The legal mandate of reducing Massachusetts greenhouse gas emissions to hit a 2020 benchmark is “achievable” if environmental policies are carried out but imperiled if the state neglects a major importation of renewable energy, according to a Baker administration report released Tuesday.
The first update to the state’s clean energy and climate plan since it was first published about five years ago, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs report highlights gains and losses on the way toward reducing 2020 emission levels to 25 percent below the 1990 level of 94.5 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent.
“While progress to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has been made on many fronts, the Plan Update highlights the need for immediate action on our legislation for clean and affordable hydroelectricity and other renewable resources in order to achieve our 2020 goal and position us to meet the long-term reduction targets,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement.
Adopting standards to boost the efficiency of motor vehicles sold in Massachusetts – following the lead of California – is also viewed as an essential component by Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matt Beaton. The secretary sees efforts such as targeted tree plantings and the potential for offshore wind as longer-term initiatives, bearing fruit after canopies have grown to provide shade and shelter to neighborhoods.
The Legislature’s Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy held a hearing on the governor’s hydro-procurement bill on Sept. 29. Since then, the House and Senate have gotten bogged down on solar power legislation and legislative leaders have yet to roll out a more sweeping energy bill that has been promised.
Solar energy – the focus of stalled negotiations between the House and Senate – is not a major component of the state’s plans for reaching its 2020 emissions target, Beaton told reporters Tuesday in a briefing.
Beaton said the roughly 1,000 megawatts of solar installed in Massachusetts produces energy only 13 percent of the time, relegating the technology to a minor role in electricity generation.
Beaton said more work needs to be done in the transportation sector, where low gas prices contribute to increased vehicle miles traveled and where newer efficiency standards take time to take hold among motorists.
From 1990 to 2012, the last year of complete data, the transportation sector’s emissions output dropped from 30.5 million metric tons to 29.9 metric tons while the sector’s percentage of contribution to overall emissions from the state increased from 32.3 percent in 1990 to 41.5 percent in 2012, according to the report.
From 1990 to 2013, the amount of vehicle miles traveled increased 22 percent, according to the report, which said that increased travel “may offset vehicle efficiency and fuel carbon content gains.”
State emissions began a fairly steep decline about 10 years ago, according to a chart included in the report. Beaton noted that cold weather can impact emissions in a year, as buildings use more heating fuel and natural gas and power plants are forced to switch to oil, a higher-emission fuel, when natural gas supplies are tied up feeding home furnaces.
With full implementation of environmental policies, including importation of hydroelectricity, the state would actually be on track to beat the 2020 reduction target, reaching a 29.1 percent decrease from 1990 levels, according to the state’s analysis. Without that renewable energy importation, the state would just miss the target, hitting 24.9 percent below 1990 levels.
Beaton said the main message of the report is the state needs imported hydroelectricity. It’s a message Baker’s boss has emphasized.
“Absent timely passage of this proposal and the incorporation of at least 1,200 megawatts of hydropower into our generation mix, it will be very difficult to meet our 2020 goals, which I want to meet,” Baker told lawmakers in September.
Baker last August joined governors from New England and eastern Canadian premiers in agreeing to a reduction range of 35 to 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, according to the report.
Emissions reductions expected from the shutdowns or planned shutdowns of four coal plants in Somerset, Salem, and Holyoke are somewhat offset by the planned closure of Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, which generates enough carbon-free energy to power 600,000 homes.
The net effect of recent changes in the electrical generating market, which has moved towards cheaper and cleaner natural gas, is a reduction of 2.7 million in metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent.
“Since 2005, Massachusetts and its partners in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative have seen power sector carbon pollution decrease by more than 40 percent,” said Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Martin Suuberg in a statement.
Beaton expects a 1.7-million-metric-ton reduction from 1990 emissions through repairs to the natural gas distribution grid. He said the Department of Public Utilities recently approved multi-year plans for repairs to the pipes whose leaks can kill trees and spill greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.
The most significant area of improvement in reducing emissions was in energy efficiency, an effort expected to reduce 5.4 million metric tons of carbon output by 2020. Of the 27.5 million metric tons of reduced annual emissions hoped for by 2020, 25 million of those tons are attributable to government policies.
According to the state, at the 2016 investment level of $8 million per year, the 57,000 acres of urban land targeted for tree plantings will have five trees planted per acre by 2026. Those trees are expected to reduce heating and cooling needs. The overall program cost is pegged at $90 million, according to the administration, which said substantial benefits would accrue from retaining existing, full-grown trees.
One area where the state measured an actual increase in emissions was industrial processes where, according to a state official, leaks in refrigeration systems are to blame. The report said the state Department of Environmental Protection could consider regulations in that area, but those would be “very unlikely” to have an impact by 2020.
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