We Lead Again: RGGI Is a Big Success

As the drills of a Next Step Living crew insulating my house practically for free thanks to the MassSave program echo past my keyboard, I'll just echo Mark's delight at being from Massachusetts. - promoted by Bob_Neer

Electricity may still be expensive in Massachusetts, but the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has had a positive effect on the environment and electricity, according to a report by Analysis Group.

A regional cap-and-trade program has added $1.3 billion in economic activity to nine New England and Mid-Atlantic states since 2011, while decreasing their carbon emissions by 15 percent, according to independent analysis released Tuesday.

Aside from getting solar panels on my roof, I’m no expert on energy policy. Some of us, Stomv & JohnT, for example, know more. Here’s ThinkProgress:

In addition to stimulating the economy and reducing carbon, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has also reduced the cost of electricity for consumers, saving residential, businesses, and public users $460 million, the report from the Analysis Group found.

These benefits mean that RGGI (pronounced “reggie”) could be a model for other states looking to reduce carbon emissions under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, set to be released next month. The Clean Power Plan requires states to lower carbon emissions from the electricity sector, but lets states choose how they reduce those emissions.

“The nine New England states’ experience with RGGI can provide other states with valuable lessons for how one might comply with the CO2 regulations included in the Clean Power Plan,” Andrea Okie, a report author, told ThinkProgress.

Under the RGGI plan, nine states — Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont — have reduced the amount of carbon allowed from electricity producers by requiring them to buy a credit for every metric ton of carbon they emit. There are only a limited number of permits, which are put up at auction every quarter. The states use the proceeds from the auctions to invest in further carbon reduction programs, such as efficiency retrofits and renewable energy development. (New Jersey initially participated, but withdrew in 2011 under Republican Governor Chris Christie).

Cap-and-trade works. And even though it’s a market-based solution, the Republican Party largely opposes it. Governor Candidate Mitt “Dead Zepplin” Romney had taken us out of RGGI, though thankfully Governor Patrick put us back in. Governor Candidate Chris “I Have a Bridge I Can Sell You” Christie took New Jersey out of the initiative.

Health care, marriage equality, and now clean energy. Massachusetts leads.

Joke Revue: Poll: Palin Would Bring Much-Needed Dignity to Republican Field


Poll: Palin Would Bring Much-Needed Dignity to Republican Field

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—The former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin would bring much-needed dignity to the 2016 Republican field, a new poll shows.

According to the poll, conducted by the University of Minnesota’s Opinion Research Institute, Palin’s ability to articulate her positions on issues with precision and restraint is sorely lacking among other entrants in the G.O.P. race.

Additionally, voters said that the former governor’s breadth of knowledge in the fields of economics, foreign affairs, and American history would place her head and shoulders above the current crop of Republican hopefuls. …

Despite the overwhelming sense that she would contribute gravitas and intellectual rigor that have been woefully missing from the G.O.P. contest, a Palin candidacy appears unlikely, a spokesman said.


Republicans Fear Victory for Health Care Could Pave Way for Education, Environment

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—The Supreme Court’s decision to preserve Obamacare subsidies has drawn sharp rebukes from Republican Presidential hopefuls, who warn that the victory for health care might eventually pave the way for similar advances in education and the environment.

“The Supreme Court has decided, apparently, that every American should have access to quality health care,” said Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas). “What if it decided to say the same thing about education? I don’t mean to be an alarmist but, after today, I believe that anything is possible.”

Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) also blasted the Court, telling reporters that “a government that protects health care is one small, dangerous step away from protecting the environment.”

“The nightmare that I have long feared is now suddenly upon us,” Paul said. “Mark my words, we are on a slippery slope toward clean air and water.” …


Hardly a final victory. - promoted by Bob_Neer

By announcing the historic breakthrough for Iran to give up the nuclear bomb in exchange for the world lifting economic sanctions and freeing up $100 billion in frozen assets, President Obama said : ” This deal is not built on trust.  It is built on verification…and offers an opportunity to move in a new direction.  We should seize it.”

The Senate now has 60 days to approve the treaty.  After years of war in the Middle East including American blood and treasure, we the people, should urge our representatives to support this agreement and give peace a chance.

In the words of our beloved President John Fitzgerald Kennedy : ” We should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate.”  Thank you President Obama and Secretary Kerry for having the courage and wisdom to make peace.

