Ed Burke

Recent Posts

Debates Raise Net-Zero & Climate Action Questions  - Here's what the Industry has been doing in the Northeast

Posted by Ed Burke on Oct 23, 2020 12:20:03 PM

shutterstock_1797460684

With the Oil Industry, Climate Change, and emissions top of mind after last night's Presidential Debates, we thought it was a good time to review what Massachusetts, New England, and specifically, the Oil Industry in the Northeast have been doing on emissions and climate change recently. 

The Local Industry: In September 2019, the Northeast's heating oil sector voted unanimously at the NEFI energy conference to establish a goal of Net Zero GHG emissions by 2050 (drooping 15% by 2023, 40% by 2030, Net Zero by 2050). You can read the details of the the unanimous motion here: The Road to Net Zero Starts Here 

Beyond specific carbon level moves, the New England & Northeast region has been ahead of the game for decades on promoting biofuels and renewable energy projects. This is a great snapshot of regional Biofuel and renewable energy standards by state in the region: Biofuel & Electrification at a Glance

Massachusetts & the City of Boston were some of the earliest and most ardent adopters of biodiesel and other clean energy options, including sulfur limits in diesel fuel & heating oil. New York moved first to ultra low sulfur diesel regionally, and New York City adopted biofuels very early on.

Regionally though, all of the Northeast states have been working diligently on doing what they can to adopt more renewable and environmentally friendly options from regional food waste to fuel recycling, to major solar projects, to geothermal microzones, to making Crude from wood in Maine.

 

Massachusetts: In April 2020, the Baker-Polito Administration issued a formal determination letter that officially set the legal limit for emissions at net zero for 2050. The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) official statement is:

"A level of statewide greenhouse gas emissions that is equal in quantity to the amount of carbon dioxide or its equivalent that is removed from the atmosphere and stored annually by, or attributable to, the Commonwealth; provided, however, that in no event shall the level of emissions be greater than a level that is 85 percent below the 1990 level". 

In other words, not only net-zero on emissions but emissions overall (captured or not) need to stay below previously established levels. 

The net zero target was initially announced in January 2018 at Baker's State of the Commonwealth address. The way the State achieves the goal for 2050 will be laid out in the "2050 Roadmap", and the roadmap will also be used to set interim emission limits for 2030, and those limits will be officially laid out in the "Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2030". You can follow updates to the plan at mass.gov here: MA Decarbonization Roadmap

In addition to the newer net zero goals, Massachusetts has been on the leading edge of climate and emissions reduction goals for decades - for a refresher:

Massachusetts Green Communities -  Communities can compete for grants to support energy efficiency & renewable projects in the Commonwealth. This includes ventilation system upgrades, heating system conversions, electric vehicles, insulation projects, etc. 

Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative & Transportation Climate Inititatives - regional incentivized emission reduction

Heres an overall recap on what the state accomplished for 2018 on Clean Energy: Massachusetts Pushes Clean Energy Forward in 2018

Overall: There is much work to be done on climate, and serious questions need to develop into serious policy based answers going forward.

One can only hope that we see some movement on climate initiatives in some form in the next 4 years that moves the needle while balancing the serious economic concerns of businesses and consumers, regardless of what the winning Administration looks like. 

We're glad to work in a region that is putting the work in to make changes while attempting to maintain that balance.

 

 

 

Read More

Topics: Massachusetts, climate change, renewable energy, maine

Ferry Cool Changes on the Water in Maine

Posted by Ed Burke on Sep 21, 2020 9:19:44 AM

shutterstock_1020378346

The newest passenger boat for Maine's Casco Bay Lines will be running a diesel-electric hybrid propulsion engine. The hybrid will be handling the Portland to Peaks Island run, fully on electricity. The diesel engine will function as a backup, or be engaged for trips longer than the normal run. This assigned route is approximately 2.5 miles, which should allow the ferry to travel one way, charge at docking (~10-15 minutes) and run the return trip on electricity as well. 

