“It’s not that global warming is like a world war. It is a world war. And we are losing. [But] America needs 295 solar factories of a similar size to defeat climate change—roughly six per state—plus a similar effort for wind turbines. [And] Building these factories doesn’t require any new technology.” https://newrepublic.com/article/135684/declare-war-climate-change-mobilize-wwii?utm=350org
On August 17 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court killed the “pipeline tax.” It’s a watershed decision for energy and the environment and it brings up some interesting thoughts. Here are a few.
Free market ideology can bite both ways. During the free-market decade of the 1990s, the Mass. legislature opened up the electricity business to competition. Before 1997, electric utilities were vertically integrated. They owned everything from the power plants to the wires that bring electricity into your home, and they set the price of that electricity (under the watch of the Department of Public Utilities).* Now, utilities only own the regional distribution system in Boston or Cape Cod or the Berkshires. Other companies own the power plants; those companies compete with each other; and the competition is supposed to lower electricity prices. Utilities can’t own power plants because they could sell power to themselves and jack the price back up. And investors, not customers, have to shoulder the risk of building new infrastructure, which will keep expensive, unnecessary new plants (or pipelines) from being built. Competition = free markets = lower prices = good. Monopoly = unfree markets = higher prices = bad.
But profit trumps ideology, and the power distribution business isn’t very profitable. Utilities can make twice the return by investing in, say, new gas pipelines –if they can avoid the risk that they won’t sell all the gas. A couple of years ago they came to newly elected Governor Baker with a proposal for new gas pipelines. We need more gas, they said. The brutal winter of 2014-15 strained our pipeline capacity. Gas prices spiked and the power plants charged us so much for electricity, it’s killing the state’s economy. Baker bought it, and his DPU ruled last year that electric customers could be charged for building new pipelines.**
Wrong, said the SJC on August 17. The 1997 restructuring act said electric utilities have to stay out of the power generation business, and fuel is a big part of power generation – as much as 75% of the cost, the decision notes. “We agree with the plaintiffs that such activity would undermine the main object to be accomplished by the restructuring act, i.e., to move from a regulated electricity supply market to an open and competitive market for power,” said the SJC. Worse, the pipeline tax “would undermine the main objectives of the act and reexpose ratepayers to the types of financial risks from which the Legislature sought to protect them…. The department’s interpretation of the statute as permitting electric distribution companies to shift the entire risk of the investment to the ratepayers is unreasonable, as it is precisely this type of shift that the Legislature sought to preclude through the restructuring act.”
This episode is awash in ironies. Charlie Baker, who’s a free market guy, tried to end-run one of the state’s biggest free market laws. His DPU, which is supposed to regulate utilities, bent the law to give them new powers. (See the DPU legal team’s pretzel logic in the SJC’s fascinating and history-filled decision.) And the Independent System Operator, which runs New England’s power grid, solved the gas supply problem last winter by, among other things, making the power plants stockpile liquified natural gas in case of cold snaps. New pipelines weren’t needed.
More fundamentally, the episode shows the limits of free market ideology. At their most radical, free marketeers say the government should get out of the economy and let private enterprise create the best of all possible worlds. But this free market administration’s DPU was trying to construct a market – set up rules that would make an area of economic activity safe for investors.
There’s hope for the Baker administration. Ideology clearly means less to them than a workable economy. Unless Spectra Energy wants to build pipelines on its own dime and risk (more on that below), Baker’s people now need to find other ways to satisfy the state’s energy appetite. That could mean energy conservation, demand management, local wind, local solar – or Canadian hydro, Maine wind (which many Mainers deeply oppose), maybe even nuclear power. Now is the moment to work on the Department of Energy Resources.
How can we block more pipelines? The SJC’s decision was a victory for a very broad climate movement. The Better Future Project thanked “the Conservation Law Foundation, who sued to stop the tax, our partners across the state (especially the Mass Power Forward coalition), and every one of you who took action and spoke out….we have unambiguously won a victory that the people’s money should be not used for private projects that further commit us to climate catastrophe.”
The fuel fossils aren’t giving up. Check out this proposed new trans-Canada pipeline, a hugely expensive route from Alberta to the Atlantic. The fracked gas fields in Pennsylvania and New York are our regional tar sands, and the gas industry must find a way to the coast.