Today, I nominate Secretary of State John Kerry for the Nobel Peace Prize.  You have made us all proud to be citizens of Massachusetts, the United States and the world.

Blessed are the Peacemakers.

Fred Rich LaRiccia

Founder, P.O.W.E.R. ( Progressives Organizing Wakefield to Elect Reformers )



Sen. Markey: Champion of the Environment? Or Corporate Dem Sell-Out?

Read the comments. - promoted by Bob_Neer

Sen. Ed Markey gives campaign money to corporate Dem Patrick Murphy over progressive champion Alan Grayson.

I am writing to express my disappointment in Senator Ed Markey (MA-D)’s recent financial support for Congressman Patrick Murphy (FL-D) as he works to secure the Democratic primary nomination for Marco Rubio’s recently vacated Florida Senate seat. Rep. Murphy supports the Keystone XL pipeline, the TPP, and other anti-environment, pro-corporate initiatives. Rep. Murphy is a New Dem who falls in line with the corporations; NOT progressive ideals Sen. Markey and our other representatives from Massachusetts champion so well. Rep. Murphy’s opponent, Congressman Alan Grayson (FL-D), is a true grassroots champion, raising the most campaign contributions in the House from small donors of $200 or less. Rep. Grayson’s progressive ideas and policies make him the candidate we need standing next to Senator Warren, Senator Sanders, and other progressive leaders.

I was truly disturbed upon calling his Washington D.C office on July 13, when a staffer confirmed Sen. Markey “directly contributed money to Rep. Murphy’s primary campaign along with twenty other Senate Democrats.” Twenty other Senate Democrats many considered the neoliberal corporatist DINO wing of the Democratic party: U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Richard “Dick” Durbin (Illinois); and U.S. senators Bill Nelson (Florida), Kirsten Gillibrand (New York); Cory Booker (New Jersey); Tim Kaine (Virginia); Mark Warner (Virginia); Patty Murray (Washington); Ed Markey (Massachusetts); Michael Bennett (Colorado); Barbara Boxer (California); Jack Reed (Rhode Island); Debbie Stabenow (Michigan); Martin Heinrich (New Mexico); Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island); Ron Wyden (Oregon); Tom Carper (Delaware); Chris Coons (Delaware); and Al Franken (Minnesota).

Maybe it’s due to pressure from the Democratic leadership in Senator Chuck Schumer (NY-D), but I want to know how Sen. Ed Markey, as a proclaimed “progressive” and champion of the environment, can justify supporting a corporate sellout like Rep. Patrick Murphy over a true progressive and one of the most vocal opponents to the TPP, Rep. Alan Grayson.

Let’s hope the interests of the people of Massachusetts aren’t being sold out.

Katherine Clark is here to make laws and chew gum, and she is all out of gum

Well said. Brava, Rep. Clark! - promoted by david

I continue to be impressed by Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA-CD5) who has been able to amass significant legislative achievements in just two terms while rising in influence within the Democratic Caucus despite being in the minority party. Commonwealth Magazine has a profile that is worth reading in it’s entirety, but it shows how a progressive leader can stay true to her principles while also forging bipartisan coalitions that result in legislative results.

I call this process convergence, which is very distinct from centrism. Centrism is watering down a progressive bill to get conservative and moderate co-sponsors; while convergence is finding conservative and moderate co-sponsors to support a progressive bill. This is a key distinction. Sen. Warren has also been quite successful with creating convergent coalitions on progressive legislation; her bills with Sen. Corker to rein in student loan profits and with Sen. McCain to reinstate Glass-Steagall are key examples of this.

Katherine Clark has forged similar coalitions with folks like Mitch McConnell, who she gave the LBJ treatment to at the State of the Union.

She strode up to Mitch McConnell, grabbed his hand, and wouldn’t let go.

Her aim was to convince the Kentucky Republican, who is the Senate majority leader, to work with her on legislation to combat heroin addiction in infants. Though the tactic may have been presumptuous, it worked. McConnell, whose state has a big problem with heroin, agreed. “I literally grabbed him on his way down the center aisle,” says Clark, who won a special election in December 2013 to take Ed Markey’s 5th District seat. “I did the famous politician double-grip, where you kind of grab the forearm, and I just wouldn’t let go of him.”

