Tag Archives: energy

Cultivating a Greener Marijuana Economy in Massachusetts

by Karen Heymann

As state policymakers hit the pause button on some aspects of the new marijuana law, they should also consider ways to address the heavy electricity consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, electronic waste, and water usage associated with this new industry.

Marijuana cultivation is one of the most energy-intensive industries in the country, racking up around $6 billion in energy costs annually and consuming 1 percent of all electricity in the US.  The equipment required for typical marijuana production (high-intensity lamps, ventilation, heating and cooling systems, water pumps and CO2 generators), means that just one closet size setup can consume the same amount of electricity as used by the average American home. According to one analysis out of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, the carbon footprint for one kilogram (2.2 lbs.) of processed Cannabis is an estimated 4600 kg of CO2 emissions. That is the not-so-green equivalent of consuming 10.6 barrels of oil, burning 4,900 lbs. of coal, or driving 11,025 miles in an average passenger vehicle.

Other states with licensed marijuana operations, such as Colorado, report that large increases in energy consumption are making it difficult to achieve energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets. And while some growers (such as the nation’s largest grow facility soon to be located in Southeastern Massachusetts) will adopt energy efficient practices, it is unlikely that a majority will follow suit without incentives, regulations and an established set of environmentally-friendly best practices.

More marijuana cultivation in Massachusetts could come with a sharp increase in electricity usage. Photo credit: Aulo Aasmaa

More marijuana cultivation in Massachusetts could come with a sharp increase in electricity usage and add to energy efficiency challenges. Photo credit: Aulo Aasmaa

Massachusetts has the opportunity work with the industry to set stringent energy efficiency incentives, greenhouse gas offsets, and water conservation measures. Policymakers on Beacon Hill should establish environmental criteria as part of licensing or other regulations for indoor grow operations, and fund research to establish a set of environmentally-friendly best practices for the marijuana industry. A portion of the marijuana tax, or a fund that growers pay into for exceeding certain thresholds for energy or water consumption, could fund not only these initiatives, but also to help rehabilitate our beleaguered state parks which promote public health and boost our recreation economy.

Bringing once clandestine marijuana operations into the mainstream will require the right balance of incentive, regulation, and guidance. Done right, the new marijuana law will encourage dedicated, environmentally-aware growers to set up shop in our state, and will reinforce our reputation as leaders in growing an innovative, green economy.

Karen Heymann is Legislative Director

The Intern Intel Report #3

By Kylie Armo

Kylie here, back with a final report on my summer as a Conservation Policy Intern at Mass Audubon.

July 31st, 2016 marked the end of formal sessions in the 2015-2016 Massachusetts legislative session, and the last few weeks have revolved around pushing through a final round of legislation and getting a jump start on preparations for next session.

End of the Session Rush

Once formal sessions have concluded, all bills in the House or the Senate that haven’t made it through the entire legislative process and been enacted into law automatically die. In order for these bills to be considered further, they must be re-introduced during the next session and start again from square one. Consequently, everyone from legislators to lobbyists is keen to push through their priority bills before the clock runs out.

At Mass Audubon’s Legislative Affairs office, we primarily focused on the enactment of An Act to promote energy diversity (H. 4385, aka the “energy bill”), and more specifically the inclusion of a climate adaption management plan (CAMP) within that bill. My latest contributions to CAMP advocacy involved the delivery throughout the State House of materials aimed at raising climate resiliency awareness. With that goal in mind, I delivered informational packets on CAMP to the energy bill conference committee members and distributed invitations to a Boston sea level rise presentation to all legislators.

Though the energy bill was successfully passed on July 31st, and included landmark offshore wind procurements, our climate adaptation provisions were unfortunately stripped from the final bill. All is not lost however, and Mass Audubon will continue to push for climate legislation on Beacon Hill.

The comprehensive energy bills mandates the largest procurement of offshore wind in the nation

The comprehensive energy bill mandates the nation’s largest offshore wind procurement. Photo credit: Kim Hansen

Thinking Ahead to 2017  

In the midst of these final acts of formal policy making, plans and preparations for the next legislative session are also being formulated.

I recently attended a meeting focused on water policy at The Nature Conservancy that included planning for the 2017-2018 session. Comprised of advocates dedicated to the protection of the Commonwealth’s water resources, the group reviewed their positions on water legislation and discussed policy priorities for the next session. As climate models project that Massachusetts’ current drought conditions will only become more frequent and intense in the future, engagement with sustainable water polices at the state level is increasingly important.

The Quabbin Reservoir is the primary water source for Boston

The Quabbin Reservoir is the primary water source for Boston. Photo credit: Alexander Glazkov

Another recent meeting focused on the preparation of the Environmental League of Massachusetts’s (ELM) recommendations for the FY18 state budget, which are annually circulated via their Green Budget publication. ELM’s Green Budget, which Mass Audubon supports and advocates for each year, urges funding for environmental agencies at levels enabling them to sufficiently fulfill their duties and safeguard the health of Massachusetts citizens and natural resources. For the past few years, just 0.6% of the state operating budget has been allocated to the environment – that’s less than a penny for every dollar in the budget. Organizations like ELM and Mass Audubon want to restore environmental funding to at least 1% of the total operating budget.

Witnessing strategies being developed for the next legislative session serves as an inspiring reminder that there are skilled, passionate, and hard-working advocates fighting each and every day to ensure that our laws protect the people and nature of Massachusetts. I have been fortunate to work and learn alongside these individuals and organizations, particularly as a team member of Mass Audubon, a leader in the field whose engagement with conservation policy is thoughtful, science-based, and impactful.

