In polarized times, clean energy is what unites us

With today’s political climate in Washington, D.C., so polarized, it may seem like liberals and conservatives have hardly anything in common. But there’s at least one point on which the overwhelming majority of residents and businesses in Massachusetts agree: We should accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy.
Massachusetts residents from all walks of life overwhelmingly support increasing the use of renewable energy like solar and wind. According to a poll conducted by WBUR and MassINC in 2015, 88 percent of Southeastern Massachusetts residents want to see more of our energy come from solar power, and 77 percent would like to see more wind energy.
It’s not surprising that clean energy enjoys such broad support. Solar and wind power projects are helping clean our air, protecting our health from dangerous pollution, creating hundreds, if not thousands, of local jobs, and preventing the worst impacts of global warming, including destructive sea level rise and ocean acidification.
Around the world, government officials, business leaders, and ordinary citizens are realizing the benefits of switching to renewable energy. More than a hundred of the world’s leading companies have pledged to get 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources, including IKEA, Johnson & Johnson, Amazon, and General Motors. In fact, Google sourced 100 percent of its electricity from renewable resources in 2017.
The Netherlands and France recently announced that their countries would end the sale of gas-powered cars by 2040, and switch to electric vehicles, while Norway will sell only electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2025. Other European countries are also preparing similar initiatives.
And Boston University recently announced a commitment to get 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by the end of 2018.
Here on the Cape and Islands, we’re fortunate to have strong leadership from businesses, nonprofits, and local officials working to transition our region to 100 percent renewable energy. This fall, dozens of political and business leaders, including our state representatives Senator Julian Cyr and Representative Dylan Fernandes, came together at the Cape and Islands 100 Percent Renewable Energy Summit in Oak Bluffs to strategize for accelerating our local transition to renewable energy.
Already, our region has many examples of clean energy leadership to build on. For example, the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative has installed nearly 30 megawatts of solar power, and Vineyard Power has partnered with offshore wind developer Vineyard Wind to build a proposed 800 MW project capable of powering 400,000 homes.
The town of Wellfleet recently received a $120,000 grant from the state’s Green Communities program to improve the energy efficiency of its municipal buildings. Mashpee, Truro, and West Tisbury have also received Green Communities funding for energy-efficiency upgrades. The town of Oak Bluffs has leased an electric vehicle for town usage, and installed electric vehicle charging stations at its library. And the Vineyard Transit Authority, which carries more than 1.3 million passengers each year, has announced plans to replace its entire diesel fleet with electric buses powered in part by solar.
These examples should give us confidence that we can go much further. Massachusetts has the potential to get at least twice as much electricity as the state uses each year from solar power, and more than 11 times as much from offshore wind. Now we should all work together at a local level to accelerate our progress toward 100 percent renewable energy.
Communities can commit to a goal of 100 percent renewable energy, and take steps towards achieving that target. Many cities and towns are taking advantage of state funding through the Green Communities program to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.
On the state level, leaders can advance legislation like the 100 Percent Renewable Energy Act and An Act for Community Empowerment. The former bill would commit Massachusetts to source all of its electricity from renewable resources by 2035, and switch over other forms of energy use, like heating and transportation, to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. The latter bill would enable any municipality to enter into long-term contracts on behalf of its residents to finance new renewable energy projects, such as solar and wind.
State officials should also continue to move full speed ahead to accelerate the transition to the tremendous offshore wind resources off the coast of Massachusetts. Recently, three companies submitted bids to supply offshore wind energy to Massachusetts residents — a major step forward to a 100 percent renewable future.
Residents and civic leaders in the Cape and Islands are united in calling for a future powered by 100 percent renewable energy. Let’s work together to build a healthy, prosperous, and pollution-free future.

Richard Andre is the president for Vineyard Power Cooperative and a member of the Vineyard Sustainable Energy Committee (VSEC). Ben Hellerstein is the state director for Environment Massachusetts.

22 COMMENTS

  1. I have seen some towns in the State work with a company to provide a set rate for solar installs within the town. I think it would be great if there could be an island wide initiative to offer such a program. I have to imagine if a company received a set number of homes to commit to purchasing, it would drive the price per house lower. The new tariff is working against such initiatives from taking place

  2. Just remember behind every electric car is a big beautiful coal, oil, or gas power plant. Also take heed and try not to follow haiwai’s hilarious efforts of 100% renewables unless you want a significant increase in co2 emmisions in the interem. And don’t forget behind Evey wind and solar farm there is a peak, or reserve power plant also running on coal, oil or gas. Until energy storage catches up with tax payer funded grants and ‘initiatives’ fossil fuels are what power america and the world.
    Its great that these renewable technologies are starting to be produced and brought online, but at the same time let’s not play pretend.

    • I don’t think anyone is pretending. Change is the only constant in the Universe. Fossil fuel generation plants aren’t even in the slightest bit beautiful. Hawaii is on the forefront of energy technologies, we will all be following their lead in the coming decades from the way the ISO handles the renewables generation to battery storage solutions. Your claim about power plants “running behind” every renewables plant is incorrect. The ISO is perfectly capable of balancing the power system with great efficiency and with significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. When photovoltaic or wind plants come on line, the other generators are dialed back. It’s not rocket science, it’s pretty simple.

      • I don’t think you understand this right:

        Most power plants have a design efficiency and they get MUCH less efficient when they run out of their design specs.