While Steny Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi are perceived to be political rivals, Clark has forged close ties to both. Becoming Deputy House Majority Whip on Hoyer’s team, while also becoming one of Pelosi’s top House Lieutenants.

Clark is the most junior member on the steering committee. She is among those picked for the job by Pelosi, with whom Clark has struck up a friendship. Pelosi campaigned for her after she won a competitive Democratic primary in 2013, even though Clark had no real challenger in the general election. When Clark arrived in Washington, Pelosi showed her around.

Clark has assembled bipartisan relationships by joining the House softball team and amassing co-sponsors for a key domestic violence bill.

Clark’s other priority bill, to provide federal grants to allow victims of domestic violence to bring their pets with them to temporary housing, has more than a dozen Republican co-sponsors. She met the lead GOP sponsor, Florida’s Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, by going out for the House’s softball team last year. Clark says she’s not even particularly good at softball. “I really joined it for that opportunity — to be able to meet people,” she says.

That said, she continues to fight hard for progressive causes, especially continued supported for gay rights (a personal fight as her brother is gay), and women’s rights. She is one of the lead opponents of the 20 week abortion ban the House is trying to pass and a lead sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was the first bill she sponsored in her Congressional career.

I expect Katherine Clark to continue to rise in the leadership and bring Massachusetts some of the clout we lost with the passing of Sen. Kennedy, the elevation of Senator Kerry to the cabinet, and the retirement of Barney Frank. Who knows what other glass ceilings she will continue to break as she intelligently deploys political power on behalf of the powerless?

The Pioneer Institute does acrobatic logical twists re the Pacheco Law

It's worthwhile to take a really close look at Pioneer's work and see how it stacks up. As I've said, privatization is no panacea. There was a little thing called the Big Dig that was done by private companies. - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

(Cross-posted from The COFAR Blog)

In what has been widely viewed as a setback for state employee unions in Massachusetts, state legislators last week approved a state budget for Fiscal Year 2016 that includes a provision freezing the Pacheco Law for three years with regard to the MBTA.

The Pioneer Institute apparently had a lot of influence on the Legislature in approving the Pacheco Law suspension.  The Institute and other long-time opponents of the Pacheco Law claim the suspension, or better yet, an outright repeal of the law, will allow the T to operate without “anti-competitive” restraints on privatization, and thereby improve transit service and save taxpayers millions of dollars.

We have waded through the Pioneer Institute’s report,  which is filled with charts and financial analyses. You don’t have to go too deeply into the numbers, though, to see that there are a number of apparent holes in the methodology and logical conclusions drawn in the report.

The Pacheco law basically says you have to prove you will save money before you can privatize state services. The Pioneer Institute has had to twist the numbers, logic, and the facts to persuade legislators and the public to draw the opposite conclusion.

In at least one instance, which I’ll get to below, the Pioneer report appears to have misquoted the actual language of the law. It’s an unusually acrobatic performance even by the standards of the Institute.

(Note: While the Pacheco Law does not appear to have had a role in preventing the past privatization of human services, which we are primarily concerned with, the Baker administration’s next step, with the support of the Pioneer Institute and like-minded organizations, might well be to exempt future privatization of human services from the law.)

Unsupported statement

I’ll begin by noting that the Pioneer report says, without any attribution, that several “anti-competitive elements” in the Pacheco Law  ”combine to create the nation’s most extreme anti-privatization law.”

What the Pioneer report doesn’t say is that the Pacheco Law is based on a federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requirement that federal functions be subjected to a competitive cost analysis before they can be privatized (OMB Circular A-76).  As I’ll discuss below, at least two of the top three supposedly anti-competitive requirements in the Pacheco Law are also requirements in Circular A-76, while a third is a requirement of the Defense Department in complying with A-76.

The Pioneer report makes no mention whatsoever of Circular A-76, which has public-private cost-comparison elements that date back to the Reagan administration and even before.  That’s not surprising since an analysis of the requirements of A-76 would seem to cast doubt on Pioneer’s claim that the Pacheco Law is the nation’s most extreme anti-privatization law.

Far from complaining that the cost analysis requirements of Circular A-76 would prevent public agencies from saving money through privatization, most of the critics of A-76 have contended that its real purpose has been to encourage privatization of federal functions by introducing cost competitions for what had been publicly provided services.  As a result, a moratorium has actually been placed on A-76 cost competitions at the federal level since 2009 as a means of slowing the rate of privatization of federal agency services.

