoon friends (Rachel, Rocky, Randy, and Ricky), the solution seemed to be encouraging momma to move out, and to take her babies with her. It didn’t end up going that smoothly. But the chimney is now capped, so our own little bit of hardening is in place.
Lots more ounces of prevention in our power choices could save a whole lot more pounds of problems. For us and our furry friends.]]>
A draft of the long-awaited Massachusetts omnibus energy bill has finally emerged, and the state’s House of Representatives is gearing up to decide on a version of it. So how do We the People decide how good a deal the resulting bill is for the Bay State? Here are five questions that can help us figure that out.
This is the big one. We need to diversify our electricity mix, drive our economy forward, and cut carbon emissions. That calls for boldness.
The draft bill covers long-term contracting for offshore wind and hydro. Both are important technologies that it makes sense to encourage for Massachusetts, and contracting is a way of getting us low-carbon energy in a way that makes sense for us and for developers (of offshore wind, or of the transmission for the hydro).
The draft bill includes a push for hydropower or hydropower-plus-other-renewables, and 1,200 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind power, and those are certainly steps in the right direction.
But we’re looking for leaps in the right direction, not just steps. There’s a real sense that, in offshore wind in particular, bolder is better, that there’s strong value in getting to a bigger level of deployment, to generate and capture the economies of scale for offshore wind that come only with real scale. Too little doesn’t send a strong enough signal to the private sector about what we want from them.
We should be heading for 2,000 MW of offshore wind and beyond, not stopping partway there. And capturing all the land-based renewables we can.
The draft bill proposes to allow other renewables, like land-based wind, to compete for the long-term contracts targeting hydro. That’s really important, including because we have enough recent experience with wind, in particular, to know how low-priced it can be, and it’ll help make sure that the winning bids are reasonably priced.
New England wind farms offer some of the best prospects for steady, low-cost power in the near term. Transmission has been a key constraint, and the long-term contracting for power+transmission envisioned in the bill is an excellent tool for unlocking those resources.
The bill, though, proposes to make wind and other renewables play a secondary role, requiring them to pair with hydro, while allowing hydro to compete solo. It makes much more sense to spell out what we’re looking, in terms of performance, and then let the technologies compete, in whatever combination they want.
Massachusetts also has other tools in its clean energy toolbox, and we’re going to want them, too. For example:
The House should keep electricity bills in mind as it thinks about what needs to be in this legislation, but that shouldn’t lead them to think that smaller would be better, that a more constrained approach would be cheaper.
One reason is the benefit of scale, as discussed above for offshore wind.
Another reason is the risks to consumers of not doing enough. More than 60 percent of Massachusetts’s electricity generation last year was from natural gas, as was half of New England’s. The state is definitely in the danger zone for natural gas overreliance.
That means that strong moves toward more clean energy can be a better thing—a great thing—in terms of the economics over the long term, and in terms of consumer protection, along with all the health and economic development benefits that renewables have to offer.
The draft bill didn’t attempt to codify the moves that are afoot to tie the state’s electricity ratepayers to more natural gas infrastructure. That’s good.
But the department of public utilities is still considering proposals by the electrical utilities (distribution companies) that include such provisions. Those proposals don’t make sense, and the legislature has an ability to weigh in.
We need to be moving toward a more balanced role for natural gas, not a bigger one.
The real question is whether the energy bill continues Massachusetts’s tradition of leadership in the clean energy space, at a time when other states (think Oregon, California, New York) are making bold moves.
If this bill aspires to “omnibus” stature, as it should, it needs to serve as a model for the region, and the country—on how to launch a whole new industry (offshore wind), on how to incorporate hydro into the mix responsibly, on how to bring to bear a broad suite of clean energy tools.
This is the time for leadership, and we’re counting on the House to show what leadership looks like.
A friend and former colleague—my business partner from when I worked in solar—recently shared a graph showing the drop in the prices of solar panels and the growth in worldwide installations of solar.
My buddy pointed out where prices stood at the beginning of the period shown in the graph, 40 years ago; what panels cost when he launched operations in one Latin American country 30 years ago; and where things were when he and I launched another operation a decade later. And he mentioned the incredibly low price he had paid, just the day before, for modules to feed one of those operations.
