100% Renewable Energy Communities
Local clean energy puts the power and the solutions in the hands of our communities, creates sustainable jobs, protects green spaces, clean air and water, and helps prevent the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure that threatens our natural landscapes. In 2017, Massachusetts is pleased to be launching local campaigns to move cities and towns towards 100% clean energy. Watch a webinar on how to get started, or email us to discuss a local campaign in your community.
Who is shaping our energy future?
It’s up to us. Over the coming months, state legislators and Governor Baker will debate policies with critical, long-lasting impact on our economy, our environment, and the livability of our communities. As lobbyists for gas pipeline companies and electric utilities swarm the State House, public participation is critical to protect our safety and health, secure the growth of our Commonwealth’s vibrant clean energy industry and meet our commitments to fight climate change. We have to power forward with great urgency to advance renewables and push back against the tide of the fossil fuel lobby.
What energy challenges does the region face?
We’re not facing an energy crisis, but we are at a crossroads. As coal and nuclear power plants power down, the region must choose what kind of power we want to build in their stead and who will reap the benefits of our significant investments in next-generation energy infrastructure. If we invest in local clean resources and high-quality work, we can keep money in our communities, reduce pollution and construct a safer, more resilient electric grid.
Advocates of new, destructive infrastructure liken our current situation to impending catastrophe, citing 8000MW of retiring power generation, about a quarter of our total generating needs in the region. In fact, the retirement of fossil and nuclear generation represents a tremendous opportunity to bring clean, renewable energy resources online. Furthermore, energy usage in Massachusetts is actually declining and many power plants approaching closure have operated far below their full capacity in recent years. Clean, distributed energy is our only path forward.
How can we rise to meet the challenge?
We are already making progress: in 2016, Massachusetts passed comprehensive energy legislation and enacted the largest offshore wind commtiment in the country to date. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court also struck down a proposed tax on electric customers to fund fracked gas pipeline expansion. Now, legislative proposals before the Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy (TUE) Committee could help to bring online new clean in Massachusetts. Alternatively, the state could go backwards and invest substantial public money on new gas pipelines, locking us into decades of dependence on fossil fuel infrastructure. We have to choose the path we will take, but if we make the wrong choice, we will endanger our economy, our environment and our future.
Can we advance clean energy and reduce energy costs?
Yes, and we should. First, energy efficiency remains the most cost-effective way to save money and reduce pollution. During points of great demand, energy efficiency shaves peak energy usage and helps control costs. By increasing efficiency, we avoid significant energy supply expenditures. We should continue to increase investments in efficiency until we reach the point at which all other resources, e.g. new generation, are cheaper. In recent years, investments in efficiency have saved New England about $416 million in deferred transmission costs which would have been borne by ratepayers. These benefits extend not only to residents, but also to municipalities and large commercial parties. Holding Massachusetts’ electric and gas utilities to a high standard and setting meaningful targets remains prudent: these companies have historically failed to meet their efficiency targets for the Commercial and Industrial Sector. Although comments about the "cost of doing business" remain active in the energy debates, in 2015, the utility companies actually reduced their energy efficiency (savings) targets for business stakeholders for the 2016-2018 period.
But wait, how high are our electric bills compared to other parts of the United States?
Electricity costs in Massachusetts do not exceed those of most other states. In fact, electric bills for Massachusetts homeowners rank between 30th and 40th in the country, below the national average. To better understand your utility bill and the current charges associated with it, take a look at a visual explanation of your monthly payments here. Although the cost per unit of power is somewhat higher in Massachusetts than in other places, Massachusetts families tend to use less energy overall than their peers in other states. That’s in large-part because of our state’s award-winning efficiency programs, which have also created tens of thousands of jobs. Overall, for every dollar we invest in efficiency, we get nearly $5 in benefits.
What do I need to know about solar?
Solar power diversifies our energy mix, creates jobs, cleans our air, reduces energy costs on the wholesale market, and, through community shared projects, allows low and moderate income neighborhoods and renters access to direct utility bill savings. Solar has already created more than 10000 jobs in our state, and additional development will create more: according to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, every 1 megawatt of solar creates 20 local jobs. Solar provides direct benefits and costs to the grid, from avoided line losses (benefit: producing energy near home means less wasted power) to variations in voltage (cost: infrastructure investment).
The overwhelming evidence shows that solar is net positive, in Massachusetts and elsewhere, even for those ratepayers who do not participate in solar energy generation. Investor-owned companies like National Grid and Eversource energy are waging war on solar in Massachusetts and across the country simply because it cuts into their profits. Your legislators can support solar power by lifting caps on solar energy transactions, or “net metering,” and ensuring fair compensation for the power solar provides to the grid.
No. Gas pollutes from wellhead to burner tip, resulting in significant health impacts, air and water pollution, climate change emissions, and disruption of quality of life. At the source, hydraulic fracturing discharges toxic chemicals and creates waste. Pipeline leaks, compressor stations and emissions from power plants continue the dirty energy saga from there. While there are significantly fewer toxic pollutants in emissions from gas-fired power plants than from those powered by coal or oil, even the newest combined-cycle gas plants emit Nitrogen and Sulfur Oxides on-site. Evaluating the lifecycle impact of “natural” gas from extraction to transmission to distribution points to far greater harm to human health and decreases any potential climate benefits of transitioning to gas power.
At the site of extraction, drilling operations create air quality concerns for neighboring communities and contribute to asthma-inducing ozone pollution for communities farther afield. Gas compressor stations built alongside interstate pipelines emit Nitrogen Oxides, Carbon Monoxide, Volatile Organic Compounds, Sulfur Dioxide, and particulate matter and vent methane. Residents adjacent to compressor stations may suffer from dizziness, nosebleeds, and nausea.
Gas pipelines are no panacea to our energy needs and may be a downright bad investment for the Commonwealth. Like any other major energy infrastructure projects, they would take years to come online. Massachusetts currently relies on gas for about 50-60% of its electric generation needs, making our state vulnerable to price spikes as the cost of gas changes and as demand shifts. Increasing our reliance on gas is unwise when ample cleaner, lower-risk alternatives exist and ratepayers may be fiscally liable for gas pipeline projects.
Another indication that the “more gas means lower prices” logic may not hold comes from the experience of Pennsylvania during the winter of 2014. Natural gas prices spiked, even though Pennsylvania is in the heart of the Marcellus region — home to the largest supplies of natural gas in the Eastern United States. If Pennsylvania isn’t immune to gas price volatility, it’s worth asking whether New England can get better results by increasing supply.
Both New York and the “PJM” region adjacent to the Marcellus Shale experienced price spikes in winter 2014, despite the ample availability of gas pipeline infrastructure.
If we don’t need them, why the push for new pipelines?
The answer is simple: follow the money. Those who stand to profit the most are seeking to build out large, intrusive infrastructure and long-lived expansions, publicly justifying their claims on the basis of alleged ratepayer savings. Utilities that charge gas customers millions for fuel that never reaches customers’ homes are actively seeking to suppress renewable energy while pushing for new gas pipeline subsidies. Companies like Kinder Morgan and Spectra are aligning their pipeline proposals with export terminals in Maine and Canada. According to the Energy Information Administration, increased LNG exports are likely to increase energy prices as domestic fossil fuels connect with a volatile global market.
It is notable that in addition to environmental, faith, consumer advocacy, and clean energy groups, many large companies and industry groups, including the New England Power Generators Association, GDF Suez, and Walmart, have come out against pipeline expansion, public subsidies for gas pipelines, or both.