Green Communities—A Win-Win

GREEN COMMUNITY FB SQUARE Massachusetts is leading the way on responsible energy policy with Green Communities. The Green Communities initiative guides towns through the process of lowering energy use and signing on to renewable forms of energy to meet their needs. Each Green Community is eligible for multiple grants from the Department of Energy Resources. In fact, the 185 towns and cities that have achieved Green Community status have received $67M in grants from the state already.

Here’s what Sharon stands to gain with Green Community status:

  • Approximately $160,000 in initial grant funding for energy efficiency upgrades
  • Eligibility to apply for up to $250,000 per year in additional grants for energy efficiency and renewables
  • Assistance with developing and implementing policies that will help our town transition away from fossil fuels toward sustainable clean energy

What could we do with the grant money? Here are some improvements other Green Communities have made:

  • Easton has received over $600,000 for upgrades and replacement of mechanical equipment in their schools and other municipal buildings, including roof-top air handling units, exterior light upgrades in the Middle School parking lot, interior light upgrades in the High School and an LED streetlight project on public roadways
  • Stoughton used $200,000 to upgrade the motor operation at four pumping facilities, lighting upgrades and installation of programmable thermostats at Pratts Court Pump House, as well as other energy efficiency upgrades
  • Nearly $700,000 was awarded to Kingston for energy efficiency measures including installation of two condensing boilers in the Elementary School, replacement of rooftop HVAC units at the Elementary School; and an interior lighting retrofit at the Middle School.

As you can see, Sharon could benefit greatly from Green Communities grants for municipal building upgrades. Questions? Concerns? Join us at the April 6th Forum.



Third major study finds additional gas pipelines not needed

UNH Research Finds Increased Energy Use Not Needed to Grow Economy

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

DURHAM, N.H. – New England does not need to increase energy use to continue to grow its economy, according to new research released by the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire that looked at cost, reliability and risk associated with the region’s electricity future.

According to the researchers, from 2005-15 real GDP in New England grew by 9.7 percent while energy use fell by 9.6 percent. In addition, electricity consumption is expected to drop by 0.2 percent per year over the next decade.

Read the article here.

Gas, clearly for export, will cost US a bundle!

The Access Northeast Pipe Dream?

Pat Knight  |  February 7, 2017  |  Synapse Energy Economics

On February 6, 2017 Synapse released a report on “New England’s Shrinking Need for Natural Gas. ” This report examines the need for, and the cost of, the Access Northeast (ANE) natural gas pipeline. As proposed, the ANE pipeline relies on a novel funding mechanism whereby electric ratepayers would pay for new gas pipelines. This unprecedented funding proposal has spurred controversy and litigation: the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission both rejected this approach, declaring that it violates state laws enacted to restructure the electric utility sector and to protect consumers from undue financial risk. Pipeline proponents claim that the ANE pipeline is needed to relieve capacity constraints on New England’s natural gas pipeline system and that the cost of the pipeline is justified because it will ultimately save money for New England electric ratepayers.

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Governors can wield influence over pipelines

Natural gas infrastructure is not just federal issue 

KATHRYN R. EISEMAN Jan 30, 2017 Commonwealth Magazine

WITH NEW FEDERAL ENERGY POLICIES evolving to be starkly at odds with our priorities in Massachusetts, it is vital that we understand what authority our state has to influence controversial new natural gas infrastructure projects. Complicating matters, the Baker administration continues to promote an abstract vision of expanded interstate natural gas pipeline capacity in our region, yet when questioned about his support for specific gas infrastructure projects with concrete impacts, the governor’s repeated response to distraught landowners and local officials is that interstate gas pipelines are a federal matter.

