Crunch time for the Omnibus

All this year, the state legislature has been postponing important climate decisions till it writes an Omnibus Energy Bill. That moment has arrived, and here’s how you can influence it.

Reps. Ehrlich and Farley-Bouvier are asking other House members to sign a letter to Rep. Thomas Golden, the House chair of the Telecom/Utilities/Energy Committee, who is drafting the omnibus bill. Please call your state rep and ask ‘em to sign the letter.  

Here is the text of the letter. And thank you for making that crucial call!

May XX, 2016

Thomas A. Golden
Chair, Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy
State House, Room 473B
Boston, MA 02133

Robert A. Deleo, Speaker of the House
Brian S. Dempsey, Chair, House Committee on Ways and Means
Re: Omnibus Energy Legislation Priorities

Dear Chairman Golden:

We thank you for your hard work to develop comprehensive energy legislation that keeps ratepayer energy bills reasonable and predictable while placing the Commonwealth on track to meet its greenhouse gas emissions reductions requirements. This is a complex piece of public policy with many long term consequences for the economic and environmental health of the Commonwealth about which our constituents care deeply. Your efforts and that of your team are very much appreciated.

As you craft the House energy bill, we ask you to prioritize the following:

1. No Publicly Funded Gas Pipeline Projects
As Representative Kulik and Minority Leader Jones’ recent letter made clear, a majority of the House opposes authorization of utility financing arrangements that require electric ratepayers to subsidize long-term gas pipeline expansion capacity contracts. Publicly funded gas pipeline expansion projects will greatly hinder the Commonwealth’s ability to meet its greenhouse gas reduction requirements, expose ratepayers to billions of dollars of risk, and are not needed to meet our energy demand and keep ratepayer energy bills reasonable and predictable.

2. Meaningful Offshore Wind Energy Development
The House bill should require our electric utilities to enter into long-term contracts to purchase at least 8.5 TWh (2000 MW) of offshore wind energy by 2030. Doing so will facilitate the creation of large-scale offshore wind energy development and bring thousands of clean energy jobs to Massachusetts. In Europe, there are 75,000 jobs related to the offshore wind industry.

3. Fix Our Leaking Gas Distribution System
Massachusetts’ utilities have allowed tens of thousands of gas leaks in our state’s gas distribution system, with some leaks decades old. This inaction is a result of a combination of powerful disincentives and lax requirements that hinder repair. Not only is this irresponsible but it’s wasteful, dangerous, and expensive. Natural gas, or methane, is highly explosive, contributes significantly to our greenhouse gas emissions, and a Harvard University study estimates that the annual cost of lost gas in Greater Boston alone is $90 million each year. That cost is borne by gas customers and is enough to provide heat to 200,000 homes annually. Disincentives should be reversed and requirements should be strengthened, especially at a time when utilities are seeking a vast expansion of their pipeline infrastructure.

4. Consumer and Environmental Protections in Large-Scale Hydropower Procurement
The Governor has proposed to import a significant amount of hydropower, equal to one-third of our state’s electricity consumption. To protect ratepayers and the environment, any such large-scale energy procurement should:
 Ensure that a minimum percentage of procured energy comes from RPS eligible renewable energy resources (i.e. onshore wind from Maine and New York);
 Require environmental best practices for transmission projects to avoid and minimize the impact on our region’s environmental and cultural resources; and,
 Prohibit utility self-dealing in the selection of transmission projects.

Thank you for being willing to take our priorities and those of our constituents into consideration as you prepare this bill to be released from committee.

April 23: Fun Run to benefit BostonCAN and ACE

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Support BostonCAN and ACE at a Climate Action Family Fun Run around Jamaica Pond on Saturday April 23. Costumes are welcome — you can come as a tree, glacier, climate change superhero, or anything else!

The 5K run will start promptly at 9 am at the Boathouse on Jamaica Pond. The Kids Run/family walk will start promptly at 9:30. Neither will be timed. $28 per person in advance, $35 day of, 12 and under free. Proceeds go to BostonCAN and ACE (Alternatives for Community and Environment), Boston’s pioneer environmental justice organization.

A t-shirt will be provided to those who donate. To improve your chance of getting the size that fits you, please arrive early. Click here to register.

Sponsored by Sazama Real Estate. If you want to sponsor the Fun Run, contact Samatha at


A few “superemitters” may be leaking half of Boston’s gas

We’ve been eagerly waiting for BU researcher Margaret Hendrick’s new study of gas leaks in Boston. It’s out, and it contains a shocker: a few gas leaks (7%, in the study) may account for half of all the gas being leaked in the city.

Hendrick’s study — just published in the journal Environmental Pollution — randomly selected 100 known leaks and measured how much gas each was emitting. Fifteen of them were Grade 1 leaks, which are supposed to be repaired immediately. Those were reported to the gas utility.  Overall, of all 100 leaks, seven accounted for 50 percent of the emissions.

The study found leak rates from 0.2 to 1,219 cubic feet per day. The average U.S. home uses approximately 200 cubic feet of natural gas per day.