Those declining cost numbers—the steady move toward lower and lower prices for solar panels—tell an amazing story about an industry that has been relentless in its pursuit of relevance, in its drive to become a mainstream power option. The steady ramp-up in solar installation numbers shows how successful that effort’s been.
The juxtaposition of the two data streams hints at the virtuous cycle fueled by policies that have driven more installations, cost drops that have resulted from greater scale, new policies made possible by lower prices, more installations, even lower costs,…
What struck me in looking at those data was the valley nature of the graphs together.
As a former entrepreneur, I’m acutely aware of the “valley of death” in business. Not the Psalm 23 type, and not the version that awaits the unfortunates in a Tennyson-style Light Brigade charge. In business, it refers to the valley (sometimes wide and deep) between a business venture’s proof of concept and its commercial success.
What I see in the solar graphic, by contrast, is a story of progress and achievement. A picture of ruddy health, of success. A valley of life, if you will.
That’s not to say that individual solar companies won’t have troubles along the way (SunEdison’s bankruptcy, for example), or that individual solar projects won’t hit some speed bumps (as in the recent mishap at the otherwise impressive Ivanpah CSP facility).
But solar’s valley of life is such a powerful topographical feature that it’s worth keeping in mind as we think about technologies and options for cleaning up our energy, about how well policies and innovation and customers and companies can fit together when the stars align.
Solar is now an important contributor not just to the power grid in leading states, but also to economic development and job creation. And, thanks to cost reductions, state policies, and the extension of the important federal tax credits for it and other renewables, solar is set to have another record-breaking year in the US in 2016.
So the valley of life seems set to keep getting deeper, as solar costs and prices continue to drop, and taller, as solar installations soar.
Those price drops help my old colleagues, and the rest of the solar industry, do their thing, and helps in the important work of expanding solar’s reach. And all that in turn helps us to move toward the clean energy mix that will serve us all so well economically, security-wise, environmentally.
The solar valley sure seems like a landscape feature worth embracing. To life!
[Hat tip to this Renewable Energy World post that also talked about this compelling graph.]]]>
The recent UCS study looked at some of the electricity proposals that the Massachusetts legislature is considering, and that might find their way into an upcoming “omnibus” energy bill. Our study concluded that embracing a wide range of clean energy technologies, at scale, could lower natural gas risks, significantly cut carbon emissions, and generate solid benefits in terms of public health and the state’s economy, all at very modest cost.
Now a new study looks at one particular piece of that energy progress puzzle. The Analysis of benefits of clean electricity imports study was funded by the Massachusetts Clean Electricity Partnership (MCEP), a collection of hydro, wind, and transmission companies in the Northeast (and Canadian Southeast). It looks at the idea (supported by the Gov. Charlie Baker and others) of having Massachusetts utilities go out to bid for a big chunk of their electricity needs via long-term contracts from hydro, wind, solar, and other renewable energy supplies.
And here’s what it found, according to John Dalton of Power Advisory LLC, who carried out the study on behalf of MCEP (emphasis added):
Our analysis shows that displacing natural gas-fired electricity generation with hydropower or a combination of hydro and wind results in substantial annual savings to Massachusetts energy consumers as well as dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
In picture terms, here’s what the math looks like:
The new study underscores the findings of UCS’s recent one, and adds to it:
The MCEP study, as its name suggests, focused on imports. Clean energy imports are an important piece of how Massachusetts is going to meet its need to cut natural gas use and cut carbon emissions at the lowest cost.
Those imports are only a piece of the overall equation, though. In these parts, the discussion is around a “combo platter” of energy technologies and policies, and capturing the fuller picture is important.
The UCS study reflected that by including offshore wind power, which is the subject of a lot of discussion in the state and region these days, and a likely (and key) piece of any big energy bill aimed at shaping Massachusetts’s electricity future and driving economic development with clean energy. We also modeled an increase in the state’s renewable portfolio standard, as another signal to the market about the value and importance of clean energy.
These are all pieces supported by a new, broad Massachusetts coalition of businesses, environmental groups, and others, including UCS.