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Koch brothers new target in energy war is not climate science

Linda Haithcox, executive director of the National Policy Alliance, which is funded in part by the Kochs’ organization Fueling U.S. Forward. Credit Matt Roth for The New York Times

Sensing Gains Ahead Under Trump, the Kochs Court Minorities

Warning: Unnecessary Pipelines Could Leave Consumers Holding the Bag

By | BIO

New oil pipelines are very much in the national spotlight. There’s been less attention on big pipes to transport natural gas. So far, debates over gas pipelines have been mostly local and regional affairs, even though there are dozens of gas pipeline applications pending before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The traditional concerns with both types of pipelines are largely the same: safety, routing, and environmental impacts.

ngpipelines_map-300x225But even before you get to those questions, there’s a more fundamental one we should be asking:  Have the pipeline developers established a true need for the project?

In some cases, the answer might be yes. But in other instances, there are strong reasons to believe the “need” for new gas infrastructure is exaggerated by pipeline developers with corporate ties to the local utilities signing contracts to pay for the pipe whether or not they end up using the gas. Utilities can do this because – by law – the bill for that infrastructure ultimately gets passed through to captive ratepayers.

One example is the Access Northeast Project proposed by Spectra Energy LP, which has sparked a debate across New England. But there are several other examples of pipelines with similar structures proposed across the country, from New Jersey to North Carolina. Fortunately, there are some steps regulators can take to minimize the risk of green-lighting unnecessary, expensive natural gas pipelines, namely providing heightened review procedures to affiliate-backed contracts.

Who’s Paying Whom?

Ordinarily, regulators insist on hard evidence that there’s a need for new capacity before signing off on a multi-billion-dollar pipeline. To build an interstate pipeline, developers need blessings from regulators, including FERC. One important key is having long-term contracts with customers for the gas – typically local gas and electric utilities, sometimes large industrial users or producers.

Signed contracts show FERC that there’s sufficient demand to support the huge investment. Or at least, that’s the idea. Things are fine so long as contracts between pipeline companies and utilities reflect arms’ length deals between parties with no corporate relationship. But when that’s not the case, things get thorny fast. Suddenly, you can end up with the same companies (or their affiliates) on both sides of a pipeline deal, effectively shaking hands with themselves. That creates a big incentive to get the deal done out of mutual financial interest, regardless of actual need.

In a normal business, lenders or shareholders are on the hook for bad bets, but not here. That’s because as state-regulated monopolies, local utilities have a legally guaranteed right to recover costs of providing service to their ratepayers. These costs include the signed contracts used to support the initial pipeline investment. This means developers get paid whether or not demand for gas shipped through their pipeline ever materializes. The only ones left holding the bag are the utility’s customers.

Too Close for Comfort

As the energy industry has evolved in recent years, local utilities are increasingly likely to exist as part of a larger corporate group, under an umbrella parent or holding company.  Some of these subsidiaries fall outside the regulatory realm where local distribution companies exist, and thus play by very different rules. The concern is that a franchised public utility and an affiliate may be able to transact in ways that transfer benefits from the captive customers of the public utility to the affiliate and its private shareholders – and offload financial risk in the other direction. If there was a legitimate and pressing need to take service from the project, presumably the regulated utilities would already have signed up. Instead, we see a pattern emerge where affiliates become owners of the pipeline while simultaneously committing their franchise public utilities to fund the costs of the pipeline.

Policing Perverse Incentives

This new financial model has been popping up throughout the country, including the PennEast Pipeline, Mountain Valley Pipeline, and the proposed Access Northeast Project. Regulators need to be on the lookout for these kinds of troubling affiliate relationships.

Some states, including North Carolina, have laws requiring state utility commission approval of affiliate contracts. But in most places, the normal course of business is for state commissions to approve them, if they even do review the contracts in the first place.  To address this regulatory gap, EDF recently requested the New York State Public Service Commission to take a harder look at these types of transactions.

At the federal level, FERC is supposed to approve pipelines only where there is a demonstrated need. But as the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel pointed out in a recent FERC proceeding regarding the PennEast pipeline, when the project is supported by affiliate-backed contracts: “two-thirds of the demand for the pipeline exists because the Project’s stakeholders have said it is needed.”

Long-Term Consequences

The new corporate paradigms at work in the pipeline business result in a major shift of risk, where ratepayers end up shouldering the costs of long-term agreements, while the shareholders of the pipeline developers enjoy higher-than-average returns. Dr. Steve Isser recently highlighted the dangers of this risk-shifting in a recent paper, noting that it could lead to pipeline overbuild.