If you aren't familiar, Casco Bay Line's ferry runs all year round and carries over a million passengers, 30,000 vehicles, and 5,300 tons of freight in a given year, so they are a critical part of transportation in Maine,. The ferry functions as a vital link between the islands & main lands that allows for commuting to school, work, and postage services. 

The project is being funded in part by a Federal Grant as part of the Federal Transit Administrations Ferry Grant Program. Vessels essentially hit a point where maintenance becomes cost prohibitive (after about 30 years of operation), and the grant for this particular ferry project will replace one such vessel. The replacement with a hybrid is projected to eliminate up to 800 metric tons of carbon emissions annually. The new vessel should be completed and in operation by the end of 2022. 

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy this month about the Casco Bay project, as well as the Federal Fund Grant generally. You can read that article in its entirety here: A Ferry Different Approach

 

Read More

Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, climate change, carbon emissions, maine, Hybrid

TCI Talks Move Forward

Posted by Ed Burke on Aug 6, 2020 4:27:20 PM

Carbon

Even as Coronavirus disrupts business as usual, talks regarding the TCI (Transportation Climate Initiative) continue via video conference and email amongst the involved 12 States & Washington DC. 

The TCI is a cap and invest system to curb emissions, with some estimates putting the reduction of carbon emissions at up to 3 times as much as we have achieved with the RGGI (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initialtive) enacted 10 years ago. (For a quick review of what the TCI entails and how it works, go here:  What's the TCI & How Does It Work?) 

The pandemic has caused adjusted timelines for the initiative. Current adjusted timelines for the TCI put the final Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in the fall of this year, and it appears states planning on joining are looking at a launch date of January 2022.

As discussed prior, the impact of the TCI would be a tax of 5-17 cents per gallon, and as expected, its looking like 17 will be the number. At that level, transportation emissions, (which comprise 40% of greenhouse gas in the region) would drop by 25% by 2032. (As an aside - without the TCI being passed, emissions are expected to drop in that category by 19% based on efficiencies, etc - not including any pandemic induced curbing of emissions). 

While we are seeing lower fuel prices, which would generally make passing the TCI or similar plans involving gas taxes more viable politically, on the other side of the equation there is legitimate concern that the economic impacts of COVID-19 make the timing of any tax increases tone deaf (at best), especially in the face of the unemployment levels we are seeing. 

We wrote an article for the July issue of Oil & Energy detailing the progress being made on the TCI regional talks, as well as some of the details in contention. You can read that article here:  TCI Moves Forward  

 

Read More

Topics: climate change, carbon emissions, renewable energy, TCI

FERC Dismisses NERA  Petition on Net Metering

Posted by Ed Burke on Jul 2, 2020 3:11:00 PM

solar panels

Back in April the NERA (New England Ratepayers Association) filed a petition that would have changed the way so called "net metering" works for solar energy generation, by essentially considering the excess "buyback" solar energy sold back to utilities as constituting a wholesale transaction, governed by the established rates. (We discussed that here: "Net Metering Under Threat" ).

In June, the FERC unanimously voted to dismiss the petition. That means for the time being, the net metering system as we know it will remain, but the question becomes how long that will be the case, as it's unlikely the proposal offered by NERA will be the last of its kind. For more on the dismissal and potential future of net metering, this article in Forbes has a quick overview:  "Unanimous FERC Decision Saves Net Metering, But Its Future Remains Uncertain"

 

Read More

Topics: Solar Energy, net metering, ferc

Net Metering Under Threat

Posted by Ed Burke on May 28, 2020 1:22:00 PM

June2016_Solar-1

This April, the New England Ratepayer's Association (NERA) filed a petition asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to "declare exclusive federal jurisdiction over wholesale energy sales from generation sources located on the customer side of the retail meter (rooftop solar), and order that the rates for such sales be priced in accordance with public law.”

In a nutshell, this would change how the market works for residential solar panels completely. Currently, with net metering, panels generate energy that offsets use by the residence/building and the excess energy produced is "bought back" by the utility - usually via credits to a home/business owner's utility bill at a retail rate. 

