MA Passes Landmark Climate Change & Environmental Justice Bill

Posted by Kelly Burke on Apr 1, 2021 3:07:36 PM

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Friday, March 23rd, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law Senate Bill 9 "An Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Change Policy" that includes provisions described as "some of the most aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets in the country"

The ultimate goal of the bill is for Massachusetts to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and includes 5 year sublimit goals to that end for impacted sectors (transportation, buildings, etc).

The bill also serves to codify Environmental Justice provisions into Massachusetts law, to both define disparately impacted communities, and provide new tools and protections for those communities going forward. As part of the Environmental Justice approach, $12 million in annual funding was established for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to create a pathway to clean energy for environmental justice communities, minority and women owned businesses and fossil fuel industry workers. 

The Department of Public Utilities (DPU) is additionally required to balance equity and accessibility as part of their decision making process regarding regulations in addition to safety, system security, and emissions reductions. Lastly, the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) is expanded to require environmental impact studies for all projects that impact air quality within a mile of Environmental Justice Neighborhoods and evaluate not just the proposed project's impact but the cumulative impact to the area of projects over time. 

Other major takeaways from the bill:

  • Utilities - first-time greenhouse gas emissions standard for municipal lighting plants, requiring 50% non-emitting electricity by 2030, 75 percent by 2040 and net-zero by 2050.
  • Solar - The bill prioritizes equitable solar program access for low-income neighborhoods. It also provides solar incentives for businesses by exempting them from net metering cap so they can set solar up on business properties to offset electric usage (and cost).
  • Wind - utilities will be required to buy an additional 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind 
  • Natural Gas - Enhanced pipeline safety goals that require adopting provisions including increased fines for safety violations, and enhanced training/certification requirements for utility contractors. Also sets targets for leak reduction along pipelines. 
  • Technology & Other Related Items: Senate Bill 9 also sets benchmarks for clean energy technology - electric vehicles, EV charging stations, anaerobic digesters, solar technology, and energy storage technology. Additionally, on the consumer side there are new regulations set for appliance energy efficiency. 

Obviously, the bill is very comprehensive and there are a lot of details and policy changes involved, some of which we won't know the exact implications of until new projects that are under its scope start rolling out. You can read more on the exact provisions at the Mass.gov website if you are interested in digging into the details, starting with the official press release here: Governor Baker Signs Climate Legislation to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Protect Environmental Justice Communities

 

 

 


 

 

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Topics: EV Charger, Massachusetts, climate change, carbon emissions, renewable energy, environmental justice

Maine Central Power Clears Regulatory Hurdle, Stalls on Legal Challenge

Posted by Kelly Burke on Feb 26, 2021 11:17:00 AM

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Central Maine Power's proposal for a 145 mile electricity transmission line through the Western part of the State has cleared the final regulatory hurdle. Central Maine Power (Avangrid) recieved a Presidential Permit from the US Department of Energy for their $950 million dollar "New England Clean Energy Connect" (NECEC) Project to be able to cross the Canadian Border. (As an aside, if you want to read about the project in detail their website is a great resource: NECEC

When completed, the project will run 1,200 megawatts of hydroelectric energy from Hydro-Quebec to Massachusetts. The project is funded by MA ratepayers but arguably will help the entire New England region's grid. 

The permit was the last major hurdle outstanding for the project, but more obstacles have popped up. As crews prepared to go to work when the DOE permit was granted, a judge granted an injunction to stop work for 30 days as outstanding filings are adjudicated regarding a separate permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. Work is stopped as the court process moves on, but Maine Central Power is confident the project will continue. 

Upon completion, estimates say the project will reduce regional carbon emissions by 3-3.6 million metric tons per year (the equivalent of removing 700,000 cars from the road) Another portion of the project involves $200 million in upgrades to the Maine power grid, and a $250 million high voltage converter station in Lewiston that will direct current into alternating current to feed the regional grid. 

I wrote a piece for Oil & Energy Magazine on the Central Maine project, you can read it in its entirety here: Central Maine Power Line Stalled Again

 

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Topics: carbon emissions, renewable energy, maine, hydro-electric

Climate Change Controversy Heats Up on Wood Pellets

Posted by Kelly Burke on Dec 22, 2020 10:48:08 AM

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Controversy is brewing on the issue, of all things, of wood pellets. 

Here in New England, wood pellet stoves have been around forever, and we saw a noticeable uptick in usage when energy prices were high several years ago, as wood stoves offered an additional, lower cost way to keep the thermostat a little lower than you otherwise could. A 40lb bag of pellets runs you about 5 bucks at a home improvement store and will heat for approximately 24 hours, give or take. Plus you get that nice old timey fireplace smell, good stuff. 