The current US system for classifying leaks has three grades, based on gas concentration (higher concentrations are more explosive) and nearness to buildings. Grade 1 leaks are supposed to be fixed immediately, grade 2 leaks within a year, and grade 3 leaks at the utility’s discretion. But this grading system doesn’t consider the volume of methane emitted, and that’s critical for climate change because methane is 86 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over its first 20 years in the atmosphere. Fixing all the gas leaks in Massachusetts would lower the state’s greenhouse gas footprint by 10%, according to Hendrick’s faculty advisor Nathan Phillips, and move us quickly toward our 2020 climate goals.

Hendrick’s study calls for an additional classification system that measures the volume of escaping gas. The gas leak allies working group, of which BostonCAN is a member, has drafted a model city ordinance that would establish this new classification system, and it may be introduced this month in the Boston City Council.

Meanwhile, what are the gas utilities and the state Department of Public Utilities doing to find and plug these “super-emitters?”

See an excellent article on the new study from “InsideClimate News.”

The Solar Bill Compromise: A Very Mixed Deal

Statement from Climate Action Now in western Mass.

While CAN appreciates the time and effort the legislature has devoted to the issue of solar policy in the last months, we have significant concerns with the final bill, H.4173, that passed this week. While the bill raised the net metering cap a bit, continuing with a cap at all is counterproductive to sufficiently reduce our fossil fuel use in combatting climate change, and arbitrary cuts to net metering compensation will harm low-income solar projects and projects already in the queue awaiting the raising of the cap. 

Other states such as California and New York have decided to continue with full retail net metering and to discontinue caps on net metering while they undertake a more complete analysis of the benefits and costs of solar to their communities.  Massachusetts should do no less.

Cutting the net metering compensation to 60% of the retail rate will significantly harm the development of low income solar projects.  While we applaud the legislature for maintaining the retail reimbursement rate for residential customers, we are deeply troubled by the juxtaposition of these two rates. Essentially, the bill offers wealthy and middle class solar homeowners a higher net metering credit than it offers low-income solar customers- for the same amount of energy supplied to the grid.  We do not believe the conferees intended to exacerbate economic inequality, but that is the unintended consequence.  Furthermore, by suggesting that DOER can rectify this inequality via the SREC incentive program, the bill displays a fundamental lack of understanding about low-income benefits.  Low-income residents cannot accept cash compensation (such as through SRECs) without compromising their eligibility for service and support programs they rely on.

Furthermore, facilitating the ability of the electric utilities to petition the DPU for mandatory minimum charges for solar customers without specifying a ceiling, or an exemption for low-income customers, will add a burden equivalent to a tax on all consumers that will especially harm low-income users.

Projects already in the queue were planned, financed and approved based on the prevailing retail net metering rate at the time of their development.  To retroactively change that anticipated compensation would jeopardize these projects and give Massachusetts a bad reputation among clean energy developers who will have no reason to trust policy stipulations at any point in time.

The Legislature needs to make the following fixes to our state’s solar policy this year as budget amendments, or as part of the comprehensive energy bill, in order to ensure equal access to solar for low-income communities and sustain future solar development:

  1. Eliminate the cap on net metering, given the significant cuts to net metering credit values.
  2. Restore full retail net metering for low-income solar projects.
  3. Specify that if DPU ultimately approves a mandatory minimum charge for solar customers, that charge cannot exceed $10 a month and low-income solar customers must be exempted from it.
  4. Exempt solar projects already in the queue from the reduced net metering rates.

Put carbon where it belongs — back in the soil

We focus on cutting carbon emissions –pumping fewer greenhouse gases into the air. But carbon/methane levels are already so high, and they’re generating so many feedback loops, that we also need ways to take carbon out of the atmosphere. Not with mad-scientist schemes like seeding the atmosphere and oceans, but by strengthening our biosphere’s natural carbon extraction processes.

That’s the argument Jacqueline Sussman develops in this 2014 article. And closer to home, the Northeast Organic Farmers’ Association posted this tip sheet and detailed white paper on their website.  You can also watch NOFA’s video here.

Then on Thursday April 28 there’ll be a talk on “Soil: Rising Star in the Climate Movement”, 7-8:30pm at First Church UU JP, 6 Eliot Street, Jamaica Plain with Seth Itzkan of Soil4Climate and Quinton Zondervan is president of the Climate Action Business Association. Two days later, on Saturday April 30, there’s a full-day carbon sequestration conference at Harvard (register here and details here).

For gardeners especially, if you want to learn about the fascinating relationship between plants and the micro-organisms that feed them (and vice versa), the book Teeming with Microbes is a wonderful start — and you can get it from the Boston Public Library!


How to Tame an Omnibus (Energy Bill)

Crucial decisions about our energy future – wind? hydro? gas? – are coming up this year, and the Mass. legislature is wrapping them into an omnibus energy bill that will come out next month. This update from Mass Power Forward gives you ways to shape the bill. Please choose at least one!

