Renewable Energy Policy in Massachusetts

Philip Williams (NRC), Ryan Crawford (Environmental Science), Kevin Hollerbach (Science),
Hyatt Benkiran (Animal Science)


Introduction

According to the Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation report,

“The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is already experiencing the effects of climate change in the form of hotter summers, rising sea levels, more frequent flooding, and warmer waters — leading to a growing concern about how the impacts of these changes will affect the state‘s future.” (Cash, et. al., 2011, p. 8)

Climate change originating from fossil fuel usage will affect hundreds of businesses, thousands of families, and millions of individuals across the state. Boston itself will be underwater without intervention against the rising sea levels resulting from climate change (Suarez, Anderson, Mahal, & Lakshmanan, 2005, para. 1). It is imperative that leaders in the statehouse understand the severe impeding risks associated with climate change and do everything in their power to prevent these catastrophic events from destroying the commonwealth as we know it.

Background

Aside from obvious direct impacts on the commonwealth due to climate change, there are many indirect factors that will affect the state as well. Hundreds of thousands of “climate refugees” are expected to emerge from rising sea levels, drought, scarce food supplies, and catastrophic heat waves. With colder winters and milder summers, the Northeast is an ideal candidate as a location for climate refugees to settle. With a large population increase, local residents will see less food availability, higher crime rates, and higher taxes.

Another major implication of fossil fuels and climate change is environmental justice. In Massachusetts, minorities are disproportionately affected by point-source pollution. According to Northeastern University researchers Dr. Faber and Dr. Krieg (2005), the greatest number of point-source pollution sites are also where 25% or more of the population is non-white (p. 18). If Massachusetts administrations want to stress social justice issues, focusing on renewable energy and climate mitigation will benefit minority groups as well because it will provide more minority-identified people with a better standard of living.  Thus, in turn, Massachusetts will achieve a higher level of equality. As newly elected governor, Charlie Baker (2014) has been stressing “public safety” in his newly developed urban agenda, disproportionate effects of pollution on urban areas and areas with higher percentages of minorities need to be addressed.

Another major benefit of addressing climate change in the commonwealth is the creation of green jobs. The first priority of newly elected governor Charlie Baker is economic growth and jobs. If he is serious about this agenda item, renewable energy development should be stressed during his administration. According to Danielle Byrnett (2014) in the “Clean Energy Workforce Development” PowerPoint, the first step towards creating these “green jobs” is to support renewable energy and energy efficiency policies. Therefore, an increase in support for these policies from the governor, and the development of strategies to increase renewable energy research, siting, and development will aid in his desire to decrease unemployment rates and boost the economy in the commonwealth.

Because of the multitude of problems that climate change and pollution cause, and because of all of the benefits that would arise from pushing renewable energy technologies across the board, policies that ease the research, citing, and development of these systems are imperative.Policy focusing on the production and implementation of renewable energy technologies are not being pushed urgently enough when compared to the urgent nature of climate change. Therefore, the next Massachusetts gubernatorial administration should prioritize renewable energies and expedite the development of these systems.

Major impacts tothe implication of renewable energy are the citizens themselves. Many wealthy homeowners reject and slow local pushes for renewable energy sighting and planning because of personal interests. In Massachusetts, the Cape Wind Energy project itself was delayed nearly a decade from its original installation date because of public homeowners slowing the process (Seelye, 2014, para. 6). These individuals slow the sighting and implication of wind turbines and other renewable energy systems due to the view they pay for, and opposing alternative energy sources which may ruin that view or disturb a surrounding area. They dispute these systems despite their clear benefits to the community.These people are referred to as “NIMBYs,” which stands for “not in my backyard”. However, fighting against alternative energy sources perpetuates the high demand for fossil fuels in Massachusetts. Myths such as ambient noise from windmills affecting residents’ health are only myths. These arguments against renewable energy systems have no basis in science.

Even in Amherst, Massachusetts, there are opposition groups to installing photovoltaic cells. The Amherst Citizens for Responsible Solar have several arguments including health concerns regarding putting solar panels on a landfill (Hersh, 2011). Although these concerns were addressed by town officials, the group has still been a major impediment to the project and may cause the system to never be installed. Projects on public land could be put to a popular vote to discourage small, militant groups from impeding the installation of renewable energy systems too much. In another case of “NIMBY” this group has thrown a wrench in the process of developing renewable energy systems for selfish interests.  Opposition to renewable energy sources is a huge cause to our main claim, but what about our current fossil fuel usage in this state?