So what's the issue with them anyway? The issue is less with residential use and more with biomass generated electricity. Wood pellets are designated biomass by US and International policy - they are designated as a renewable resource because (obviously) trees are regrown. A focus of the growth of wood pellets has been the designation that they are a carbon-neutral heating source. But are they really? 

Scientists in both Europe and the US are arguing that the actual burning of the pellets is more carbon intensive than coal, and that the length of the cycle to replace and regrow the source trees for the pellets ought to be considered - after all, it can take decades for full regrowth, which slows the ability of replanted trees to absorb the carbon. They also argue that the carbon neutrality fails to take into account the transportation impact of Europe's usage. Europe is a major user of pellets, and because of the lack of suitable forestry, they import them, largely from the Southeastern US.  

Why are they such heavy users when they lack the natural resources? Because ten years ago, the European Commission issued a Renewable Energy Directive to its member countries that 20 percent of their energy should come from renewable sources by 2020. The burning of biomass such as wood pellets was one way to meet that goal. Indeed, carbon emissions from burning wood are not counted toward a nation’s emissions output, due to a controversial provision of the Kyoto Protocol.

This faulty logic has led to massive renewable energy subsidies for biomass under the EU Renewable Energy Directive program. With that said, a number of countries have embraced biomass electricity, which scientists argue is actually speeding up climate change, pollution and forest destruction. Currently, biomass represents nearly 60 percent of the EU’s renewable energy total.

Because of the subsidies, it's beneficial for EU nations to import the pellets, and the demand on producers in the US has resulted in deforestration, which scientists warn could make the impact of extreme weather conditions far more severe since forests play a critical role in slowing flooding and erosion, in addition to their obvious role in absorbing atmospheric carbon.

Biomass plants have come under criticism because of all these factors by both scientists and environmentalists, and both legislators and the community seem to be coming to agreement that biomass electricity plants may not be the best way to renewable energy. This year we are seeing permits for new facilities being turned down everywhere from the Netherlands to Virginia. 

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine that goes into the specifics of the objections to wood pellets & biomass produced electricity. You can read that article in its entirety here: Are Wood Pellets Speeding Up Climate Change?

 

 

 

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Topics: climate change, carbon emissions, renewable energy

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

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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.

 

 

 

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Topics: Massachusetts, climate change, renewable energy, maine

TCI Talks Move Forward

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

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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  

 

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

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

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

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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. 

 

 

 

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

Too Late for Canaries: Coal Companies File for Bankruptcy Protection

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

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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 

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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

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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. 

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

Maine is Making Crude from Waste Wood (and it's Kind of a Big Deal!)

Posted by Ed Burke on Sep 5, 2019 11:40:17 AM

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University of Maine students experimenting with salt and high temperatures appear to have stumbled upon a way to create a sulfur free crude oil from wood pulp.

The discovery is exciting - Maine is looking at the potential (future) large scale production of an advanced, cellulosic biofuel from already abundant waste products in the area - sawdust, wood pulp, and logging residue from wood processing & lumber facilities. 

As we have discussed before, an ongoing difficulty with the Renewable Fuel Standard has been compliance with the cellulosic portion of the recommendations, because the technology and production just hasn't been there. This project in Maine is still very small in terms of production levels, of course, but the technology holds promise for cellulosic development and the patents are in place for companies to do the research and testing, and ultimately scale the project to private sector demand levels.

I wrote about the project in more detail in this month's issue of Oil & Energy Magazine, which you can read here: They're Making Fuel from Wood Waste in Maine

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Topics: Waste Feedstock Biodiesel, Cellulosic Ethanol, RFS, renewable energy

China Leads the Charge on EV Market Growth

Posted by Ed Burke on Feb 19, 2019 11:36:00 AM

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Sales of electric vehicles (EV) in the US grew 80% over 2017 sales (2018 saw 361,000 sold), and the global sales number was over 1.7 billion, with China accounting for approximately half of that volume. 

China is seeking to lead the EV transition, with the goal of 19% of all passenger cars sold being electric by 2025. The "New Energy Vehicle" quota law adopted there is the foundation of the rapidly expanding push - this law essentially mimics the "California Zero Emission Vehicle" program. It's a credit based system on the manufacturer side, versus an incentive on the consumer side. So similarly to the California program (or not unlike RINs and other proposed carbon initiatives), manufacturers generate credits via selling EV's, or purchase credits from competitors with excess to meet their required threshold. 

I wrote an article about the current EV landscape both in the US and in China, the major players and factories involved, and what I think we can reasonably assume the near future looks like for EV growth in the passenger car sector. You can read that article here: "Dominating the Electric Vehicle Market" 

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Topics: electric vehicles, china, renewable energy

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