It is apparently only in Massachusetts that a law setting conditions for competitions to privatize services can be seen as an impediment to privatization.  We do not view the Pacheco Law as an impediment to privatization if the case has been made that privatization will save money and ensure the quality of services.

The Republican Bush administration maintained in 2003 that the competition provisions in A-76 would save taxpayers money.   As an online Bush administration document noted:

At the Defense Department, a survey of the results of hundreds of (A-76 public vs. private service) competitions done since 1994 showed savings averaging 42 percent…It makes sense to periodically evaluate whether or not any organization is organized in the best possible way to accomplish its mission. This self-examination is fundamentally what public-private competition is intended to achieve.

The Pioneer Institute’s apples-to-oranges comparison

The Pacheco Law authorizes the state auditor to compare bids from private contractors to a calculated cost of continuing to perform specified work by regular state employees “in the most cost-efficient manner.”  If the auditor determines that the cost of continuing to provide the services in-house would be less than the bids, or if he or she determines that the privatized service would not equal or exceed the in-house service in quality, the auditor can reject the bids and the service will stay in house.

The main complaint raised in the Pioneer report about the Pacheco Law is that the the auditor used the law’s provisions to deny a proposal by the MBTA to sign two contracts in 1997 with private companies to operate 38 percent of its bus and bus maintenance service.

The Pioneer report concludes that had the Pacheco Law not been in effect, the MBTA would have saved $450 million since 1997 through the privatization of those bus services.  But in making this claim, the Pioneer report compared bids proposed by the two prospective bus service vendors with actual costs incurred by the MBTA in that and subsequent years, and applied a cost-escalation factor to the bids.

The problem in doing that is that even though the Pioneer Institute claims it is being fair in applying that cost escalation factor, it is still comparing apples to oranges.

Under the Pacheco Law, the state auditor compared the bids from the vendors with a calculated cost of in-house operation at the MBTA based on operation in the most “cost efficient manner.” Based on that comparison, the auditor found that the MBTA operation would be less expensive than the proposed bus contracts.

The Pioneer report takes great exception to the Pacheco Law’s requirement that the cost comparison be made between contractor bids and a projection of the “most cost efficient” state operation.  That is a key ”anti-competitive element” that the Pioneer Institute cites.  But the Pacheco Law is not unique in setting the comparison up that way. Circular A-76 also states that a federal agency can base its costs in a privatization analysis on what is referred to as a “most efficient organization.”

In fact, we think the Pacheco Law and Circular A-76 establish a true apples-to-apples comparison.  While calculating costs based on operating in the most efficient manner may not reflect an agency’s actual operating costs, neither do bids necessarily reflect a vendor’s true operating costs.  Bids are often lowballed, as we well know.  As a result, contracting out for public services can prove to be much more expensive in actuality than it appeared in the plans or bids.

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) found in 2011 that the federal government was paying billions of dollars more annually to hire contractors than it would to hire federal employees to perform comparable services.

We think that much of the high cost of human services contracting at the state level is due to a hidden layer of bureaucracy consisting of executives of corporate providers to the Department of Developmental Services.  Our own survey showed that those executives receive some $85 million a year in taxpayer funding in Massachusetts.

So, in that regard, the Pioneer’s entire calculation of a $450 million in foregone savings in rejecting the MBTA vendor contracts is suspect, in our view.

A second major complaint about the Pacheco Law in the Pioneer report is that the law requires the winning bidder to offer jobs to public agency employees whose jobs are terminated by privatization.  But that requirement is also in A-76.

Apparent misquote of the language in the Pacheco Law

The Pioneer report claims that under the cost analysis requirements of the Pacheco Law, any outside bidder must offer to pay the same wage rates and health insurance benefits to its employees as the incumbent state agency. This, according to the report, “neutralizes any potential advantage the outside bidder may have based on cost of labor.”

The Pioneer report, in fact, appears to be quoting from the law verbatim in including the following statement under the heading “Restrictive Elements of the Pacheco Law”:

Every privatization contract must include compensation and health insurance benefits for the contractor’s employees no less than those paid to equivalent employees at the public contracting agency; (my emphasis)

But I could find no such language in the Pacheco Law!  Regarding wages, the Pacheco Law states that the outside bidder must offer to pay the lesser of either the average private sector wage rate for the position or step one of the grade of the comparable state employee.  That could mean that the bidder could stipulate a lower wage cost in its bid than the state’s wage.