The SJC only barred a pipeline tax on August 17. They didn’t bar companies from building new pipelines on their own dime. How can we keep them from doing that?
Grassroots mobilization, engagement with Baker’s people, maybe more lawsuits – and keeping the Spectras from getting long-term contracts to use the gas.
When Kinder Morgan wanted to push its pipeline across the Berkshires, activists went to Dartmouth College and urged administrators not to take 20-year contracts for new natural gas. That is a key strategy for our movement now. Without the security of long-term contracts, billion-dollar pipelines are too risky for investors.
*In the words of the SJC’s decision:
Prior to the passage of the restructuring act, electric companies were vertically integrated monopolies, controlling the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity. See Northeast Energy Partners, LLC v. Mahar Regional Sch. Dist., 462 Mass. 687, 695 (2012). Recognizing that “the interests of consumers [could] best be served by an expedient and orderly transition from regulation to competition in the generation sector consisting of the unbundling of prices and services and the functional separation of generation services from transmission and distribution services,” St. 1997, c. 164, § 1 (m), the Legislature enacted the act to separate these three utility services and open the supply of generation services to competition. Northeast Energy Partners, LLC, supra at 696-697. This functional separation of services, which limited a “‘company’s ability to provide itself an undue advantage in buying or selling services in competitive markets,’ was regarded as a necessary first step in moving toward ‘a fully competitive generation market based on customer choice.'”
**The SJC’s decision spells out the contorted financing:
In 2015, the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) filed a petition asking the department to investigate the means by which new natural gas delivery capacity might be added to the New England market in order to mitigate price volatility experienced by ratepayers in the Commonwealth, especially in the winter months. See D.P.U. 15-37 (Oct. 2, 2015). The DOER specifically asked whether the department, pursuant to its authority under G. L. c. 164, § 94A, could approve long-term contracts by Massachusetts electric distribution companies for the purchase and resale of interstate natural gas pipeline capacity. The DOER stated that the ultimate goal of such purchases would be to lower “gas constraint-driven high prices” for electricity in New England by lowering the prices, particularly in the wintertime, of wholesale electricity across the region.
In support of its request, the DOER asserted that gas pipeline constraints have caused unreasonably high winter electric prices in New England. Unlike local natural gas distribution companies, which regularly contract for gas capacity, electric generators that use natural gas to produce electricity are generally unwilling or unable to enter into long-term contracts to secure firm gas capacity. For these generators, there is added risk for such contracting because there is no means by which they can be reasonably assured of receiving enough revenue to cover the cost of securing the gas capacity over the course of each year. Pipeline companies, on the other hand, are not willing to build new pipeline capacity without having long-term contracts in place. Thus, pipeline companies do not have sufficient assurances such that they are willing to build additional pipeline capacity for natural gas-fired electric generators, despite the increasing natural gas demand for heating and as a source of supply for electric power. The DOER characterized this situation as a “mismatch” of needs and incentives that requires a “solution.”
Under the DOER’s proposal, (1) the department would authorize, pursuant to G. L. c. 164, § 94A, electric distribution companies to enter into contracts to purchase gas pipeline transportation capacity to be funded by the Commonwealth’s ratepayers through rates set and approved by the department; (2) the pipeline owners (which in this case will include affiliates of electric distribution companies) will use those transportation contracts to help finance the construction of new gas pipeline capacity in the region; (3) after the pipelines are expanded, the electric distribution companies will release (resell) their contracted-for capacity to electric and (4) the release of that capacity will increase gas supply and thus lower the wholesale price of gas and electricity….The DOER stated that ratepayer-funded gas capacity contracts entered into by electric distribution companies would solve the “mismatch” problem by providing sufficient financial assurance to pipeline companies to build new pipelines and infrastructure in order to provide gas to natural gas-fired electric generators.
Full article here. Excerpt:
“For the past three decades, since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was created and climate negotiations began, the refusal of our governments to lower emissions has been accompanied with full awareness of the dangers. And this kind of recklessness would have been functionally impossible without institutional racism, even if only latent. It would have been impossible without orientalism – what Edward Said described in his landmark book of the same name as “disregarding, essentialising, denuding the humanity of another culture, people or geographical region”. It would have been impossible without all the potent tools on offer that allow the powerful to discount the lives of the less powerful. These tools – of ranking the relative value of humans – are what allow the writing off of entire nations and ancient cultures. And they are what allowed for the digging up of all that carbon to begin with.