The usage of fossils fuels throughout the commonwealth of Massachusetts has been the major priority of electricity generation for a long time.  According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Massachusetts has three liquefied natural gas import terminals, and only one of them has received imports since 2010.  This supplies about 20% of New England’s demand for natural gas, while the rest comes by pipeline throughout the state.  Also within Massachusetts, heating oil reserves storage sites, which are used to help with the fluctuations of home heating oil is located in Revere, Massachusetts. Utilization of fossil fuels will always be the go-to option everywhere in the world, not just in Massachusetts. However, finding new ways to help them burn more efficiently will help with our climate change issues. Another significant fact about fossil fuels in Massachusetts is that 63% of electricity came from natural gas, and 12% from coal in 2013. Further, coal fired power plants will all be shut down within the next few years, since natural gas is really beginning to take over. However, this is still a fossil fuel that is affecting climate change, and renewable energies will need to help offset it for future generations. As far as consumption by each sector for fossil fuels transportation hits the highest rank with 450.3 trillion BTU, followed by residential use which is 408.6 trillion Btu, commercial use is 270.3 trillion Btu, and finally industrial makes up the smallest scale with 256.8 trillion Btu (U.S. Energy, 2014). Also according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (2014), “Compared to the U.S. average, a greater proportion of Massachusetts residents (31 percent) use fuel oil as their main space heating fuel and a much smaller proportion of residents (10 percent) use electricity, according to EIA’s Residential Energy Consumption Survey” (U.S. Energy, 2014).For a highly progressive state, it is impressive to think that today Massachusetts’s residents continue to rely so heavily on fossil fuels.  Further, as one of the leading states in renewable energy, Massachusetts becomes an example for other states to follow. However, these statistics prove that as a role model, Massachusetts is not as ideal as it could or should be.  Moreover, the overall usage of fossil fuels throughout the commonwealth of Massachusetts needs to be changed drastically to help slow down the problems associated with climate change.

Resistant Audience

For a state that is considered by many to be very energetically progressive, the dependency on fossil fuels and coal is remarkably high, suggesting there is still room for more improvement.  It is easy to believe that Massachusetts, with Boston ranking as “the ‘5th’ Most Sustainable City’ in the U.S. by the Economist Intelligence Unit and the ‘3rd Greenest City’ in North America by Popular Science,” is on the forefront of battling climate change  (Goldstein, 2011, p. 39).  As was indicated earlier, not only does this state still rely heavily on fossil fuels, but it also has citizens who are willingly slowing down efforts to battle climate because they prioritize the aesthetics of their surroundings to a couple of wind turbines or solar panels.  This suggests that while Massachusetts is ahead of other states in North America, it is not necessarily progressive with respect to the urgent nature of climate change as a whole.

Further, Massachusetts is one of the most densely populated states in the Nation, making it a significantly important place to focus on the dependence on renewable energy when compared to other states (EIA, 2014).  Further, buildings eat up “40% of primary energy annually in the United States,” meaning that if currently old buildings that rely on fossil fuels or coal are not renovated, rebuilt, or retrofitted to go with the renewable energy agenda, eventually the states’ anti-climate change progress will slow down (Mass.gov, 2014).  Massachusetts is also on the coast, making it more susceptible to climate change conditions in terms of rising sea levels and coastal alterations.  This puts Massachusetts in a delicate position, suggesting Massachusetts has the potential to emit more greenhouse gases than other states because of how densely populated it is, and because of its partial reliance on non-renewable resources.

It might also be argued that renewable energy is too expensive to start off with, however it is actually more cost effective when the economic impacts of climate change are taken into consideration.  It is predicted that, “A sea level rise of 0.65 meters (26 inches) in Boston by 2050 could damage assets worth an estimated $463 billion” (Cash, et. al., 2011, p. 2).  This is exceedingly more money than the Massachusetts state budget of $36 billion (Mass.gov, 2014).  Therefore, it would just add more costs if policy makers do not put more focus on streamlining.  It is especially detrimental considering Eastern Massachusetts is more heavily populated than Western Massachusetts.  Therefore, this would affect not only the state as a whole financially and otherwise, but the individual people who live around the area as well.