It’s time that FERC and state regulators apply heightened levels of scrutiny to these affiliate precedent agreements to ensure there is sufficient market need for new pipelines. If unaffiliated shippers are unwilling to sign these long term contracts, regulators also needs to ask: why should affiliated ratepayers?

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In Trump times, cities must lead on climate change

By Joan Fitzgerald   Published in The Boston Globe  NOVEMBER 28, 2016

AS A CANDIDATE, Donald Trump vowed he would abandon the Paris Agreement, reverse President Obama’s climate initiatives, and bring back coal. As president-elect, he’s been more circumspect, but his appointment of climate-change denier Myron Ebell to head the transition at the EPA suggests he may try to make good on these promises.

If he does, the country needs a counterforce. That should come in the nation’s cities, where mayors have been far less polarized and often more creative than Washington in how they address climate change. Whether by transitioning to renewable energy, supporting smart grid development, pushing energy-efficient buildings, or supporting the infrastructure for electric vehicles, cities are already at the forefront of the fight. That’s because mayors of both parties know that climate action both improves the quality of life in their cities and creates economic opportunities.

Burlington, Vt., has become the first US city to meet all its electricity needs from renewable sources. About one-fourth of the city’s power is from a city-owned wood-burning facility. For the rest, Burlington purchases wind power and hydro and uses landfill methane.

After being leveled by a tornado in 2007, Greensburg, Kan., was rebuilt under the leadership of Republican Mayor Bob Dixon, with guidance from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, as a sustainable city powered completely by renewable energy from biogas, small-scale solar, and its own wind farm. Dixon, a member of a White House task force on climate change, frequently says that sustainable urban development transcends party lines.

San Diego is the largest city in the country to commit to going 100 percent renewable, in this case by 2035. In May, Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer released a budget that commits $127 million to climate-change projects. Faulconer, like Dixon, does not see climate action as a partisan issue.

Cleveland, with support from the Cleveland Foundation and others, has been trying to develop offshore wind turbines on Lake Erie since 2004. After many false starts, construction is beginning on Project Icebreaker, deploying a specially designed turbine that can free itself from ice that would otherwise lock it up in the winter months. Should this six-turbine farm on Lake Erie be successful, a new wind-powered energy grid could be developed along the southern shores of all the Great Lakes.

Onshore wind power alone could supply more than 95 percent of Ohio’s electricity demand, according to the NREL. And there’s the potential for thousands of good jobs in the manufacturing supply chain for turbines and in their maintenance. The American Wind Energy Association estimates that Ohio could reap $57 million annually in property tax revenue and $26 million in lease payments to landowners by 2030 if wind power continues to develop.

But maintaining this progress has been a struggle. In 2014, Governor John Kasich signed legislation freezing the state’s push toward renewable energy adoption. A second Kasich-approved law increased the distance turbines must be located from abutting properties, which stopped the construction of 11 previously approved wind farms.

And the going may get tougher; Ohio is one of several states where the Koch Brothers are pushing to undo legislation promoting renewable energy over fossil fuels.

Yet there could be some common ground on some projects. Trump seems serious about a major infrastructure initiative. Investing in a smart grid would be a great start. The nation’s current electrical grid is really a patchwork of grids that cannot communicate effectively, and have reached capacity. That must change if the grid is to handle increasing amounts of renewable energy. Another crucial need is for cities to protect themselves against sea-level rise and adopt green stormwater-management approaches. That challenge looms regardless of whether you believe climate change is naturally occurring or human-made.

Republicans are champions of local control. More than 1,000 mayors have signed on to the US Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which commits them to urging the federal government to pass greenhouse gas-reduction legislation. On climate issues, mayors of both parties will be letting Trump know both the opportunities and the stakes. He would be wise to listen.

Joan Fitzgerald is a professor of urban and public policy at Northeastern University. She is working on her next book, “Greenovation: Urban Leadership on Climate Change.”