The NERA petition basically objects to the "buyback" being a retail transaction and believes any utility transaction is a wholesale energy sale and should be regulated and governed in the same manner, including being processed at the same prices. The argument against this of course being that net metering is advantageous to the residential customer, and that has been a large factor in the increase in consumer level proliferation of solar panels. The flip side of that argument, which is the NERA petition's point, is that the transactions being equivalent in terms of energy transfer, but priced such that they are distinctly advantageous to residential customers means they are fundamentally disadvantageous to other players in the field. 

It's a little complicated as an issue, if you want more info, I wrote an article for Oil & Energy magazine that delves a little more into the specifics- you can read that article here: "Net Metering Under Threat"

 

 

Read More

Topics: Solar Energy, Clean Energy, net metering

Mass Dairy Farmers Use Food Waste & Manure to Generate Renewable Energy

Posted by Ed Burke on Apr 17, 2020 4:01:00 PM

shutterstock_128724608

Local farms in Massachusetts are producing their own renewable energy, and they're doing it while diverting food waste and dropping their carbon footprint at the same time. How? By utliizing anaerobic digesters, produced by Vanguard Renewables.

The simplified version is that the process takes the potential energy in both food waste and organic waste (like cow manure) and converts it into biogas that is used to reduce energy costs, reduce methane emissions,eliminate food waste, generate heat, and offset carbon emissions. 

Massachusetts implemented a ban in 2014 on disposal of commercial organic wastes by businesses that dispose of more than a ton of organic waste per week. Prior to the ban, this type of waste was the second highest contributor to landfills, so the State mandated that instead of being disposed of, they had to be recycled.

The solution that arose in the form of waste to power anaerobic digesters is pretty ideal - it allows not just farms to upcycle their waste, but also helps food processors, supermarkets, and even fast food restaurants by opening up an avenue for food related industries to dispose of waste economically and in a way that is hugely beneficial from an environmental standpoint. 

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy online that goes more in depth into how the process works and the benefits - you can read that article in its entirety here: Farm to Grid 

For more in depth info on how waste-to-power works, and to view some of the currently operating facilites, check out Vanguard Renewables site. 

 

 

 

Read More

Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, methane, carbon emissions, renewable energy

What's the TCI & how does it work?

Posted by Ed Burke on Mar 4, 2020 3:06:31 PM

Carbon

You may have been hearing about the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) on the news recently - in particular, you have probably been hearing about the implications the TCI would have on the gas tax. (That goes double for those of you in Massachusetts, where gas taxes were a major point of contention in the prior few election cycles)

The TCI is a cap-and-trade system for incentivizing development of fuel efficient technologies, while simultaneously putting a "cap" on emissions and a price on carbon offsets to reach those caps, where needed. 

So if it goes into effect, what happens? What you have probably mostly heard about is that depending on which option the TCI takes officially (25%, 22.5%, or 20% reduction in emissions by 2032) the gas tax you pay at the pump would go up 5, 9, or 17 cents per gallon (estimated). 

But there is a lot more to the program and it's goals than just an at the pump tax, in fact, that's not even the main part of the program. The main portion of the Initiative is the emissions cap and the corollary carbon allowances that would be required for transportation companies to offset their fuel's carbon dioxide production. Carbon allowances can be both auctioned and traded, and money from their sales would go to member states for further transportation emission reduction measures. 

There is a lot involved in the program, some of which is relatively complex. I wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine this past month that runs through the basic framework of the program, what the estimated goals are for both emission reductions and revenue generation, and what impacts are projected for consumers.

You can read that article here: TCI: What's Under the Hood?

Read More

Topics: Massachusetts, climate change, carbon emissions, TCI

Too Late for Canaries: Coal Companies File for Bankruptcy Protection

Posted by Ed Burke on Jan 9, 2020 11:49:57 AM

coal

The United States' largest privately owned coal company filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection in late October. Murray Energy joins at least 7 other major companies as casualties in the move toward cleaner and more sustainable energy.