Proposal

After Deval Patrick’s relatively progressive stances on renewable energy sources, newly elected governor Charlie Baker has a big reputation to live up to. Even after Patrick’s many proposals, policies, and laws in the push for a greener Massachusetts, much more needs to be done to remain ahead of the curve on energy. Charlie Baker needs to focus on three major areas for Massachusetts to become and remain an example for states across the country; streamlining permitting policies, renewable energy investment, and the creation of “green collar” jobs.

Baker proposes a “balanced” approach in terms of renewable energy, “I will pursue a balanced approach that includes natural gas, wind, solar and hydroelectric generation, with a strong emphasis on efficiency to reduce the cost of energy and reduce our carbon footprint” (Baker, 2014, para. 3). While it is beneficial that Charlie Baker is interested in pursuing different forms of renewable energy, natural gas should not be included, as natural gas is, by definition, not renewable. If Baker (2014) is truly concerned with reducing the state’s carbon footprint and meeting the carbon emission cutting goals of 80% by 2050, he needs to fight against all fossil fuels including natural gas. Pursuing other renewable energies with streamlined policies, and advocating for these systems is essential.

The streamlining of permitting policies needs to be addressed throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, since state bureaucracy has previously impeded the sighting and development of certain renewable energy sources.  The biggest concern is shortening the overall time spent obtaining the permits for renewable energy sources.  Massachusetts needs to create more one stop permitting programs like the Wind Energy Siting Reform Act (Kimmel, Bumkin, & Evans, 2011, para. 9).  In this example, The authors argued that the Wind Energy Sighting Act passed under the Patrick administration simplifies the process of sighting and wind turbines for renewable energy, and creates clear sighting standards, establishes one-stop permitting at local and state levels, and overall eases the appeals process (Kimmel, Bumkin, & Evans, 2011, para. 9).  Creating and utilizing more of these programs in Massachusetts will help us move towards a greener state.  The next governor, Charlie Baker, and the new politicians in the legislature need to continue what Patrick has slowly started but get the process of streamlining of permits for the siting of renewable energy sources.  A source like solar panels is similar to wind turbines since they both need space, and creating a standard like the Wind Energy Siting Reform Act would help get panels on state and local lands.

An example of where the streamlining process is really being pushed and utilized is in Vermont. In a case presentation done by the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO), they have commented that most states currently have a complex system when it comes to permitting requirements for renewable energy sources at both municipality and county levels. The beginning of this streamlining process began in 2011 when House Bill 56 was enacted in the state of Vermont. This bill created a streamlining policy that expedited the permitting process statewide to only 10 days for solar net-metering systems of 5-kW or less, and in 2012 provisions were expanded to include solar systems of 10-kW or less.  The overall process to obtain a permit begins with a customer submitting a completed one-page registration form and a certification of compliance to the energy office in the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB).  After everything is submitted, the project enters a mandatory ten-day waiting period where the interconnecting electric company may issue a letter to the customer and the PSB with any problems, and if no letter is submitted in ten days, a Certificate of Public Good is issued (NASEO, 2013, p. 10).  With the certificate deemed, facility construction can begin whenever.  This example may be on the small scale for solar panels, but building off this bill, Massachusetts can also streamline their current provisions for all renewable energy sources including geothermal, wind, hydroelectric, and solar.

Germany is a great model in thegreen energy field, and has set footsteps that Massachusetts, and other states, should follow. Germany has enacted grid priorities to companies supplying power generated by a renewable source, so that clean energy doesn’t compete with conventional energy, allowing renewable energy companies to have the advantage in the market. Low interest loans are also highly accessible on new renewable energy plants, to allow for easy installation and to provide stable, renewable energy to the country (Bozsoki, 2014). All pushed by the Act on Granting Priority to Renewable Energy Sources, Germany is achieving a level of renewable and clean energy standard that Massachusetts cannot compare tobut can accomplish. In  2011 Germany also passed the KfW policy, a policy that streamlined and pushed for off the coast wind energy similar to the streamlining of wind energy here in Massachusetts. It provides funding and investments for up to 70% of the installation of wind turbines in their coastal regions, something Massachusetts does not have (IEA, 2011). Germany has many similar funding programs that are key incentives for renewable energy, as well as research and minimum levels of biofuel use rather than conventional fuels. The Biofuels Quota Act set a minimum of 6.25% of  all fuel used in road transportation must be biofuel based, rather than conventional petrol. By 2015 quotas on reductions of greenhouse gas emissions will become in effect, and by 2020 the minimum biofuel use will be increased to 7% (IEA, 2011). Following in the policies and incentives that Germany set up, Massachusetts can meet the urgent nature of climate change head on, and provide stable, clean energy to the residents of the state.

