Cheaper Energy and Cleaner Air for Massachusetts with Clean Peak Standard

Massachusetts has a peak energy demand problem. When demand is highest, so are costs and environmental impacts. Specifically, 10 percent of hours in the year contribute around 40 percent of energy costs. And during a 15-day period in the coldest part of this past winter, Massachusetts burned more oil than in all of 2016 and 2017 combined. Peak demand in both electricity and home heating has become a central issue for Massachusetts, a state that depends heavily on natural gas for home heating and electricity generation.

To continue leading the nation in clean energy and emissions reductions, the Bay State needs to further diversify its energy portfolio and continue to innovate, especially with respect to energy efficiency and energy storage technology.

Fortunately, Governor Charlie Baker recently proposed a suitable approach to solving the problem. Through new legislation, he hopes to create a new “Clean Peak Standard” for electricity suppliers to increase the usage of clean energy during periods of high, carbon intensive, and expensive electricity demand, with the long-term goal of reducing ratepayer costs while also lowering greenhouse gas emissions. The Governor understands that Massachusetts doesn’t just need more clean energy, but more clean energy at peak times when the grid is under the most stress.

The House of Representatives has separated the Clean Peak Standard from the capital allocation bill Governor Baker proposed, and instead paired it with a bill to increase the Commonwealth’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS)—the policy that requires utilities to purchase an increasing amount of renewable energy each year. While the RPS has been a vital driver for historic investment in solar, wind, and small-scale renewables including hydropower, the Clean Peak Standard should be considered and passed on its own merits.

The current RPS is working with the Clean Energy Standard, which puts Massachusetts on the way to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 as required by the Global Warming Solutions Act. Specifically, the Administration’s Clean Energy Standard does this by establishing minimum percentages of clean energy that must be procured by power companies—starting at 16 percent in 2018 and increasing two percent annually to 80 percent by 2050.

Big buys are on the way. Massachusetts is in the process of securing over 1,000 megawatts of clean hydropower from Canada and approximately 800 megawatts of offshore wind are being developed off New Bedford. Together these projects could provide clean energy to well over a million homes. And this builds on the state’s success over the past decade.

For years, solar power has been a key component of the Commonwealth’s efforts to lead on sustainability. Including both utility-scale and small-scale projects, solar has accounted for 7.7 percent of the electricity generated in Massachusetts in 2017—the fifth highest percentage nationwide.[1] Solar photovoltaic facilities, including the state’s largest community solar project, comprised 88 percent of the new utility-scale generating capacity installed in Massachusetts the year prior.[2]

To help level out the generation profiles of solar and wind, and to further help match the time of supply with demand, greater investments are needed in energy storage. Energy storage technology can make renewable energy more dispatchable, more economical and more under the control of accountable grid operators. Major advancements have already been made in the energy storage sector. Options are readily available on the market today, and research efforts are ongoing to increase storage capacity and make this resource more deployable.

For the near future, much of the Commonwealth’s power will continue to come from natural gas. During moments of high peak demand, such as during the extreme cold snap the country faced last winter, having additional power stored could help reduce strain on the grid and save ratepayers money. The Clean Peak Standard helps to ensure that the energy utilized is increasingly from clean resources that create jobs in Massachusetts. Furthermore, the Clean Peak Standard is a holistic and innovative solution to the Commonwealth’s increasing appetite for economically tenable clean energy generation.

Continuing along without addressing the peak periods of emissions and cost ultimately undermine financial and environmental benefits of clean power. Massachusetts state legislators should seize this opportunity and recognized that Governor Baker’s Clean Peak Standard deserves unequivocal support on its own merits.

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