In Massachusetts, one can discern a relatively small world of people who have outsize influence in our public policy. Their views are reflected as the establishment voice of the Boston Globe editorial page; represented in Commonwealth Magazine; and at countless seminars and hearings. They are serious people, acting on matters of great consequence. And they will tell us that our demands as citizens simply must be balanced with other necessities.
But when it comes to climate, I can only think of my kids, and the survival of our habitat and civilization. All other needs are no competition.
To say the least, our establishment leaders haven’t been sufficiently clear, ruthless or serious about establishing a hierarchy of priorities in climate and energy. In fact, some of the most influential characters don’t even seem to think it’s their job to help out.
If you remember “An Inconvenient Truth”, there’s a portion where Al Gore shows a slide with a drawing of weighing scales, with the Earth on one side and a mass of gold bars on the other.
We have here a scales that balances two different things. On one side, we have *gold* bars! Mmmmmm, don’t they look good? I’d just like to have some of those gold bars. Mmmmm. On the other side of the scales… um… THE ENTIRE PLANET! Hmmmm…
But it’s not just gold bars, outright greed that prevents us from doing the necessary thing. It’s also, well … inconvenience: Having to do things that we’re not used to doing; making trade-offs we’d prefer not to deal with; maybe even a change in job description.
For instance: Should the people in charge of the New England’s regional electric grid (ISO-NE) be solely focused on “keeping the lights on” — in the way that’s easiest and most convenient for them? Or should they be actively involved in guiding a swift transition to renewable energy, on a climate-realistic schedule — ie. the next 10-12 years? At this late date, shouldn’t managing that transition be the very essence of the job?
In Bruce Mohl’s portrait of ISO-NE CEO Gordon Van Welie in Commonwealth Magazine, it seems like an afterthought. I get halfway through the article before any mention of climate change. Does Van Welie have helpful advice for how to more smoothly navigate this necessarily swift transition? What does he need to make that happen? Well, according to Kathryn Eiseman back in 2017, we don’t know, because he’s not really interested in that question.
… the ISO’s leadership has demonstrated a clear preference for the easy, old-school solutions that are at odds with climate realities and innovative trends in energy-self-sufficiency for the region.
When I participated in a small-group, sit-down meeting in late 2014 with Gordon van Welie, the ISO’s CEO, a disconnect was palpable – between how we envision a sustainable power system, and the vision held by the ISO’s leadership. Van Welie did not dispute the impacts of climate change, but told us that he expects things to get very ugly in that regard before business as usual changes. His team touted the ISO’s integration of demand-side resources and renewables into their forecasting, but cast our energy challenges as essentially insurmountable without a major buildout of natural gas infrastructure. Van Welie admitted that he had his “finger on the scale” in favor of additional gas pipelines in the region. Public records requests filed by the Conservation Law Foundation earlier that year unearthed meeting notes showing that van Welie had gone further, telling state and federal regulators that “what you need to do is overbuild” the pipeline.
… If van Welie had been aggressively advocating for renewable energy storage and peak demand management for the past six years, instead of pushing a major expansion of gas pipeline capacity, we would likely be having a different regional conversation about energy policy and priorities.
(We’ve been adding capacity for 23 years (see below), and somehow the answer is still MOAR GAS. Completely aside from climate: Hasn’t his strategy failed, like building an eight-lane highway only to see it gummed up at rush hour?)
Former DPU chair Paul Levy gives climate change similarly perfunctory treatment in warning that we’re overfunding what are likely to be expensive sources of power in the form of home solar cells. He seems to openly cheer for ratepayer revolt, even as he mentions avoided costs during hot and sunny conditions.
Those of us most concerned with climate change must also have some concern for the amount that Massachusetts businesses and consumers have to pay for electricity.
This sounds to me a bit like, I’d just like to have some of those gold bars. I just don’t trust that framing of the question.
There’s definitely a place for a discussion of whether we’re getting maximum bang for our buck on a sustainability front: Could we get more solar for the same dollar investment? But it seems that if we’re picking winners — which it seems we must do — we’re probably going to have stranded costs or over-investment one way or another, whether it’s nuclear, gas pipelines, or solar. Levy implicitly admits this in recounting the history of such decisions, which only says to me that hindsight is 20/20.
And to echo David Roberts, the SREC program and net-metering have a great advantage, which is that they exist. They are real. The initial incentives did the work of driving uptake of solar with its concomitant benefits (air quality, ie. life; economic development ie. jobs). They created a competitive industry in Massachusetts, and have likely contributed to the dropping costs of solar power generally.
