Category Archives: Energy Issues

Review on Offshore Wind Picks Up

Mass Audubon’s top climate change mitigation priority is the responsible development and use of offshore wind, which could bring more than 4 gigawatts of clean, renewable energy to Massachusetts. We’ve been participating in the public review process for this growing industry, the leading project for which is currently Vineyard Wind. When built, this 800 megawatt project is expected to provide enough electricity to power approximately 400,000 homes, while removing approximately 2 million tons of carbon emissions from the air.

Three other projects are also on the horizon, and three additional federal leases off Massachusetts were recently granted in a record-breaking auction.

This week, we weighed in on the latest stages in the Vineyard Wind permitting process. This project would be located in federal waters, with transmission cables crossing Massachusetts waters and connecting to a landfall on Cape Cod. That means it has to go through both federal and state reviews.

BOEM’s most recent map shows the planned projects, and leases for potential future projects, that will make up the offshore wind industry off Massachusetts’ shores

First, we submitted comments with our conservation partners to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) on the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement. At a time when offshore wind is growing with unprecedented momentum, it’s crucial that BOEM ensures projects take measures to protect species like the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale and federally-protected birds.

We also submitted separate comments, again with partners, to the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. These comments focused on the Final Environmental Impact Report for Vineyard Wind’s land-based transmission cable, which also takes into account the project’s overall impact on Massachusetts. We recommended that the project follow a proposed route that would limit impacts to fish spawning areas, horseshoe crabs, and other benthic resources, and that it address the full range of potential impacts on all bird species known to forage and rest in or near the project area.

As we expect to see up to seven wind energy projects over the next few years off the Massachusetts coast, it’s important to establish sound environmental review, and mitigation, practices now. Mass Audubon’s role in this process is to help ensure the industry grows in a way that will help reduce the worst effects of climate change, without negatively impacting wildlife.

Speak Out Against More Methane Pollution

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed rolling back requirements for capturing methane pollution. Under the current standards, oil and gas companies are required to look for and repair leaks that release methane. The proposed changes would reduce the number of reviews required annually, along with other changes, in an attempt to reduce costs for the oil and gas sector.

Methane is 84 times more potent a greenhouse gas pollutant than carbon dioxide in the short term, and capturing this wasted methane pollution is a necessary part of addressing climate change.

Leaks in natural gas pipelines are a common source of methane. Photo by Rosemary Oakeshott

You can help prevent this change, which would be a big step back for climate change mitigation at a time when we need even bolder action to prevent the worst impacts of a warming planet.

Tell EPA Administrator Wheeler that companies need to continue proactively addressing and preventing methane leaks, and to uphold the New Source Performance Standards that require such action. Let him know that the EPA has a responsibility to uphold standards that limit pollution and keep our air clean, and that we can’t afford to move backwards on our methane standards.

Wind and Wildlife

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has spoken out against wind energy on the grounds that it kills birds—but estimated bird deaths from wind turbines are small when compared to other human-caused sources of avian mortality, like building collisions. On top of that, climate change is by far the biggest threat to all birds living today. Of Massachusetts’ 143 breeding bird species evaluated by Mass Audubon, 43% are “highly vulnerable” to its effects.

That’s why Mass Audubon supports responsibly-sited wind projects to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. We can do this by increasing conservation and efficiency, and by producing clean energy. Wind energy is now among the most cost-effective, competitive, and reliable clean technologies available.

Photo credit: Ryan O’Sullivan

Any development of new energy sources is bound to have some impact on wildlife and their habitat, but Mass Audubon advocates for prospective offshore wind projects to be designed to avoid any significant environmental damage. Anticipated impacts need to be minimized and mitigated – that’s the sequence to success and the review standard to which all projects should be held. With appropriate design, siting and mitigation, the industry can grow as Massachusetts does its part to combat the impacts of global climate change.

Read more in our recent Op Ed.