Overall, though, the MCEP study is a useful contribution to the Bay State’s debates about where we want to go, and how we’re going to get there. Large-scale procurements of hydro, wind, and other renewables offer certainty for renewable energy developers, price stability for energy customers (us), and clarity about the future of Massachusetts.
Better information about the options can only lead to better decision making.]]>
While electricity rates are often the focus of people’s attention (and ire), rates are just a piece of the picture. Two main components go into determining our electricity bills: rates ($ per kilowatt-hour) and usage (kilowatt-hours). Focusing just on rates doesn’t take into account the power of investments in energy efficiency, for example.
In Massachusetts’s case, that would be an important and lamentable oversight. The state’s focus on energy efficiency has been really strong, and the state has been ranked #1 on efficiency for each of the past five years. That’s part of the reason why, when it comes to how much electricity the average household uses, Massachusetts homes beat their counterparts in 42 other states (and pay less each month than 30 of those), including many other states with similar climates.
For bills, then, variations from year to year can come from either piece of the equation—the rate or the quantity—or both. Usage can go up because of an unusually hot summer or cold winter, or go down in mild years. Rates can change because of changes in the price of a dominant fuel.
For Massachusetts and a too-high number of other states, that dominant fuel is natural gas, and there’s a strong linkage between natural gas prices and wholesale electricity rates in New England (see Figure 2).
The variations in electricity bills that come from rates and quantities suggest that it’s really useful to look at any projected changes in costs—from a set of policies that might have other benefits—in context.
For the recent Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) analysis on Massachusetts’s electricity future, that’s just what we did. The suite of electricity policies we examined included long-term contracts for hydro/wind/solar, strong incentives for offshore wind, and an overall increase in demand for renewables—altogether, enough to get the state to the point of getting more than half of its electricity from renewables.
And that set of policies looked like a good bet to produce a broad range of benefits: less natural gas use in the electricity sector, lower power sector carbon emissions, lower prices for natural gas for other uses (like home heating), improved public health, more clean energy jobs/stronger economic development… With the offshore wind piece in particular, Massachusetts has a chance to launch a whole new sector with the state at its center.
The cost piece is important, too. Even with assumptions that were decidedly conservative in some ways (on projections of technology cost reductions, for example), though, the extra costs of that full suite of policies for the average household in 2030 worked out to around $3 per month.
There are at least a couple of ways of looking at that dollar figure. One is as a percentage of what we Massachusetts households spend now. That’s in the neighborhood of $120/month on average, so that $3 turns out to be around 2.5% of that average bill.
Another way to look at it is in the context of those year-on-year price swings. And when you look at those swings, you see changes of $5, $10, or $18 up, $5 or $7 down. In all but three of the last dozen years, those swings were bigger than the $3 we’re talking about.
Understanding the changes we already face makes any small price premium seem a lot more like something we can handle.
And, if that small increase buys us some measure of protection from those very swings, all the better. There are probably other ways—financial, technical—of hedging against those price swings, but how many of them get you anything close to the whole range of economic, environmental, and health benefits that our suite of clean energy policies gets you?
Overall, as we say in our recent report:
By embracing a wide range of clean energy technologies, and offering incentives to build them at scale, Massachusetts would lower the risk of large natural gas price fluctuations, significantly cut its global warming CO2 emissions, and generate significant net benefits for public health and the state’s economy.
All that for a really modest extra something on my electricity bill? I could go for that.]]>
The new analysis, the Massachusetts Offshore Wind Future Cost Study from the Special Initiative on Offshore Wind (SIOW) at the University of Delaware, studied the possible effects of an idea kicking around the Massachusetts legislature: requiring local utilities to commit to buying the output from a combined 2,000 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind by 2030.
The idea is that if we build the right policy/market environment, the industry will feel confident about setting up shop in and for Massachusetts.
Then great things can happen. Offshore wind developers will see the Bay State as an attractive place to gear up for offshore wind component manufacturing, project development, operations, maintenance, and more. As someone put it at the recent U.S. Offshore Wind Leadership Conference I attended, this will about attracting not just jobs, but careers.