One might prefer a system which prioritizes results, rather than methods and “picking winners”, as suggested in
And then there’s the incorrigible Boston Globe, which continues to insist that in order to fight climate change … we need more gas pipelines. (I will stop harping on this if they will.) The perverse absurdity of this ought to be obvious. Un-combusted methane is a powerful greenhouse gas; it leaks everywhere, including probably your Massachusetts neighborhood; and it causes environmental devastation wherever it is harvested — be it Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale or Trinidad and Tobago.
Joe LaRusso is an informed person: He works for the City of Boston as Energy Efficiency and Distributed Resources Finance Manager. Speaking for himself (not the city), he points out what the Globe leaves out: That there has indeed been considerable build-out of pipeline capacity in the last few decades, as recently as 2016. This is like “induced demand” on a highway: If you build it, they will drive. And we’ll still beg for more.
Something strange happens in the 3rd paragraph of the op-ed. Though describing the events of 23 years ago, the op-ed says that the TT LNG plant was built to provide Boston “with natural gas when constrained [natural gas] pipelines into New England max out.”
Did you catch it?
4. That’s right! Even though the op-ed is describing the events of 23 years ago it slips into the present tense. Why is “max out” vs. “maxed out” strange? Well, take it as a given that the Globe opinion writers are superior grammarians, and their choice of tense was deliberate.
5. So why telescope time that way? To suggest that the pipeline constraints of today are the same as those of 23 years ago, and to lay that lack of progress (and the degradation of Point Fortin) at the feet of today’s opponents of new gas pipelines.
That simply doesn’t wash.
16. …the Portland Natural Gas Transmission System (PNGTS) & the Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline (M&NP). Both PNGTS and M&NP went into service in 1999. PNGTS can deliver 168 million cubic feet per day (MMcf/d); M&NP can deliver 440 MMcf/d.https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1081909659655696384.html
17. Since 2016 the following pipeline projects have gone into service.
• Algonquin Incremental Market (342 MMcf/d)
• Salem Lateral Project (115 MMcf/d)
• Atlantic Bridge (40 MMcf/d)
• C2C (42 MMcf/d)
• CT Expansion (72 MMcf/d)
That equals 611 MMcf/d of new added capacity.
18. In 2016 NE’s regional pipeline capacity was estimated to equal 4.7 Bcf/d—that’s billion cubic feet per day—based on then-current shipper’s contracts.
The 611 MMcf/d in capacity added in the last 2 years *alone* increased NE’s regional gas pipeline capacity by about 13%.
19/ And as you can see in the @EIAgov chart below, about 2.5 Bcf/d in expansions to NE’s regional gas pipeline transmission system were completed between 2007 and 2010.
Contrary to what @GlobeOpinion would have you believe, a *lot* of pipe has been laid here in NE since 1995.
Read other compelling responses from extremely well-informed observers. Synapse Energy’s Frank Ackerman, who says renewables will obviate the need for more pipelines:
Building new pipelines would be ineffective and expensive. They might not come into service until the mid-2020s or later, ready for 40 or more years of use, just after the end of the need for LNG.
… and former DPU Commission Chair Ann Berwick.
First, it cites Trinidad’s irresponsible environmental policies. But isn’t a reasonable solution to that problem to require that we import gas only from responsibly run facilities? Second, the editorial does not mention the worrisome and well-documented environmental impacts of fracked natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, which would supply much of the gas transported by way of new pipelines. And third, contracts for LNG are relatively short term, as opposed to the decades-long commitment to fossil fuels that new pipelines involve.
If we had maxed out on energy efficiency (we haven’t even come close); if we had maxed out on renewables; if we had a full complement of gas-cancelling offshore wind in our energy mix; if we were anywhere near that point where the intermittent nature of renewables were causing real problems with reliability; and if climate change were less urgent than it actually is … maybe the Globe would have a point. But as we’ve pointed out repeatedly: The problem is the general usage throughout the year, and the crowd-out effect of our long-standing commitment to gas infrastructure over the last 23 years; not even the handful of days when we have to resort to oil-fired peaking plants.
The Globe might have provided charts, graphs, projections, and numbers showing the trade-off between “restricted” pipeline capacity and the marginal pollution caused by those peaker plants. They didn’t. Either they thought they’d bore us by showing their work … or they didn’t do the work.
This seems to be the state of the conversation among the Massachusetts decision-making elite. The strong impression one gets is that we’d really rather be thinking about something other than climate; we’d rather put our heads down, do the easy and obvious thing, and let highly-capitalized, technically-competent and politically well-connected fossil fuel companies give us “cheap” gas — at a massive, externalized price.
Can’t do that anymore. Strap in — this is hard, maybe even expensive. But doing nothing or not-enough will cost us everything. We need all the stakeholders to be pro-actively managing this transition. All input that will add to its swiftness and efficiency are welcome; foot-dragging and competing agendas are not.
This is everyone’s job.