Regarding benefits, the Pacheco law says the bidder must offer a comparable percentage of the cost of health insurance plans as the state agency.  This is consistent with the policy of the Defense Department, for instance, which prohibits private bidders in A-76 competitions from offering to pay less for health benefits than the DoD pays for its employees.

Despite his chamber’s action last week to freeze the Pacheco law, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg has appeared to be less than enthusiastic about the efforts to discredit the law and either freeze or repeal it.  “There’s an ideological-slash-political component to this,” Rosenberg said. “We ought to be driving policy based on outcomes and data and how things actually work.”

Unfortunately, the latest attacks on the Pacheco Law seem to be more about ideology and politics than about real outcomes and data.

In 2010, I wrote a defense of the Pacheco Law, noting that it was already a major political target of the Pioneer Institute and Charlie Baker, who was making his first bid for governor at the time.  If anything, the hyperbole and misrepresentations used to attack the Pacheco Law have only intensified since then.

Report of the MIT Climate Change Conversation

MIT and Cambridge have a hell of a lot to lose from rising sea levels. They have a lot to offer in the fight against climate change. From the Executive Summary:
Humanity has a limited window of opportunity to avert the most catastrophic risks of climate change. The global and holistic nature of the climate change threat, which affects all nations and requires combined progress on technology, policy, behavioral shifts and beyond, makes it society’s grandest challenge of the present day, possibly of all time. Finding solutions to society’s biggest problems is in MIT’s DNA and is central to its values. The time has come for MIT to play a prominent, visible part in the action and solutions needed to confront the climate challenge. Perils ahead dwarf risks to the Institute in navigating this politically charged issue, such that even exceptional measures should not be eschewed. We call upon the Institute to rise to confront what may prove to be the greatest threat to current and future generations. This report lays out suggestions for a set of actions to move the Institute in this direction.
- promoted by charley-on-the-mta

The Report of the MIT Climate Change Conversation Committee which has been meeting around the campus for the last few months is now available at http://web.mit.edu/vpr/climate/climatereport.html

This report is in preparation for a community-wide MIT climate change action plan which will be announced this Autumn by the Administration.

What MIT decides to do about climate change (and divestment), this Fall, before the Paris climate talks, could be significant.

I hope it’s a good enough plan they can make the announcement with the backing of Papa Frankie and the Dalai Lama, at MIT’s Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values (http://thecenter.mit.edu).

From what I’ve observed, MIT has held meetings in different venues at different times for different campus communities on climate change and divestment, raising questions about economics, technology, politics, and related issues. MIT’s campus, after all, is right by the river with a susceptibility to flooding (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0MCPqGXRnc) and the Institute is always in the midst of multi-decade if not century building plans.

Meanwhile, the city of Cambridge has adopted a “Getting to Net Zero Energy Framework” which will affect the development MIT wants to undertake. MIT and Harvard are working with the city of Cambridge on reducing greenhouse gases and sustainability planning too, another spur to do what’s necessary to confront climate change.

Across the river, Boston is long into preparation for sea level rise and the next Hurricane Sandy or Snowpocalypse as are Cambridge and all the other surrounding communities, more or less.

President Reif and the administration of MIT are very much aware of all this.

What MIT will decide to do about climate change (and divestment), this fall, before the Paris climate talks, could be significant.

Especially if they did with a consortium of all the other major Institutes of Technology around the world, like the Alliance for Global Sustainability that MIT began with Switzerland’s ETH and Japan’s University of Tokyo back in 1995.

The Best Health Care in the World?

A perfect story for a reality-based blog. - promoted by Bob_Neer

As I was traveling up a short hill on my bicycle at about eighteen miles an hour, a mechanical failure sent me hurling head first over the handlebars until the crown of my head met the pavement, cracking my helmet in four places. The good EMTs and local police were there in minutes after fellow riders called it in.  As I started to take inventory of my physical condition and wondered about the now broken bicycle, another thought came to mind. This is going to cost me at least $1,100 at the hospital emergency room, if I choose to take that route.