More Momentum for US Offshore Wind

Update 12/17/18:

Last week, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) held their auction for three offshore wind leases in federal waters south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The results were staggering – the winning bids from three companies totaled $405 million, which is nearly a tenfold increase from the most recent prior federal sale! The areas could support approximately 4.1 gigawatts of commercial wind generation, enough to power nearly 1.5 million homes. Federal officials and wind industry insiders alike were surprised by the sale – this Boston Globe article looks at how the event marks a decided shift for US offshore wind energy.

In other wind news, Mass Audubon will also be commenting on the latest stage of Vineyard Wind’s proposed offshore project later this month, on which BOEM will be holding public hearings.

Original post:

Last week the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced several major developments in American offshore wind energy, including one here in Massachusetts.

Expansion of offshore wind here in the US will be critical in reducing emissions that contribute to climate change.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will hold the next Massachusetts offshore wind auction – to include nearly 390,000 acres – on December 13, 2018. Nineteen companies have qualified to participate in the auction. It’s estimated that this auction could support more 4.1 gigawatts of power to supply nearly 1.5 million homes. Mass Audubon plans to review and comment on any projects resulting from the lease.

Speaking at the American Wind Energy Association Offshore Wind Conference, DOI Secretary Zinke also announced the environmental review of a proposed wind project offshore Rhode Island, and the next steps to a first-ever wind auction in federal waters off of California.

While this is good news for the growth of renewable energy, the Trump administration also plans to ease Endangered Species Act regulations to speed up the approval process for offshore wind projects. Mass Audubon will be opposing that change – for offshore wind deployment to be done in a way that is safe for wildlife, a full understanding of the risks to species is needed.

Learn more about Mass Audubon’s recent involvement with the offshore wind public review process here.

New IPCC Report Urges Bolder Action Now

A new special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that we need to make large-scale and rapid changes to limit global temperature increase to 1.5°C, beyond which the authors say will bring on the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. The warning is clear, but we still have a chance to put into place the “disruptive innovation” needed to change course if we act now.

Global climate change must be addressed through both effective state and federal policy and our own individual actions. Our personal choices in areas like home energy use, travel methods, and diet can all contribute to this global shift.

A continued and accelerated shift to clean energy sources on a global scale will be one necessary strategy to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

Looking for ideas?

Get some tips on how to make those changes happen. 

Tell the White House that failing to take action on climate change is unacceptable.

Urge your federal representative and senators to speak up for stronger climate policies.

Learn how your community can participate in the state Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) grant program.

There will also be an opportunity soon to oppose recent federal proposals to weaken emissions standards for methane – we’ll keep you posted!

Global Climate Action Summit: Progress and New Policies

Last week the Global Climate Action Summit was held in San Francisco, bringing leaders and citizens together from around the world to celebrate achievements on climate action and commit to further steps. A few takeaways:

  • It was announced that 27 major cities, including Boston, have already reached peak greenhouse gas emission levels and are now seeing emissions decline, while still growing their economies.
  • A group of 29 philanthropists pledged $4 billion over the next five years to combat climate change – the largest-ever philanthropic investment focused on climate change mitigation.
  • The U.S. Climate Alliance, of which Massachusetts is a member, committed to taking several new actions that include protecting more of our natural and working lands that sequester carbon, transforming the transportation sector to reduce emissions, and increasing access to affordable clean energy for all.

Get all the news from the summit here. And remember, there are lots of ways you can make a difference in the fight against climate change.

End of Session Wrap-up

by Karen Heymann

On July 31st, the clock ran out for the majority of the  8,727 bills filed in the 2017-2018 legislative session, of which around only 400 were signed into law by Governor Baker. While there are many factors that go into determining the probability of a bill becoming law, those numbers translate to about a 5% chance of getting a bill passed in the Massachusetts legislature. That number drops even lower once you subtract the number of routine bills filed, such as the state budget, liquor licenses and sick leave banks.

Given these odds, the passage of our priority bill, An Act providing for the establishment of a comprehensive adaptation management plan in response to climate change, or CAMP, first filed in 2015, was remarkable. This success represented the collective efforts of many, including the Baker administration, legislators, municipal leaders, environmental organizations, businesses and others. The strong support of the Baker administration was essential; not only had Governor Baker adopted the major provisions of CAMP in an Executive Order (an excellent step, but not law), he also took advantage of the need for a new environmental bond bill and included CAMP as an outside section of the bill when he filed it. Bond bills are funding authorizations typically passed every 5 years, and can be one of the best legislative vehicles for environmental legislation, since bond bills are usually passed in the same session they are filed.