And, really importantly, the costs will come down—possibly pretty impressively. The SIOW study drew on experience in Europe, the world leader on offshore wind, European projections, and confidential info extracted directly from the industry members who will be the pioneers of the U.S. offshore wind industry. That includes the three wind developers who have already won competitive leases for waters south of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
And, based on that intel, here’s what SIOW found:
…that costs will be far lower than previously contracted prices for offshore wind in the New England region and that costs will continuously lower throughout a buildout during the decade, due to ongoing technology and industry advances and the effects of making a Massachusetts market visible to the industry.
In fact, the SIOW team projects drops in costs of as much as 55%. That, the authors say, is enough to “put offshore wind on a clear path to deliver clean power at competitive prices for millions of ratepayers in the Boston area and beyond, and make the renewable resource a key contributor to the state’s clean energy future.”
The key is visibility. Not the visibility of the offshore wind turbines, since those, beautiful as many of us find them, will mostly be too far out to be seen from the coast. But the policy visibility. Will developers be able to know that Massachusetts, and the region, are in it for the long haul, not just one-off projects?
And the key to that is the pitch about 2,000 MW—a number that at first blush seems pretty high, but is really important. For the offshore wind industry to do what we very much want them to do, they need clear signals.
Those 2,000 MW would be multiple tranches, built over most of a decade. Mechanisms, operations, even equipment (think big ships) would get built because industry and investors would be able to see their way through project after project, in Massachusetts and in other Eastern states that followed the Bay State’s lead.
This approach might be thought of as the “go big or go home” strategy—though, given the potential importance of offshore wind for addressing climate change, and the many coastal communities threatened by rising sea levels, it might properly be thought of as “go big so you can go home.”
Here’s what the lead author of the study, noted offshore wind expert Dr. Willett Kempton of the University of Delaware, said on this topic:
The key… is making a firm commitment to scale so the market can do its work. By providing market visibility – the State’s commitment to a pipeline of projects over a set period – the offshore wind industry in the U.S. can deliver energy costs on the kind of downward trajectory seen in Europe.
More than 10 GW of offshore wind energy has been built in Europe and powers nearly 7 million homes. The U.S. has an opportunity to take advantage of this domestic clean energy resource which is in such abundant supply.
As Peter Shattuck and Amy Boyd of the Acadia Center recently put it, this kind of commitment “would place Massachusetts in the slip-stream of declining costs…” that Europe has been achieving.
The policy push is underway in Massachusetts, and construction has begun off Rhode Island. And the recent offshore wind conference in Boston was full of energy (no pun intended).
What the new SIOW study suggests is that right now, right here, represents a great opportunity to kick start a virtuous cycle of technology, a market/need, and forward-thinking policy to make sure that lots of offshore wind technology comes to the U.S., for good, and for our good.]]>
In the early hours of yesterday morning, Berta Cáceres, a world-renowned environmental activist from the Lenca indigenous community, was murdered in her home. Cáceres won a 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for her leadership in the fight against a hydroelectric dam in western Honduras.
As the New York Times reports:
Since 2013, Ms. Cáceres’s organization, the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, has protested to try to stop the dam’s construction. Under international law, indigenous groups must be consulted on projects that affect their lands, but the Lenca say they were not consulted about the dam. They maintain that the 22MW hydroelectric project, which would create a 300-meter long reservoir and divert 3 kilometers of the river, will jeopardize their water resources and their livelihood.
The crime will have to be investigated—the police reportedly suspect it was a robbery—but for Cáceres’s mother it was clear that “la mataron por su lucha”—“they killed her because of her struggle.”
I feel so close to that world, yet so very far. For several wonderful years in the 1990s, Honduras was my home. It was where I learned something of the realities of how most of the world lives, far from the abundance and security of countries like the United States—even far from the electric grids I focus so much on these days. It was where I got my start in clean energy, working to make solar power a reality for rural households. It was where it became clear how I could bring some talents to bear to help make the world a better place.
Like so many of us working in clean energy or on environmental issues, though, it was not a place where I had to put my life on the line. The life path I started down in Honduras was not likely to put me in mortal danger to defend what I believe in.
Not so for champions like Cáceres. Many face regular, even daily, threats as they look to defend their communities, their livelihoods, our planet.