I have insurance. My family policy costs me in the neighborhood of $15,000 a year, plus co-pays and deductibles. But even at that price, the first $1,000 is not covered, and even after that, an ER visit will cost me $100. Since I had no prior claims on my $15,000 policy, this accident was, at minimum, a $1,100 cost.
We were saving for a new roof on the house and we had two boys in college with expenses that we are trying to budget for, so $1,100 was a figure that I had to struggle with. I was 57 years old and have had several concussions. I’ve been lucky so far that none has advanced to a more serious condition. For some reason, I thought about Natasha Richardson and at that moment I told the EMT who was waiting for my decision, “Yeah, looks like I should take the ambulance ride to the hospital for a full examination.”

Actress Natasha Richardson died from bleeding in her skull caused by the fall she took on a ski slope in Canada. Initially, Natasha refused treatment, assuming that a bump on the head was nothing to worry about. The medical examiner ruled her death an accident, and doctors said she might have survived had she received immediate treatment. However, nearly four hours elapsed between her lethal fall and her admission to a hospital. Richardson suffered from an epidural hematoma, which causes bleeding between the skull and the brain’s covering. A CT scan can detect bleeding, bruising or the beginning of swelling in the brain. The challenge is for patients to know whether to seek one. By the time Richardson’s condition had deteriorated to a point where the depth of her injury was apparent, it was too late. The nearest Canadian facility to treat her was too far away and there were no emergency helicopters to transport her in time to save her life.

After this tragic accident, the Canadian health care system was much maligned because of the lack of helicopter transport to one of the few hospitals that had the necessary technology to treat this injury once it was established that Natasha needed immediate care. It proved, to some, that the US system with an over abundance of medical technology and a surplus of hospitals eager to use it, would have made the difference. It proved to some that Universal Health Care, enjoyed by the rest of the developed world, was substandard when compared to the American system.

I beg to differ. Not everyone in the USA has $15,000 to spend on a family policy and many of those who can afford those premiums don’t have the extra $1,100 to spend on what might be unnecessary treatment. My CT scan proved negative, I was fine. I had a few bumps & bruises but other than that I was okay. Did I waste $1,100 on this wild goose chase? Should I have just called my wife to pick me up, sit on the sofa at home, see what might happen and save the $1,100 for the new roof? What if I did not have $1,100? Should medical care decisions be treated in the same way that one decides to buy a 36” or a 58” flat screen TV?

The Case for Inclusion: Supporting the Education Equity Bill in MA

More immigrants, faster economic growth. - promoted by Bob_Neer

Last month, the College Democrats of Massachusetts endorsed SD. 599 and HD. 1035, otherwise known as the “Education Equity Bill.” This post, authored by the College Democrats of Massachusetts Latin@ Caucus, lays out why CDM endorsed this bill and will submit testimony, both written and in person, at hearing on July 15th. 

Statistics do not tell our story. Our sheer numbers don’t tell you anything about our experiences. Coming from a diverse set of backgrounds, races and distinctions creates an even more diverse context in which we live and make decisions. Our sacrifices of leaving our home countries unify all of us with one similar story.

The resistance against immigrants comes from a place that lacks understanding, a place that sits on antiquated prejudices that don’t fit the reality. Most immigrants come to this country to achieve a better life. A country founded on immigrants, who have allowed the progress of this nation, has only been achieved on the backs of hard working individuals that are willing to do anything to improve the situation for their families.

The largest wave of immigration was in the early 1900s, bringing forth the lowest national unemployment rate and fastest economic growth that this country has seen. Immigrants create new jobs by forming new businesses, buying homes and spending their incomes on American goods and services, all which contribute to the betterment of our society.

Comment of the day: Baker vs. solar; future of SRECs

Informed commenter stomv holds forth on the future of solar and Solar Renewable Energy Certificates, which the Baker administration has in its sights. Bottom line: It’s still the “soft costs” which make solar expensive. A reform-minded, market-y governor might have some interest in reforming those things — IF he’s not too much in thrall to the legacy rent-seekers at the utilities.

Before I dissect the errors [in this Globe op-ed "Nonsolar users bear burden of net metering", written by representatives of AIM and two utilities], first a comment: we need to ask ourselves: what is the marginal impact of the subsidies? If we reduced the SREC subsidy 10%, how much less solar would we get? If we increased the SREC subsidty 10%, how much more would we get?

