Massachusetts Can Kick Its Natural Gas Habit

BY ON April 13, 2016

WInd turbines and solar panels with mountains in the background
Massachusetts is often cited as a clean-energy leader. With most of its coal-fired plants already closed or slated for retirement, the coal era is at an end here.

Yet, when it comes to making the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, even those at the head of the class must constantly reassess the trail they are blazing. In terms of its energy future, many claim that Massachusetts is at a crossroads.

Like much of New England, Massachusetts has been reliant on natural gas for a long time. In fact, a 2015 assessment by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) finds the Bay State  at risk for relying too heavily on this fuel. In an April 2016 report, the UCS says that in Massachusetts,

“… natural gas accounted for more than 50 percent of in-state electricity generation. And that number was slated to grow, as 70 percent of Massachusetts’s projected near-term power plant additions would be natural gas fueled.”

Although transitioning to natural gas has helped the state cut its carbon emissions, increased use of the fuel may now hamper further progress. According to the UCS

“Gas burns more cleanly than coal or oil, but because it is still a fossil fuel it can impede the deployment of truly low-carbon renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar.”

In addition to health risks posed by natural gas, the report notes that heavy reliance on this fuel also poses serious financial consequences, including, “…volatile natural gas prices, the costs of carbon pollution, and adverse economic impacts from overinvestment in natural gas pipelines and power plants.”

Instead of taking a “business as usual approach,” the report suggests that Massachusetts continue to lead the way toward clean energy by encouraging its electric industry to power up using a mix of options,

“We found that a combination of new clean energy policies to encourage large-scale increases in the use of hydropower and wind energy, for example, could substantially reduce natural gas usage, decrease the consumer risk of electric rate spikes, cut carbon emissions, and provide a host of other benefits at a very modest cost to consumers.”

If it reduces its reliance on natural gas by developing a mixed portfolio that includes more clean-energy options, Massachusetts would not just lower its own toxic load, it would lower the state’s contributions to climate disruption and its impact on human health, while saving millions of dollars. According to the UCS,

“A move toward greater use of renewable energy would also reduce emissions of fossil fuel pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which can exacerbate asthma, other lung diseases, and heart diseases among the region’s residents. Taking just those three pollutants into account, the modeled combination of policies could bring health and economic benefits (regionally and globally) of more than $350 million in 2030 (in 2016 dollars).”

In addition to driving the development of land-based renewables such as wind power and making greater use of out-of-state hydropower by investing in long-distance transmission lines, the report also suggests that the Bay State exploit its,

“… world-class offshore wind power potential, which offers abundant resources close to Boston and other areas of high population density — and of strained electricity markets.”

The UCS notes that given the lack of offshore wind development in the United States, that last option provides Massachusetts with a unique opportunity to

“… position itself as a leader in offshore wind and capture first-mover economic advantages, including in-state development of expertise in offshore wind manufacturing, project development, operations, and maintenance.”

Indeed, the report concludes, if Massachusetts pursues such opportunities and other policies the UCS recommends, and adopts several proposals now under consideration by its legislature, the state, its residents, and, indeed all of us, will win on a number of levels.

“By embracing a wide range of clean energy technologies and offering incentives to build them at scale, Massachusetts would lower the risk of large natural gas fluctuations, significantly cut its global warming CO2 emissions, and generate significant net benefits for public health and the state’s economy.”

In reaping the benefits of swapping its reliance on natural gas for an increase in its use of clean energy options, Massachusetts will not only blaze a trail that other states will surely want to follow, it will help secure our children’s future.



TOPICS: Massachusetts, Natural Gas, Renewable Energy