2018 saw the lowest demand level for coal since 1978, so the bankruptcy filings are not very surprising - it is becoming more a matter of when companies either change focus to add in non-coal sources, or slowly dwindle on earnings. The major looming question will be how workers and other supply chain members are compensated for wages, contracts, etc as this sector of the industry reorganizes.

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine that goes into a little more detail on the subject and potential outcomes going forward. You can read that article in its' entirety here: Coal Companies Seek Bankruptcy Protection 

Read More

Topics: coal, renewable energy, Clean Energy

Massachusetts Mulls Geothermal MicroDistricts to Offset Emissions

Posted by Ed Burke on Nov 25, 2019 8:15:00 AM

geothermal

The Massachusetts legislature is considering a bill that would set up what would essentially be test geothermal projects to determine if what are being called "GeoMicroDistrict"s could be used going forward for heating & cooling of buildings and neighborhoods. The goal of this is that if it works, utilities would able to buy/source geothermal for energy supply in addition to (or instead of) natural gas. 

The project would be a partnership with Eversource and the Department of Public Utilities, based off of feasibility studies performed by a UK based engineering firm (BuroHappold Engineering). The project would use existing infrastructure with the addition of bore drilled vertical holes, ambient waterlines, etc. Eversource presented a plan for the project to the DPU, and described it to the Mass Legislature for consideration.

If the project moves forward, it would be a large step forward in reducing building & residence based emissions, which have been an ongoing concern for MA cities and towns, particularly those in more dense urban type settings where solar or wind farms are space limited, as are the accompanying larger scale batteries they would require to ensure full reliability. Geothermal may be a good option to "fill in the gaps" other renewable sources can leave in different settings.  

You can read more detail on the project here: Massachusetts Considers Substituting Geothermal for Natural Gas

(Not really clear on what geothermal is exactly? The US EIA has a good quick overview here: EIA: Geothermal Explained )

Massachusetts has committed to aggressively reducing carbon emissions, and geothermal has been coming up increasingly often as a potential source of greener energy, whether in addition to, or in lieu of current options. In fact we have heard geothermal come up in everything from the climate change forum of the State Democratic Primary (Ed Markey versus Shannon Liss-Riordan) to budget discussions on new regional school construction. (After initial approval, Waconah high school's new building in Dalton MA will not use geothermal based on cost, you can read that local story here: Price-Conscious Waconah Panel drops Geothermal Option )

It appears that the State is seriously looking at adding more geothermal options to the energy mix in order to meet climate change mitigation goals that have been set. 

Read More

Topics: Massachusetts Clean Cities, climate change, carbon emissions, renewable energy, geothermal

Commonwealth Awards 14.9 Million in Green Communities Grants

Posted by Ed Burke on Oct 29, 2019 10:16:40 AM

2016-01-20_18-21-41

This September, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts awarded competitive grants to 91 municipalities across the state to the tune of 14.9 million dollars, at up to 250,000 per municipality. The grants allow cities to fund renewable energy projects for the community that help MA move towards its clean energy goals.

This is the largest single year payout for the program, which has paid out over 100 million in project grants since 2010. 

To obtain a Green Communities designation in Massachusetts, the community must pledge to reduce municipal energy consumption by 20% within 5 years. The project and its grants have allowed cities to offset the costs of energy efficiency projects like weatherization, LED streetlights, heating system conversions, EV charging stations, and EV fleet vehicles. This is beneficial for both the community running the project, and for the State energy efficiency levels overall. Massachusetts is the most energy efficient state in the union and is looking to hold on to that designation. 

If you want more background and info on the Green Communities program and grants, I wrote an article for the October issue of Oil & Energy Magazine on the program that you can read here: Massachusetts' Green Communities

Read More

Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, Mass DOER, Massachusetts Clean Cities, Energy Efficiency

Recent Posts

Posts by Topic

see all