This is a really important question. It just might be that the SREC subsidy is large enough to make PV a winner — that, in fact, the barriers relate to uncertainty, sticker shock, marketing challenges, permitting problems, customer confusion, a lack of good siting options, length of timeline from interest to interconnection, or lack of sites. My sense: MA could reduce the SREC prices a little bit without substantially reducing the participation of customers. How much is a little bit? I don’t know — and my clients pay me money for this kind of analysis, so I won’t give it to you for free :P . My hope is that Mr. Baker also or instead focuses on reducing barriers to PV installations — working on that laundry list above. How can he improve permitting? Reduce financing red tape? Etc.

Now, as for the glob article:

Net metering – one of the state’s solar incentives – rewards solar energy owners or developers by paying them for the power they produce at the same rate they would pay if these owners and developers were consuming electricity from the grid. This rate includes payment for benefits and services that solar developments do not provide. In addition, when solar sites produce more than they consume, they don’t have to pay for services such as the use of the wires and poles operated and maintained by the utility and financed by utility customers. For large solar projects, these reimbursements far exceed the value they bring to the electric system. As a result, Massachusetts pays more per kilowatt-hour of solar energy than anywhere else in the nation, and about twice as much as neighboring New England states.

> “This rate includes payment for benefits and services that solar developments do not provide.”

True — but it also includes underpaying for some of the benefits that solar developments do provide, including paying an average energy price instead of the (higher) marginal price in the afternoon, not paying for demand reduction (or supply) induced price effects on the energy or capacity market, avoided transmission and distribution capacity installations, avoided line losses, reduced (FERC required) capacity reserve requirement, reduced Class I REC obligations, reduced demand (and hence price) for RGGI allowances, increased reliability associated with less demand for natural gas, reduced health impacts due to emissions, increased economic activity (including payroll taxes, etc) due to local energy production instead of gas from Pennsylvania or coal from Columbia (South America), and so forth.

> “In addition, when solar sites produce more than they consume, they don’t have to pay for services such as the use of the wires and poles operated and maintained by the utility and financed by utility customers.”

Nor does any other generator for that matter.

> “For large solar projects, these reimbursements far exceed the value they bring to the electric system.”

Says who? Acadia Center studied this very question, and in April 2015 determined that the value of a kWh of solar in MA ranges from 29 cents to 35 cents (p 1), which is more than utilities pay. That result, btw, is very similar to the results of a Clean Power Research / Sustainable Energy Advantage study in Maine, which found a value of 34 cents per kWh (p. 6).

> Massachusetts pays more per kilowatt-hour of solar energy than anywhere else in the nation

Nope. Washington DC’s SRECs are for more dear, and that delta is far larger than any $/kWh difference for electricity. Nevertheless, it’s true that MA pays quite a bit, and (see my comment above) might well be able to reduce this dollar value without a tangible reduction in the amount of PV to be installed, especially with other tweaks to the process.

Were it up to me, I’d do “SREC-III” differently. Going forward, I’d keep “SREC-II” (nearly?) unchanged, but when it’s time to roll out SREC-III, I’d do things differently. Let’s not use our collective wealth to subsidize PV on individual homes. Let’s instead put it on our buildings. Every single time the Commonwealth, the MBTA, a country, a public housing agency, the MSBA, or another state/regional entity builds new or substantially renovates a roof, bam! it gets PV. Rather then use our collective wealth to put PV on individual homeowners’ roofs, why not build it on our government buildings, so that the savings flow back to our (collective) operating budgets rather than to individuals’ budgets? We as a society get the exact same environmental benefits either way, but in the stomv plan we also get the ongoing financial benefits shared throughout the entire community.

via Blue Mass Group | Does the Baker administration want to kill solar?.

Pacheco law: Collateral damage of the T-pocalypse

The new budget agreement has suspended the anti-privatization “Pacheco Law” (yes, of course that’s what it is) for three years for the MBTA. It has been my strong sense from the beginning that the Pacheco Law discussion is a continuation of a longer, very ideological battle, and not actually central to the T’s problems.