“Why? Because the thing about fossil fuels is that they are so inherently dirty and toxic that they require sacrificial people and places: people whose lungs and bodies can be sacrificed to work in the coalmines, people whose lands and water can be sacrificed to open-pit mining and oil spills. As recently as the 1970s, scientists advising the United States government openly referred to certain parts of the country being designated “national sacrifice areas”. Think of the mountains of Appalachia, blasted off for coalmining – because so-called “mountain-top removal” coalmining is cheaper than digging holes underground. There were theories of othering used to justify the sacrificing of an entire geography: after all, if you are a backwards “hillbilly”, who cares about your hills?
“Turning all that coal into electricity required another layer of othering, too: this time for the urban neighbourhoods next door to the power plants and refineries. In North America, these are overwhelmingly communities of colour, black and Latino, forced to carry the toxic burden of our collective addiction to fossil fuels, with markedly higher rates of respiratory illnesses and cancers. It was in fights against this kind of “environmental racism” that the climate justice movement was born.”
There’s much more in the full article.
PLEASE ATTEND THE JULY 12 HEARING ON BOSTON’S GROUNDBREAKING GAS LEAK ORDINANCE — noon at City Council chambers, Boston City Hall. If you can’t attend, call your councilor at 617-635-3040 and urge her/him to support the ordinance. We need to fix the leaks now and plug Boston’s #1 driver of greenhouse gases!
The proposed ordinance, which our gas leak coalition developed with Councilor Matt O’Malley, says:
Eliminate all Boston gas leaks in six years.
GRADE LEAKS FOR VOLUME AS WELL AS SAFETY
Gas utilities now grade leaks for safety as Grade 1, 2, and 3. We want utilities to measure the leaks and grade the top 10% as Volume Priority leaks that have to be repaired within six months. (A recent BU study found that 7% of Boston’s leaks are leaking half of all the escaped gas, so fixing the top 10% would bring down gas emissions fast.)
Every year, utilities would report to the DPW, Fire and Police Departments the location, estimated size, volume, and risk of explosion of every known gas leak. Every quarter, utilities would provide the City a current GPS map of their gas pipelines and infrastructure including age, material and pressure. They would also post the maps online.
Utilities would also report the total volume of all their leaked gas to several City departments.
NOTICE OF STREET REPAIR AND OBLIGATION TO REPAIR AND SURVEY
The City would notify the utilities when it’s going to open up a street for any purpose, as it now does. The gas utilities would survey the street and cross streets within 100 feet of the opening. The utility would have to repair any leaks found in the survey. Copies of the survey would go to the DPW, Fire and Police Departments. Before the street is closed up, the utilities would repeat their surveys to ensure no gas leaks remain. After the work is complete, if the City finds leaks the utility would repair them and pay for repair and repaving costs.
The utilities would monitor all repairs and replacements at least once a year using an independent monitoring expert approved by the City, state of the art equipment and best practices, and the results of that monitoring would be reported to the DPW, Fire and Police Departments.
If a gas leaks recur within 5 years after repair or replacement, utilities would pay $300 for each Grade 1, Grade 2, or Volume Priority leak and $100 for each Grade 3 leak and reimburse the City for the cost of services provided to re-repair the leaks. Utilities would also be fined $300 if they fail to report a leak they know about, and pay the city for its costs.
COMPLIANCE WITH BOSTON RESIDENTS JOBS POLICY
All work performed in detecting and replacing or repairing Pipeline and Infrastructure shall comply with the Boston Residents Jobs Policy.
GAS COMPANY EMPLOYEE SAFETY AND HEALTH
Utilities would report to the DPW, Fire, Police, and Health Departments any incidents requiring work stoppage or medical observation or medical treatment of persons working in or with pipelines or infrastructure where gas is emitted. Utilities would also provide these Departments with the chemical components of the Gas and the concentrations of those components. Samples would be taken from pipeline laterals or more local distribution pipes within the prior year.
SURVEY AND REPLACEMENT OF TREES
Utilities would replace any trees and shrubs that have been damaged or killed by gas that are on public land or land to which the public has access, and would repair leaks or replace leaky infrastructure within 50 feet.
