Massachusetts is taking aggressive steps toward cleaning electrical grid and in doing so is joining a select group of regions around the world. Of course Germany and California get all the headlines, but also deserving are Portugal, Scotland, Hawaii, Iceland, Costa Rica, Uruguay throwing down part of $285B worth in 2015. There are also the global giants China and India building massive amounts of infrastructure.

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The 6.7 million person, New England state made three specifics moves to highlight its move forward – a push to continue and accelerate a regional carbon dioxide reduction program, support of 1600MW of solar power and wind industries, and the introduction of 600MW of energy storage legislation. All three of these programs are fundamental to reaching 100% clean energy – something that global leaders do.

Massachusetts has a long history of environmental action. In 2008 the state signed the Global Warming Solutions Act. The goal was a state level reduction of greenhouse emissions  by 25% of 1990 levels by 2020 – and 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. Massachusetts’ emissions dropped 24% in 2012, while falling back to 20% in 2013. And while cleaning itself, Massachusetts (see image below – source) and 35 other countries have shown they’re able to decouple emissions and economic growth. This program led the way for today’s politicians.

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Started in 2009, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power generation sector. As a result of the RGGI the states added $1.3 billion in economic activity, consumers saved $460M as electricity costs have fallen 3.4% a year, and carbon emissions decreased by 15% during the years 2012-2014 (the last three year period that data is available for). The carbon tax, paid by the utilities at time of electricity production, is spent on programs that have driven the energy savings:

  • 59% on energy efficiency
  • 15% on renewable energy projects
  • 13% on bill-payment assistance to energy consumers
  • 12% on other greenhouse gas programs and program administration
  • 1% on clean technology research and development

And now, with the RGGI is scheduled to end in 2020, Massachusetts has begun pushing the group for an extension through 2031 coupled with emission reductions requirement of 5% a year (emissions fell an average of 5.5%/year from 2008 through 2015). While Maryland has pushed back, corporations and institutional investors are pressuring Governor Baker (and other governors in the alliance as well) to take a strong position. The Northeast USA, along with Massachusetts, has figured out how to make money and clean the grid – while the US House of Republicans gets its strings pulled by Exxon,

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Stanford Professor Mark Jacobson believes Massachusetts can get 97% of its energy needs (electricity, transportation, heating and cooling, industry) from wind and solar power. Since January of 2010 Massachusetts has approved greater than 1,600MW of solar power through its two very successful Solar Renewable Energy Certificate (SRECI and SRECII) programs. In total there are over 40,000 distributed solar PV projects across the state, with 400 new projects installed per week. When developers beat the state’s expectations by hitting 1,600MW three years early the state’s legislature quickly responded to 15,000 solar industry workers by partially extending the program for a year and a half, while starting development of a broad follow up program – SREC III. This first 1,600MW of solar power represents 3.7% of the 43,500MW of solar needed in Jacobson’s plan. While wind power has had some disappointments – with only 107MW currently installed – the Massachusetts legislature (maybe in envy of its neighbor Rhode Island) this summer mandated that the utilities must procure 1,600MW of offshore wind in about ten years time. These two amounts of clean energy production are small compared to the state’s broader needs today, but the voting population is not letting anything else move forward, and that means growth will continue for a long while still.

In August, as part of a broad energy, the state passed legislation requiring the lawmakers to set an energy storage plan in place by December 31st, 2016. This past week Massachusetts’s Department of Energy Resources released a report recommending 600MW of advanced energy storage by 2025. The document recommends – in total – 1,760MW of energy storage, distributed to key locations across the state to best optimize the current power grid. The report lays out guidance in economic structure to support private (residential, commercial and industrial installations)  and utility investment (after finishing reading this document this past weekend – I decided it was time to write this post). Energy storage, as stated by the authors of the paper, is a game changer that will ease the rise of intermittent energy sources, remove inefficient gas peaker plants (there are currently three – 600MW total – in the state of Massachusetts), lower overall emissions and save the tax payers money.

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Of course, Massachusetts has some challenges – the state is behind the curve in meeting its goal of 25% of 1990 GHG levels, closing Pilgrim Nuclear plant will increase reliance on natural gas and the largest source of emissions – 40% – are millions of cars still polluting the air that aren’t being addressed in any of these actions. Even with that – serious inroads are being made that are influencing other regions, other states and countries, and that’s what leaders do.

Featured image source – Beaumont Solar, 650MW Solar Power Installation, Borne Water District, July 2016