Unfortunately this policy seems to be heavily based on a Pioneer Institute study, which — predictably! — shows that not privatizing has cost beaucoup bucks. This assertion is based on comparing the T to other transit agencies — apples to oranges at best. Here is a sample of a very cogent takedown of Pioneer’s work [a previous report, not the Pacheco report -ed]:

To make its case that the T’s costs are “out of control”, Pioneer first needs to find other agencies to compare the costs to. While there are many ways to use the National Transit Database to choose systems similar to the T, the Pioneer Institute takes an interesting approach. And I don’t mean interesting as in novel, I mean interesting as in suspect. The most logical idea would be to use a list of other large transit systems, but the Pioneer Institute uses miles between “failures” which the NTD explicitly points out in their definitions is subject to variation in agency policy.

By doing so, and by selecting agencies which carry one fifteenth as many passengers at MBTA buses alone (and in some cases as few as one fiftieth—or two percent—of the total number of passengers) they are really comparing apples to oranges. The T is being compared to sunbelt cities (no road salt, roads with less traffic and fewer acceleration and deceleration cycles) with many fewer passengers. These include systems which serve Palm Beach County, suburban Detroit and El Paso, for example, yet the report doesn’t compare the T to Philadelphia or Seattle, much better analogs. Comparing the T to its actual peers—other top-20 transit agencies—makes the costs go from 100% higher to just 40%. More than half of the supposed out of control costs are because of a false comparison.

It goes on. There are many ways in which every regional transit system is sui generis, which makes comparison a very delicate thing indeed; one would want to be cautious with far-reaching conclusions. The conservative Pioneer Institute (“Markets work”, well okey doke then) got the result they wanted.

Privatization is not a panacea. Things might be cheaper, they might not be. Look around Washington DC, or at the Pentagon budget, and see how much “efficiency” has been created by outsourcing.

I should say that I’m not an enormous fan of the Carmen’s Union. They negotiated 23-and-out as a campaign-year bonbon back in 1998, and defended it to its dying breath. But Jim Aloisi got it right a month ago:

For now, the Pioneer Institute looks like it got a scalp, based on highly questionable evidence. Another pig-in-a-poke for our under-informed legislature.

Who can you trust?

Does the Baker administration want to kill solar?

One has to ask … whose side are they on?

The growth of solar energy represents a virtuous cycle on a number of levels: People can create their own clean, fossil-free power, put it back into the grid, and make a little money doing so. The state has a strong interest in encouraging this, for reasons of reducing pollution; local small business development; and meeting the state’s legally-mandated emissions targets for greenhouse gases, which affect everyone’s well-being.

So who doesn’t like this? The utilities, predictably: The current monopoly placeholders of the legacy power-delivery system. And they are leaning heavily on the Baker administration to bend the rules their way, instead of your way:

THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION, which favors keeping a cap in place on one solar subsidy program, is now tinkering with another solar price support. [SREC, a solar credit that a utility can buy to meet its clean-energy production quota]

State officials say they plan to change the way a key solar subsidy is auctioned to curb price speculation by hedge funds and Wall Street firms. Judith Judson, the commissioner of the state Department of Energy Resources, estimates the changes in auction rules will save electricity ratepayers at least $20 million a year.

But critics of the move say the change is being carried out with no public debate and may actually increase electricity rates rather than lower them. The critics also say the latest move is another sign that concern among utility executives about the high cost of solar power is driving policy within the Baker administration….

A state task force released a long-awaited report in May saying that the growth of solar power is dependent on subsidies and that the subsidies yield more economic benefits to ratepayers than they cost. But some members of the task force said the economic benefits of solar could be attained at far less cost. One utility executive said Massachusetts ratepayers are paying more than twice as much as Connecticut ratepayers for solar power.

via Baker seeks to curb solar speculators – CommonWealth Magazine.

So the administration wants to keep Wall St. out of the SREC market to keep the SREC prices down for utilities. That means *somewhat* lower prices for consumers ($20 million), but also *less incentive* for folks to go solar.

You would need some serious economics-wonking to find the sweet spot where you get robust solar development at the “right” cost. But that cost is more than just an economics question, it’s a value judgment of the public’s interest.

Should there be a thumb on the scale in favor of locally-produced solar and wind, versus — oh, say, gas pipelines? Hell yes, there should be, as a matter of public protection from pollutants, pipelines (and their inevitable ecological and economic disruption), and climate change. And there are local economies, jobs and even city budgets at stake.

In spite of his current popularity, as Peter Ubertaccio has observed, it looks like we elected a corporate Republican. There may well be good alternatives, particularly in a state which ought to lead the nation in clean energy.

Right now we are retreating. Watch your flank, Governor.