  1. Timing and Targets
    Our best information is that the House is going to come out with a version of the omnibus energy bill around April 11ish or April 25th. Right now it sounds as if it will have something on offshore wind that we will like, something about Canadian hydro, and something we really don’t like about gas pipeline subsidies. Important House leaders that we should be trying to get other Representatives to speak to include Speaker DeLeo, Dempsey, Haddad and Golden.

    The Senate is likely to wait until after the House to release their version. As of right now, it will likely have something we like about offshore wind and decommissioning Pilgrim, it probably won’t allow something that affirms gas pipelines subsidies, but it may not go so far as to include language to disallow pipeline subsidies. Important Senators to shore up are Downing, Wolf, Pacheco, and Montigny.

    2. How we can take action to influence them

    a) Sign on letter. A sign on letter to stop a pipeline subsidy is cooking, we will be asking you to sign it and to ask your elected officials to sign it. Stay tuned.

    b) Meet with your state legislators. If you haven’t had a district meeting with your Representative or Senator, please consider having one! Contact Claire at if you’d like to connect with other Mass Power Forward groups in your area to participate.

    c) Grassroots Lobby Day. Climate Action Now in the Pioneer Valley has initiated a Tuesday, March 29th lobby day at the Nurse’s Hall in the State House. Please mark your calendars to join us if you can! RSVP here so we can coordinate our attendees:

    d) Call-in Day. If you can’t take time off from work for the lobby day, the day after, March 30th, is a call-in day. Please tell your whole community. More materials to follow.

    e) Media. Getting in the news helps our cause. On April 12th, we’re hoping to hold five simultaneous press conferences in Boston, Lowell, New Bedford, Springfield and Pittsfield. We have a new report about the climate impacts of fracked gas. All will be welcome to attend. Please email with your name and organization if you are interested in helping.

    f) Fact sheets. Please feel free to use these fact sheets on the gas subsidy, wind, solar, and more:
    They will be revised as updates in the policies shift, including actual legislation guide.

    g) Protect public land from the gas hogs! Kinder Morgan is trying to take public land in the Otis State Forest for their CT Expansion project and run roughshod over out state constitution. Please use this tool to send the Governor and Sect. Beaton a letter to call on the Baker Administration to stand up to Kinder Morgan and FERC now.

McKibben: “Leave natural gas in the ground”

In this new article in The Nation, Bill McKibben says:

Between 2002 and 2014… US methane emissions increased by more than 30 percent, accounting for 30 to 60 percent of an enormous spike in methane in the entire planet’s atmosphere.

fracking_texas_ap_img[O]ur new natural-gas infrastructure has been bleeding methane into the atmosphere in record quantities.

[W]e closed coal plants and opened methane leaks, and the result is that things have gotten worse.


[W]e need to move very aggressively to plug as many methane leaks as possible.

We need to stop the fracking industry in its tracks, here and abroad…The global-warming fight can’t just be about carbon dioxide any longer…fossil fuels don’t come in good and bad flavors. Coal and oil and natural gas have to be left in the ground. All of them.

Feds OK gas exports to Europe

Climate activists have long charged that new pipelines aren’t really aimed at the Massachusetts market, but at Europe. Last month, the U.S. Department of Energy stoked those suspicions when it approved natural gas exports out of New England to Canada and then Europe.

“Today’s announcement appears to confirm my long-standing warnings that the ultimate goal of some natural gas pipeline proposals being made in New England is not to help our residents with expanded infrastructure but to use New England as a throughway to export U.S. natural gas to Canada and ultimately to overseas markets,” said US Senator Edward Markey. That “will only add to the hardship our consumers are facing from high prices and link us to higher-priced international markets. That would be a disaster for our consumers and our region,” Markey said.

See for more detail.


Four-day march to stop the cross-Mass pipeline

3-2016 wmass march 1Go to for detailed info.

After each march day there’ll be an evening program. The first evening’s program features a new film by Josh Fox, who will discuss resistance to the Kinder Morgan NED pipeline and building a just and sustainable future with local organizers. Thursday, March 17 at 7 PM, Congregational Church, 429 Main Street, Ashfield, Mass.

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Day 2’s evening program features Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, Friday, March 18 at 7 PM, Cowell Gymnasium, 51 Maple St., Shelburne Falls:

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Day 3’s evening program is a Night of Celebration and Education to Stop the Pipeline with ten speakers and three bands,  March 19th from 7 to 9 PM, St. James Episcopal Church, Greenfield, Mass.

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WBUR highlights gas leaks

“Methane is a major contributor to global warming, and it’s the main component of natural gas, which means it’s likely to play a big role in New England’s energy future,” says this February 29 piece on WBUR. “And we have leaks here too, and those leaks have consequences…. it’s called death by a thousand cuts — every leak takes its toll.”

route-9-leaksWBUR took a ride down Route 9 with pipeline safety expert Bob Ackley and mapped gas leaks along the route. Spikes on the map showed methane from escaping gas well above the normal background level.

Bob Ackley is stopped as contractors work on route 9 on repairs to a gas line underground. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Bob Ackley is stopped as contractors work on route 9 on repairs to a gas line underground. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

BU researcher Nathan Phillips, also interviewed for the article, estimated that methane accounts for 10 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions — more than Massachusetts industries.