The state is falling behind in meeting its ambitious goals to combat climate change, according to a report released by MassINC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank.
“Massachusetts has been a leader,” said Benjamin Foreman, one of the authors of the 127-page report. “Part of leadership is doing what you say you’re going to do.”
Although Foreman gave the state an A-minus grade for its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, an A-plus is really what’s needed to address climate change, he said.
The Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Change Plan lays out how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020, and the state is progressing on several fronts toward that goal, according to the MassINC report. In 2008 Bay State lawmakers passed the Green Communities Act and the Global Warming Solutions Act, two laws meant to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and increase the use of renewable energy.
But some obstacles to making real progress toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions are out of the state’s control.
Actually building offshore wind energy projects, after the long struggle to permit Cape Wind in Nantucket Sound, is one way the state could make substantial headway toward its renewable energy targets, Foreman said.
A transmission project that could transport large amounts of renewable power from Canadian hydroelectric dams to New England faces opposition in Canada and in some U.S. states. Greater efforts at conserving energy by consumers is another area where substantial progress is possible, Foreman said.
The MassINC report includes four broad recommendations for the state: appoint a single person to oversee and direct the greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals; set up a clear and public tracking and monitoring system for the goals; create a public education campaign to inform citizens about what they can do to help meet the goals; and reassess the 2020 initiatives, accelerating implementation where possible and filling the gaps with other actions where it is not.
“We’ve actually acted on many of the recommendations in the report,” Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard K. Sullivan Jr. said Monday.
Sullivan said he has appointed undersecretaries Barbara Kates-Garnick and Phillip Griffiths to co-chair a group responsible for the Global Warming Solutions Act.
Kates-Garnick and Griffiths will manage the current plan and oversee five subcommittees covering buildings, energy, transportation, adaptation and non-energy emissions, Sullivan said.
The subcommittees will meet with stakeholders and starting next month the state will roll out a new online tool to monitor progress on the goals, he said.
“We’re also stepping up the communications and outreach in cities and towns,” he said, adding that state energy and environmental officials will visit parts of the state to share information with municipal leaders.
Sullivan agreed with the MassINC report that offshore wind is a key area where large strides could be made toward increasing the state’s use of renewable energy.
Gov. Deval Patrick set a goal of 2,000 megawatts of wind energy produced in the state by 2020. Today only 48 megawatts of wind energy are being produced in the state. Offshore wind projects were expected to account for most of the 2,000-megawatt goal.
While land-based wind energy will help the state edge closer to its target, such projects must be responsibly sited, Sullivan said in reference to concerns raised in Falmouth and other locations about the effects of large wind turbines on health and quality of life.
The state is on target by the end of the year to meet half of its goal of 250 megawatts of solar energy by 2017, he said.
“I think it’s clear the state has established some really cutting-edge policy,” said Chris Powicki, president of Cape and Islands Renewable Energy Collaborative, a nonprofit organization that has set its own ambitious regional goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “The challenge is implementation.”
The collaborative’s plan would cut fossil fuel use on the Cape and Islands in half and have all of the region’s electricity needs met through renewable energy sources.
In many respects Cape Cod and the Islands is ahead of the curve in addressing climate change compared with other parts of the state, Powicki said; energy efficiency programs through the Cape Light Compact and renewable energy projects through the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative are important local efforts on that front. Yet the region needs to be better-organized to implement a broad strategic plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, he said.
Statewide more emphasis is needed on sharing information and experience between communities working on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and more funding is needed for public education, Powicki said.
The state also must be more active in communicating the benefits and addressing some of the concerns about wind energy, he said.
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