Mass Audubon advocacy director Jack Clarke, Governor Charlie Baker, and Mass Audubon president Gary Clayton at the bond announcement in Scituate back in March following a severe winter storm season

When we first started working to get this bill filed in 2015, few legislators were aware of the seriousness and magnitude of the climate threats facing Massachusetts. Even just a few years ago climate change still seemed far off, something that would impact future, not current, generations. The frequency and severity of winter storms over the past few winters however, were a wake up call to many that we are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, and that we need a comprehensive plan to prepare to deal with this threat. With the passage of CAMP, the current and future administrations are required to update a statewide climate adaptation plan every 5 years, and to support a program to provide technical and financial assistance to communities in assessing and addressing their own climate impacts.

The Bond: A Deeper Dive

Also included in the environmental bond bill were provisions which will also help reduce the Commonwealth’s climate emissions by protecting, restoring, and enhancing natural carbon storage areas like forests and salt marshes. One of Mass Audubon’s priority bills, supporting the Mohawk Trail Woodland Partnership (MTWP), was included in the final environmental bond, and will support rural economic development in the Berkshire region by promoting local sustainable forestry and eco-tourism. Mass Audubon’s Losing Ground report series has documented the threats facing privately-owned forests in Massachusetts, largely from residential and commercial development. Innovative forest management approaches, such as the MTWP, could serve as a model for other states facing similar development threats to forests and other open space.

Not all of our legislative priorities were included in the final bond or approved for final passage. The “No net loss” or “Public Lands Protection Act” (PLPA) bill, which would have codified existing state policy preventing the loss of constitutionally-protected open space (known as Article 97 lands) by requiring replacement land, as well as notification to EEA prior to filing legislation to dispose of land, was not adopted. A statewide ban on plastic bags, adopted as an amendment in the Senate, was not included in the final bond bill despite local bag-ban ordinances in over 70 cities and towns. And our priority bill that would have improved protections for pollinators statewide also ran out of time.

The newly-passed energy bill will allow for further expansion of offshore wind development off Massachusetts’ coast.

The Governor did sign into law an energy bill that increases the growth rate of the state Renewable Portfolio Standard to 2% per year until 2029 and then 1% thereafter. This will increase the percentage of our energy required to come from renewable sources to 35% by 2030 (previously set at 25%) and to 45% by 2040 (previously set at 35%). Among other things, the bill establishes stronger targets for energy storage, and increased the potential for Massachusetts to procure up to 1,600 additional megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2035.

In FY19 state budget news, the legislature approved healthy increases for the environmental agencies, but did not include two critical and widely supported sources of conservation funding: an increase for the Land Conservation Tax Credit and a much boost for the Community Preservation Trust fund, which provides a state match for locally-raised Community Preservation Act dollars. One of the big challenges for next session will be brainstorming ways to move forward funding increases for these two popular and critical sources of land protection funding.

Karen Heymann is Mass Audubon’s legislative director

Action You Can Take This Week: Don’t Let States Be Penalized for Opposing Offshore Drilling

US Representatives are considering a bill that would fine states that oppose oil and gas drilling off their coasts. The draft proposal would allow a state to reject offshore drilling in up to half of the leased areas off its coast, but withholding any additional areas beyond that from proposed sales would result in a fee. The fee would be calculated as at least 10% of the estimated government revenue that would have been generated from drilling activity for the site. The proposal would also create financial incentives for states that support expanded drilling. Learn more.

Earlier this year, the US Department of the Interior announced plans to expand offshore oil and gas leasing to encompass approximately 90% of US coastlines, which would include the coast off of New England. Many groups, including Mass Audubon and the Massachusetts’ Congressional Delegation, oppose the proposed expansion, which would have severe impacts on fisheries, wildlife habitat, and underwater geological resources.