In a statement about Cáceres’s murder, GreenLatinos, a national non-profit of Latino leaders committed to addressing environmental issues that significantly affect health and welfare, pushed back on that way of life for so many:
We strongly condemn the brutal actions of those that wish to intimidate and put fear in individuals and communities that are standing up and fighting to protect their land, water and their way of life.
Because the fight goes on, as it must. The fight for justice, for decision making rooted in values, in broad engagement of affected parties, and in facts and science. In an understanding of needs and opportunities, of costs and benefits and consequences and possibilities.
The fight doesn’t lead to the rejection of every large-scale project, energy-related or otherwise, nor should it. But it must lead to solid decisions that take into account not just the economics for the many, but the need and rights of all.
So the fight goes on.
So much of the fight—so much of what needs to happen to move toward a more just world—needs leadership, people with the conviction and vision to see things not as they are, but as they should be, as they will be. People like Berta Cáceres.
All of those struggles, however, are bigger than just one person, however compelling or effective that one soul. As GreenLatinos put it:
The murder of Berta is undoubtedly meant to silence her brave voice, but it will only serve to strengthen and sharpen the voices of current and future advocates that stand alongside her.
To say that my beloved Honduras is going through a rough period is an understatement. That’s certainly true for people like Cáceres: 101 campaigners were killed in Honduras between 2010 and 2014, The Guardian reports—“a higher death toll relative to population than anywhere else.”
But the arc of history bends toward justice. In the wake of tragedies such as this one, we need to work harder to bend that arc.]]>
Eversource, one of the state’s large utilities, has asked the Massachusetts department of public utilities (DPU) for permission to make its electricity ratepayers foot the bill for new natural gas pipeline infrastructure. The utility’s filing comes after the DPU authorized this type of action, and the DPU is taking comments on the Eversource proposal this week.
But this idea brings up a lot of questions. Here are a few:
Massachusetts overhauled its electricity sector almost two decades ago. A big part of restructuring was separating electricity generation from electricity distribution. That means that your electric utility—the company that owns the wires leading up to your house and bills you each month—doesn’t own the power that supplies you; it just passes through to you the costs based on whatever electricity supplier you’ve chosen.
So the idea of you paying for natural gas pipelines supplying power plants that you might not even sign up to get power from—an investment in infrastructure that might not even serve our broader long-term needs—is… odd.
Er, nope. The office of state Attorney General Maura Healey questioned the legality of what the DPU was considering when this issue first came up. And here’s how it reacted to the DPU’s authorizing decision:
“The Attorney General’s Office is concerned that the Department of Public Utilities’ (DPU) order for the first time authorizes electric distribution utilities to enter into long-term capacity agreements to facilitate gas pipeline expansion—and shift the substantial costs and risks of such long-term investment in pipeline infrastructure to electricity ratepayers.”
That’s a key question. And the answer is: probably not. At least, there are plenty of indications that we don’t actually need the pipelines that are being proposed, that there are other, more attractive ways to go about this, ones less likely to lock us in to costs—and emissions—that we aren’t going to want.
Notably, a report commissioned by the AG Healey’s office found that “the region can maintain electric reliability through 2030, even without additional new natural gas pipelines.” A better answer, they showed, is “cheaper, less carbon intensive ways to ensure electric reliability, like energy efficiency and demand response, that are less risky for ratepayers.”
Another useful analysis, carried out for the Conservation Law Foundation, also came to the conclusion that new pipelines aren’t the way to go (emphasis added):
“One proposed solution is to ‘flood the market’ with new gas via one or more new pipelines, with the multi-billion dollar cost to be borne by electric ratepayers. The other solution… is to maximize the use of existing infrastructure in both the delivery and storage of natural gas… [A]dding additional pipeline capacity is the most expensive and least effective means of addressing New England winter-peak deliverability.”
Eversource isn’t the only Massachusetts utility looking to have its electricity customers pay for pipelines (National Grid, for example, is trying it too), but it’s the first to come up at the DPU.
In a perfect world, the science would guide the decision making on stuff like this, and we’d be all set. But sometimes science needs a little help. If you want to weigh in on the side of science to help Massachusetts reach a rational decision about where we go with natural gas, now’s your chance.