        Imagine that a plant generates 1000 power and produces 100 “polluting units”. If you ramp that same plant down to half power it might well still produce 85 “polluting units” because it is so much less efficient. If you ramp that same plant down to 10% power and keep it on “standby,” it might well still produce 50 polluting units because it is least efficient on standby.

        Moreover, most plants are not very responsive, which is to say that they don’t do a good job making rapid changes from high production to low production, and vice versa. If you turn the plant off it can’t be restarted fast and even if it’s on standby it takes a while to ramp up, so you can have low-power situations. That is inefficient, too.

        The problem is storage. Wind and solar are very fluctuating sources and they don’t provide reliable power. As a result you need a lot of super-inefficient backup in order to make sure cities don’t go dark.

        • sailorman– you have some good points, but what do we do ? I think giving up on wind and solar is not the answer–

        • In my studies of power system economics, I have found that the flexibility of a power plant to work along side renwables is related to the age of the plant. Upgrades in boilers, surge tanks and valves can be very effective in making the older power plants operate with more elasticity. Most modern NG or Combined Cycle plants are already built with elasticity in mind and follow load automatically. The IEA and the California ISO has written extensively on this subject.

          The current penetration of renewables onto the grid is nowhere near creating the sort of problems you are referring. Wind power only accounts for 4% of the mix in the US and solar only 1%. The ISO’s are perfectly capable of scheduling for the relatively minor variations in supply created by wind and solar power plants. The modernization of traditional power plants and the increasing in penetration of renwables onto the grid needs to happen in concert. This isn’t rocket science. The effectiveness of our nation in reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and lowering carbon output is directly related to our willingness to do so, and the election of forward looking legislators.

          Here’s one publication worth your time if you’re interested:
          https://www.usea.org/sites/default/files/092014_Increasing%20the%20flexibility%20of%20coal-fired%20power%20plants_ccc242.pdf

    • A reminder that Big Oil gets tax breaks for exploring (compare to taxpayers funding solar research & development) and low consumer usage.

  3. The time for this change is upon us. Electricity is the future of energy. Let’s generate and store it as cleanly as possible. I am very inspired by the leadership of countries around the world in this effort. Many countries already have plans in place to ban the internal combustion engine altogether. The electrification of motive power and the power system economic model will be a boon for the world economies. The number of jobs created by Solar Power Industry alone has already eclipsed that of the Coal Power Industry and solar power is only 1 or 2 percent of the generation mix. Imagine how many jobs the Solar Power Industry can create when solar is 20 or even 50 percent of the generation mix. The economic potential is huge! Also, New England is one of the more windy places in the world, it’s pretty silly that we don’t generate mass amounts of wind power. Wind power is such a no brainer the New England ISO is practically begging for it. Time to put up some turbines!

    Let’s keep this country moving forward on this. Clean energy can unite us!

      • Even tougher to find a middle class conservative who enjoys living downwind of a fossil fuel power plant.

          • Actually, China has a number of things to be proud about on the Solar Power front. China has the most installed capacity of photovoltaics, is the world largest installer of photovoltaics and the worlds largest producer of PV products. China also boasts the world’s largest installed solar thermal capacity.

            China is also leading the world in electric car development and deployment and will hold a huge proportion of the world EV market share in the next decade/s. Things are looking up for China, no reason to bash them.

          • What many miss is nothing says a region can’t use more than one method to create energy. Solar panels for sunny days and vanes for the windy, ashore can have hydroelectric on rivers. And yes, backup generators in case storage batteries aren’t up to the task. I’ve read about hydroelectric using tides and currents; can’t see that co-existing with the fishing industry.

      • Hanley– Lets stick to the topic instead of drifting off on liberal bashing.
        I hope you are not trying to imply that liberals are the ones opposed to any form of energy production other than oil. This is not the fox news site.

        • Nowhere is the hypocrisy of the left more evident than on the subject of wind power in Vineyard Sound.

          • hanley– that is the most ridiculous comment you have ever posted here..Yes , a few nut cases who may or may not be liberals managed to mount a scare campaign to keep cape wind out of the sound, but REALLY ? you think liberals are against renewable energy ?

  4. Clean energy is certainly a unifying subject, if we have any at all. Now that the trade playing field is being leveled by good decisions to protect US solar energy companies, look for a swift increase in production and availability from US sources. This will indeed create many jobs, and they will be jobs for Americans. There was nothing very energy efficient about importing Chinese panels made in factories that spew coal smoke, and required parts from the US to be shipped to China in smelly fossil fuel burning freighters, only to be shipped back to the US in more fossil burning freighters. Make American energy here again.

    • Tariffs were a bad idea under Obama and they are a bad idea under Trump (the Oranged Faced Messiah of fake “free market” conservatives.) There are only 6 or so Photovoltaic manufacturing companies on American soil, and three of those are owned by foreign companies and all are increasingly relying on automation not employees. Supply will go down and prices will go up and so demand will fall. The real American companies that will take the biggest hit from tariffs will be those that do installations and they are who employs 85% of people working in the industry. So no, neither the oranged faced messiah or his predecessor did the right thing with regard to import tariffs on PV products. Tariffs only slow growth in the industry in our country and speed up growth in other countries.

  5. Education on what energy you use in your day to day life is what lacks in most people’s mind.
    It’s getting there with new gadgets that tell us. If more people were to study their own energy use the less they would use and less harmful by products would be made.
    Start your day and ask how much energy do I need today? How much did I use yesterday?
    Education has been used but towards the cost effective of energy. Remember the argument of 2×4 vs 2×6 walls, cost return on extra insulation? Instead of the goal being a reduction of use.
    Reduce your wasteful use.

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