Humpback whale habitat could be impacted by an expansion in offshore drilling. Photo credit: NOAA

If it advances, this new legislation could pressure some states into moving forward with expanding offshore drilling. The proposal is currently being considered by the House Natural Resources Committee. You can help by speaking out against it!

Congresswoman Niki Tsongas is a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, so if you live in her district, ask her to oppose the bill during her Committee review. Otherwise, you can ask your US Representative to oppose the bill now so it does not advance beyond the Committee. Let them know states shouldn’t be penalized for protecting their coasts from offshore drilling, especially at a time when there is so much opportunity for development of clean, renewable energy.

Massachusetts Should Look to California on Rooftop Solar

By Daniel Brown

The California Energy Commission voted unanimously last week to require rooftop solar on new homes and apartments by 2020, with reasonable exceptions. The commission estimates the new rules will lead to a reduction of 493 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per year. That’s approximately equivalent to taking 50,000 cars off the road or the amount of carbon sequestered by 965,000 acres of healthy forestland. That’s an area about 20% larger than Rhode Island.

There is no way to generate electricity in a more environmentally-friendly way than through rooftop solar installations and they provide a number of financial benefits to the property owner over time. Whereas other good options like wind and community solar often require open space, rooftop solar utilizes already-developed space. That leaves more room for parks, conservation areas, and vital green spaces that keep our towns and cities healthy and resilient to a changing climate.

Rooftop solar on a home in Sonoma, CA. Massachusetts should be following California’s lead in championing this kind of renewable energy generation. Photo: Sonoma County

A common concern about rules requiring solar panels is the potential increase in cost of home ownership, but rooftop solar will add $40 on average to a monthly mortgage payment while giving the same household $80 in savings on energy costs.

Massachusetts can and should lead as California has. Bay Staters have repeatedly demonstrated support for renewable energy initiatives that improve the health of the planet for future generations. Massachusetts is often rated among the most attractive states for adding solar panels to rooftops, and is, by some measures, the best. Massachusetts also has a leg up on California in community solar development, a fact experts often attribute to manageable regulations and progressive incentives that make community-scale projects attractive.

Harnessing the sun, shown here setting over Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, is one of our smartest energy opportunities

But our requirements for rooftop solar on new development are lagging behind. In 2014, California required new houses to have roofs and electrical systems that were compatible with solar panel installations. While some communities in Massachusetts have put in place similar rules, many more should follow suit, and a statewide standard like California’s first step would make smart development easier in the coming years.

To meet Massachusetts’ Global Warming Solutions Act mandate of an 80% carbon emissions reduction by 2050, we will need to pursue aggressive, innovative solutions that benefit everyone in the Commonwealth. Rooftop solar is one strategy we will need to employ. It is the future. It’s better, it’s smarter, and it’s coming whether it’s now or later. The sooner we embrace it, the brighter that future will be.

Daniel Brown is Mass Audubon’s Climate Change Program Coordinator

The Word on Offshore Wind

Mass Audubon submitted comments to the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) on the latest stage of review for the proposed 800 MW Vineyard Wind project. The offshore wind facility would be located in federal waters, with transmission cables crossing Massachusetts waters and connecting to a landfall on Cape Cod.

To meet Massachusetts’ long term renewable energy goals, the state is seeking bids to procure 1,600 MW of offshore wind energy. Vineyard Wind is currently one of the three offshore wind energy projects competing for a contract in Massachusetts, and is the first to initiate a long and complicated state, federal, local, and regional permitting process.

Offshore wind is on the horizon for Massachusetts

Mass Audubon supports the responsible development of clean, renewable energy that reduces the worst effects of climate change. But, we also urge BOEM and project developers to operate under appropriate conditions to protect important habitats and the marine and bird species that utilize these areas. Read the letter here.

We also signed onto a group comment letter with partners including the Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, and others

Vineyard Wind has also continued to move forward with state-level permitting, filing their draft Environmental Impact Report with the Commonwealth for the wind farm’s transmission cable to the land-based grid. We’ll be commenting on that process as well. The DEIR is available now on the project website, though the official comment period is not yet open.

We’ll be continuing to follow the development of this project and others proposed off the Massachusetts coast.

Proposed offshore wind leased areas off Massachusetts