Prior to the planting of any trees or shrubs on public land or land open to public use, utilities would conduct a gas leaks survey and repair leaks or replace leaky infrastructure within 50 feet.
At the global climate summit in China last week, Secretary John Kerry announced that Boston will host next year’s summit.
That’s great, but is Boston really a climate leader? The city is growing fast. How is that growth going to happen without hugely expanding our carbon footprint ?
A Better City just released a report saying that greater Boston’s population will grow 17.5% between 2010 and 2030. That growing population will need more electricity and natural gas and generate more waste, the report adds. We’re facing the same contradiction China is facing: growth vs survival.
All that new development (plus transportation) will have to run on clean energy or we’ll completely miss our greenhouse gas reduction goals. On top of that, existing infrastructure will have to cut its fossil fuel consumption.
If the City doesn’t have a plan for managing new development that’s a lot more concrete than the Climate Action Plan, and that’s backed up with development guidelines that the BRA actually enforces, it’ll look pretty silly at the summit. Who’s going to figure out how that can be done and identify the policy changes that’ll make it happen?
Greenovate Boston’s great coordinator, Jessica Feldish, told us that the City will be updating the community soon about progress for the Summit and future planning to make decisions about deep decarbonization in Boston. And last week the city’s Green Ribbon Commission announced a new working group and initiative called Carbon Free Boston to look at this very issue. Check it out at ttp://www.greenribboncommission.org/work/80×50-initiative/— and stay involved to make it happen!
Here’s more info from Greenovate.
“Climate Ready Boston has released its updated climate projections consensus report, which outlines what climate change will look like in Boston through the year 2100. Here’s the short story — we’re likely to experience extreme temperatures, sea level rise, extreme precipitation, and coastal storms.
“Not surprising, right? But here are a few interesting highlights that may make you look deeper:
- If global emissions aren’t curbed, sea level could rise by four feet in Boston Harbor by 2070.
- The number of days to reach over 90 degrees could be as high as 90 – essentially the entire summer.
- The intensity of these changes in Boston will depend largely on how successful the global community is in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“True resiliency requires all Bostonians on board, and the first step is to be informed. Please share this news with your friends, neighbors, and co-workers….
“The effects of climate change are serious, but here’s the good news: equipped with these projections, which were developed by the region’s top climate scientists, Boston is in an incredible position to be ready for climate change now, and be a global leader in climate change resilience.
“In fact, just last week Mayor Walsh returned from his trip to the US-China Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities Summit in Beijing, as a part of his work with networks like C40 Climate Cities and the Compact of Mayors to act on climate at the city level. While there, he announced that Boston will host next year’s Summit.
“The updated climate projections consensus will provide the foundation for CRB’s Vulnerability Assessment, Resiliency Initiatives, and Implementation Roadmap, all of which will be released this year. We’ll continue to keep you informed and share opportunities to get involved.”
and not keep the Governor from making us pay for new gas supply pipelines? Or require the utilities to buy more renewable energy? Or mandate more wind power? After all, those were higher priorities for the state’s climate and environmental movement than gas leaks.
We can only guess at the workings of Speaker DeLeo’s mind. So here are two guesses.
One: grassroots organizing. The gas leak amendment’s author, Rep. Lori Ehrlich, credited our gas leak coalition for our win. We got some 35 cities across the state to pass resolutions supporting her bill, we got gas leaks onto the front page of the Boston Globe, and maybe most important, we’ve made gas leaks a front-burner issue (sorry). In the end, Ehrlich said, some 120 of the House’s 160 members signed letters or otherwise supported her bill. If her bill came up as an amendment to the omnibus energy bill the House was considering, it was going to pass.
But the other front-burner issues came up too, and House leadership set them aside. So there has to be more. Maybe bigger money is involved in new gas supply pipelines and the state’s renewable energy mix than in the specialized issue of gas leaks. Maybe the gas utility companies were caught off guard. (That won’t happen when the energy bill goes to the Senate, which is now. We need to make sure the Senate strengthens the gas leak section of the bill.)
What’s your explanation?
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.
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.
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.”
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:
- Eliminate the cap on net metering, given the significant cuts to net metering credit values.
- Restore full retail net metering for low-income solar projects.
- 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.
- Exempt solar projects already in the queue from the reduced net metering rates.