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A Reality Check on the Massachusetts Clean Energy & Climate Plan

The Baker Administration just released its Clean Energy & Climate Plan (CECP) as required by the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA). They claim that the Commonwealth is on pace to meet our GWSA requirement of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 25% by 2020 and that we will reach that number if certain things fall into place. It’s worth reading in full, but here’s a bit of a reality check.

Key to the plan, as the Boston Globe reported, is that a significant portion of GHG cuts (17%) rely on the Legislature passing a bill that would compel utilities to sign long-term contracts to buy hydroelectric power from Canada or other renewable energy from outside Massachusetts. At Mass Energy, we support a careful procurement of hydro power if it is designed to minimize environmental impacts and is not biased in favor of the utility’s special interests. Projects should be chosen to maximize public interests. One project to transmit power from Canada worth considering was recently permitted by the state of Vermont. Plus, the legislature should require utilities to procure more wind power along with the hydro.Rosy_Earth.jpg

The administration is painting a rosy picture about progress on other parts of their plan, which mostly draws from the original CECP produced by the Patrick administration five years ago. In 2014, before the Pilgrim nuclear power plant announced it would close, a coalition of environmental groups called the Global Warming Solutions Project released a report that projected that Massachusetts would cut its emissions by only 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, falling short by 5%. Mass Energy is part of that coalition. As a group we will weigh in again soon. But so far, my early assessment is that the new plan is deficient in these areas:

  • Mass Save, the Commonwealth’s energy efficiency program. It is expected to provide more than a fifth of the GHG reductions by 2020. But, the Patrick administration’s 2010 plan had it down for even greater reductions (7.1% out of 25%, or 28% of the target reduction). It deserves the stronger treatment, given that the economics of Mass Save are superior to everything else, including hydro. It also doesn’t pose any of the permitting problems or financial hurdles that you get with buying supply.
  • Advanced Building Energy Codes, such as updated Stretch Codes and Building Energy Labeling. The idea is spot on, but we’re not seeing adequate progress there. We need action in the form of updated and broadened regulations and enforcement. Buildings are being constructed and renovated in the meantime. So there’s a lost opportunity. This is entirely in the Baker administration’s hands.
  • Promotion of renewable thermal technologies such as heat pumps, advanced wood pellet boilers, and solar hot water. We’re working hard to support heat pumps, but it’s an emerging technology. These systems are not penetrating the market fast enough to achieve the numbers in the plan. We think heat pumps will be a big factor by 2025, but not by 2020 to the extent laid out in CECP.
  • Transportation. Transportation is the largest source of GHG emissions in Massachusetts, amounting to over 40% of the total. Working in our favor is that cars are getting more efficient thanks to federal standards. Working against us is that the number of vehicle miles traveled is not dropping fast enough to achieve the level of GHG reductions we need.
Leaving gas out of the CECP is a sin of omission.

Now, let’s turn to what’s not in the plan, but is a big part of the Baker administration energy policy agenda – new gas pipelines. Leaving gas out of the CECP is a sin of omission. It’s like counting the emissions from burning natural gas, but not the emissions from methane leaking at the fracking site – oh, that’s happening now.

The administration says natural gas is one item on the combo platter, along with hydro. They remind me of that lady in the Blues Brothers movie who likes both kinds of music – country and western. Developers such as Kinder Morgan and the state’s utilities, National Grid and Eversource, want new pipelines. And the Baker administration is willing to take the unprecedented step of having electricity ratepayers foot the bill.

On January 20, I sat in on a presentation from Judith Judson, Commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources. It was an update on the state’s energy policies. Her slides had lots of good clean energy stuff, but it didn’t mention natural gas. So I asked, “It seems to me that if we followed through on all the things you mentioned, we would not need new gas pipelines. Do you agree?” Her answer was basically, no, “we need new gas infrastructure to be on the combo platter”.

There is absolutely no way that Massachusetts can achieve its required 25% GHG reductions by 2020 if we build more capacity for fracked natural gas. Worse yet is what that would do to our legal requirement to reduce emissions 80% by 2050. A recent study commissioned by Attorney General Maura Healey spells that out quite clearly. With that, my friends, I have to say that the new Clean Energy & Climate Plan is an example of deceptive marketing.


Meanwhile, the Commonwealth’s approach to the GWSA is now before the Supreme Judicial Court. Mass Energy has joined with the Conservation Law Foundation in a lawsuit requiring the Department of Environmental Protection to write regulations to enforce the GWSA. Oral arguments were made on January 8. As I wrote in a blog about that, a key part of the Commonwealth’s defense was that they have initiated three policies that collectively meet the law’s requirements. We can now see in the CECP that those three policies make up a tiny portion of the requisite emissions reduction.

As quoted in the Globe, Ken Kimmell, who served as commissioner of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection during the Patrick administration, said “It would be helpful to start developing other policies in case this (hydro) strategy doesn’t pan out, such as a greater commitment to electric vehicles, carbon pricing for transportation and heating, and expanding solar and onshore wind, and developing offshore wind.” Kimmell is now president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

We agree. Now that the CECP is done, it’s time to do some real work.


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