Tommy Vitolo, our stomv, is a PhD energy expert at Synapse Energy. He is also a candidate for State Rep in Brookline, whom one should support enthusiastically and without reservation, natch. He, uh, demurs from Secretary Beaton’s strategy on avoiding “dirty peaks” in energy usage. The whole idea is off, he’s saying, because gas is dirty, and it’s running all the time.
Clean Peak is junk planning.
I write this as an electricity planning professional, though (as always) not on behalf of my employer or any client.
We need to transition to cleaner and cleaner energy, and one constant roadblock will always be cost. If clean is cheaper, it’s pretty easy to do. Same cost? Some challenges? A hair more expensive? OK, we can do some of that in MA. More expensive than that? Well, that’s tough.
Those oil-fired generators? They’re built and paid for. They provide an important reliability service in that they’re able to go when other supplies — including wind and solar and hydro — are inadequate. Clean peak standards elsewhere in the country have been used to justify exactly what the Boston Globe editorial pages have been arguing — replace 1% of oil and 2% of coal (page 14) with something “clean” — energy storage or natural gas or biomass or some kinds of hydro. Can’t use wind or solar, because it’s not dispatchable. Of those, which do you think is most easily sited and is low cost? Natural gas. Once that generator is built, do you think they’ll only use it between 1 and 3 percent of the hours of the year? Hint: they won’t.
If you care about local air pollution, you designate a region, set a standard, and require compliance, letting the chips fall where they may. If, on the other hand, you care about carbon pollution, than worrying about 1% oil or 2% coal isn’t the action in New England — it’s the 49 percent natural gas you need to be worried about. And, because gas is being used every single one of the 8760 hours of the year, bringing on any renewable energy of any technology is guaranteed to avoid fossil during all hours of the year it operates. Any new wind or hydro or solar or energy efficiency or geothermal in New England will displace far more CO2 from gas than it will from oil and coal — because gas is where the lion’s share of the emissions are.
But wait, you say — clean peak helps incentivize generating capacity on the hours when it’s the most valuable! Won’t we need that if we’re going to transition away from dispatchable fossil fuels? Well, yes, we’ll need it. But we already have a mechanism to get it, and we, the consumers, already pay for it. It’s the capacity market. We pay generators for their ability to generate during times of highest need. If there’s not enough capacity for or near-term future, the market price goes up until we gain more capacity. If we do have enough, prices stay low and we don’t get more.
The Clean Peak is a clever marketing turn of phrase in search of a problem. In places like Arizona (where it’s popular), they don’t have a capacity market (nor do they have virtually no coal, a winter that consumes natural gas for heat, or an especially sane legislature). It doesn’t make a whit of sense in New England and, in my view, actually works against our public policy goals if any amount of natural gas ever qualifies as “clean”.
It’s also troublesome because it’s forcing — it prescribes a specific solution, complete with arbitrary fractions and limits — to solving a problem that need not be overly constrained. For the foreseeable future, we don’t have any problems with reliability or with overgeneration of renewables. As either of those two realities approach, we will need to start doing some easy, cool stuff, including (1) more targeted energy efficiency to reduce load, (2) time varying electric rates along with IoT devices that control charging EVs & electric water heaters to push load around, and (3) customer-sited, distribution grid-sited, and transmission grid-sited battery storage to manage the diurnal supply/demand mismatches.
Even the charts provided — they’re not helpful. The oil just isn’t the problem. Make that same chart with all 8760 hours of the year, and you’ll see how minuscule the oil consumption is. The problem is the gas, and we’re a long way from needing any storage to deal with it because any new wind, solar, energy efficiency, or hydro will simply swap out for natural gas each hour its operating [and occasionally coal or oil, like maybe a handful of hours a year.
Eyes on the prize. RPS must grow 3 percent or more each year, and municipal electric utilities must be obligated to comply. 1600 MW offshore wind: build it, and contract for more. Fix (eliminate) the 1st in the nation solar charges on residential customers we inflicted in MA. Use dollars to install more solar on local, regional, state, and quasi- owned buildings — that there is a single roof owned by the people of Massachusetts that doesn’t have solar on it is a political, social & economic justice, and environmental disaster of missed opportunity. Fix the dang gas leaks. Improve energy efficiency programs to overcome split-energy challenges [e.g. electric A/C but gas heating] and split incentives [e.g. tenant pays bill, landlord owns physical infrastructure] so that we’re consuming less oil, gas, and electricity. EVs — buses, municipal trucks and cars, and private autos that charge curbside, at work parking lots, at apartment buildings, and in home garages — must be deployed with emphatic, broad, and supportive cross-jurisdictional & cross-agency policies.
We know what we need to do for 80% CO2 reduction by 2050. Don’t play buzzword bingo. Don’t dream, don’t dicker, don’t delay. Deploy.