After the Second World War, thousands of returning veterans were given jobs building the nation’s infrastructure. From highways, to railroads, to power plants, these people worked for years to build and maintain the infrastructure that powers the U.S. today. This lead to huge economic gains, and allowed the United States to become and remain the dominant world power. Creating green jobs and a new renewable economy will once again allow the United States to lead the world, but rather than leading the world in military prowess or automobile manufacturing, the country can be recognized for research and technology that has the potential to save the planet. Massachusetts is the perfect setting to spark the green economy revolution. With subsidizations for renewable energy companies, these “green collar” jobs will be created, boosting the economy and therefore saving the state from long-term catastrophic environmental events. Governor-elected Charlie Baker has made promises to decrease the unemployment rate and make the commonwealth more sustainable. He can achieve both with one simple policy for subsidizing renewable energy companies rather than oil or gas companies.

 

Conclusion

In order to save our state, country, and planet, major actions, specifically on the part of our lawmakers, must take place. With a new governor in the Commonwealth, and as the effects of climate change are ever looming, the aforementioned actions need to be taken swiftly and decisively. Some effects of climate change are already irreversible and we will already face significant events such as sea level rise (Solomon, Plattner, Knutti, & Freidlingsten, 2008, para. 9). However, if administrations finally obtain the wherewithal to make the switch to renewables, they can prevent even further damage to the state and the planet. Citizens are also responsible to take climate policies and renewable energy policies seriously at the voting booths, to be sure that state officials are concerned with these issues. Without a clean, safe, and carbon-free environment, nothing else will be possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:

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Baker, C. (2014). Charlie Baker’s answers to questions on environmental issues. (2014). Boston Globe. Retrieved from http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/politics/2014/10/07/charlie-baker-answers-questions-environmental-issues/zPJrvK2yXAxVh9W7PE36cI/story.html

 

Bill h.4001. (2014). Retrieved from https://malegislature.gov/Bills/188/House/H4001

 

Byrnett, D. Clean energy workforce development: Growing green jobs to achieve climate and energy goals. EPA. Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/statelocalclimate/documents/pdf/CPPD_CE_WD_PPT_4-28-09.pdf

 

Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. (2011).  Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report. Retrieved from http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/eea/energy/cca/eea-climate-adaptation-report.pdf

 

Faber, D.,  & Krieg, E. (2005). Unequal exposure to ecological hazards 2005: Environmental injustices in the commonwealth of Massachusetts. [Data File]. Retrieved from http://www.northeastern.edu/nejrc/wp-content/uploads/Final-Unequal-Exposure-Report-2005-10-12-05.pdf

 

Goldstein, N. (2011). Boston bold on climate change. BioCycle, 52(12), 38-42. Retrieved from GreenFile.

 

Hersh, R. (2011). Amherst, Massachusetts: Impediments to solar installations on closed landfills.

[Data File]. Retrieved from http://www.cpeo.org/pubs/AmherstSolar.pdf

 

IEA – Renewable Energy. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.iea.org/policiesandmeasures/renewableenergy/?country=Germany

 

Kimmell, K., Bumkin, A. & Evans, R. (2011). Wind energy facility siting in Massachusetts. Natural Resources & Environment, 25(2), 8-11. Retrieved from ProQuest.

 

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Seelye, K. (2014, February 26). Funds and new timetable for offshore wind farm in Massachusetts. The New York Times. Retrieved October 29, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/27/us/funds-and-new-timetable-for-offshore-wind-farm-in-massachusetts.html?_r=1

 

Solomon, S., Plattner, G., Knutti, R., & Freidlingsten, P. (2008). Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions. Proceedings of the National Academy of the United States of America. Retrieved from http://www.pnas.org/content/106/6/1704.long

 

 

Suarez, P., Anderson, W., Mahal, V., & Lakshmanan, T.R. (2005). Impacts of flooding and climate change on urban transportation: A systemwide performance assessment of the Boston metro area. Journal of  Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, 10, 231-244.

 

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Evan

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