It has certainly been an educational and unforgettable summer. Thanks for reading and following along on my journey – I hope it has provided some interesting insight into environmental policy on Beacon Hill!

Kylie Armo is Conservation Policy Intern, Summer 2016

Solar Energy: A Site for Sore Eyes

By Karen Heymann

The Town of Shirley is a quintessential small New England community whose residents care for and enjoy its scenic rivers, wooded hillsides, boggy meadows and extensive trail network. News of two new commercial solar energy generating facilities, one on Shirley’s water supply lands, and another on 27 acres of town-owned forest adjacent to public wells and two cold-water trout streams resulted in strong opposition from neighbors and other town residents.

Shirley solar array from above c/o Google Earth

Shirley solar array adjacent to public wells and cold-water trout streams from above c/o Google Earth

Similar to many small towns across the Commonwealth, development pressures are a growing threat to the town’s open space and rural character. Increasingly frequent reports of large commercial solar facilities appearing on former forest or other ecologically-valuable lands statewide are raising alarm bells not only among residents, but also the conservation community. Tensions are rising as conflicts mount over local revenue and balancing municipal budgets, protection of community character, support for renewable energy, and the industrialization of rural, residentially-zoned land.

We recently communicated our concerns to the Baker Administration, and have submitted comments as part of an ongoing process to gather stakeholder input on the Commonwealth’s solar programs. (Update: you can also see our most recent, joint comments with our partner groups The Trustees and The Nature Conservancy).

The town of Scituate decided to turn an old landfill into a solar photovoltaic installation - a great example of solar siting done right. Photo credit: US EPA courtesy of Google Earth

The town of Scituate decided to turn an old landfill into a solar photovoltaic installation – a great example of solar siting done right. Photo credit: US EPA courtesy of Google Earth

Solar Market on Fire

Shimmering rows of solar panels lining the heavily-trafficked highways around Greater Boston are strong evidence that the Commonwealth is well on its way to meeting its goal of 1.6 GW of solar energy by 2020.

In 2015, Massachusetts was ranked 4th nationwide for installed solar capacity, with the solar industry employing over 15,000 people statewide[1]. As of last year, Massachusetts had installed a total of approximately 1200 MW of solar energy, enough to power 191,000 homes. Over the next 5 years, we can expect an additional 2,400 MW, more than triple the amount installed since 2010[2].

Ground-mounted solar arrays. Photo credit: Jon Styer

Ground-mounted solar arrays. Photo credit: Jon Styer

Factors driving the solar market include the dropping cost of solar panels (by more than 50 % since 2010[3]), federal tax discounts[4], solar renewable energy credits (SRECs), and a state solar zoning exemption, which prevents communities from regulating the placement of solar facilities unless a specific zoning bylaw is in place.

SRECs are a market-based incentive to support residential, commercial, public, and non-profit development of solar photovoltaics. The state-funded SREC program currently awards higher credit values for solar projects on rooftops, parking lots and brownfields, and lower credit values for utility-scale commercial projects larger than 650 kW that use less than 2/3 of their electricity on site. According to a recent report, utility-scale is the largest sector of the solar panel market in the United States[5].

Raise the Rooftops

It is estimated that Massachusetts has the potential to generate nearly one-half of its power using rooftop solar. That is equivalent to an installed capacity potential of 22.5 GW, far greater than the Commonwealth’s goal of 1.6 GW. And despite its higher cost compared with ground-mounted solar arrays used for utility-scale installations, commercial and residential rooftop solar is gaining popularity. National Grid owns a 1 MW rooftop facility (utilities can own up to 50 MW of solar generation under the 2008 Green Communities Act) on the roof of its Whitinsville warehouse, and residents and businesses are taking advantage of incentives like the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative to install rooftop solar in cities and towns across the state.

Rooftops installations are a great way to generate solar energy while avoiding the loss of ecologically-important land areas Photo credit: EEA

Rooftop installations are a great way to generate solar energy while avoiding the loss of ecologically-important land areas Photo credit: EEA

Over the coming decades we are likely to see advances in solar and other renewable energy technology that increases energy storage and reduces the amount of land needed for energy infrastructure. Encouraging and incentivizing large ground-mounted solar arrays, which result in the clearing of ecologically and socially valuable land, is short-sighted and does not serve the public interest. In order to move forward, we need to look at increasing the capacity of our built environment to produce the energy we need.

An Important Choice

When we develop forested land we make a choice to trade valuable services provided by trees, such as shade, water retention, and carbon dioxide absorption, for other services like shelter, food, fiber or energy. We lose their ability to filter oxygen, reduce runoff, provide habitat and cycle the nutrients and minerals that support not only forest health, but our health as well.  Even construction on “open” land such as capped landfills and agricultural fields has trade-offs for grassland habitat and food production.

Massachusetts is the 3rd most densely populated state in the U.S., with around 5 million acres supporting a population of almost 7 million people, nearly 70% of whom live in and around Greater Boston.  If current land-use trends continue, we stand to reverse positive trends in land conservation; over the last decade the Commonwealth has gone from losing on average 40 acres a day to development to only around 13 acres a day, largely due to a temporarily depressed housing market in recent years and strong land conservation goals and funding programs.

Mass Audubon has been a longtime champion for increasing our reliance on solar energy, but the benefits of solar must be carefully weighed against the costs of losing the forests and other open space we have worked so hard to protect, particularly when alternatives are available.  Taxpayer dollars should not be used to fund incentives for poorly sited large-scale solar stands, particularly when in direct conflict with the Commonwealth’s established goals, policies and direct funding programs for natural and historic resource protection.

Karen Heymann is Legislative Director


[1] http://www.seia.org/state-solar-policy/massachusetts

[2] http://www.seia.org/state-solar-policy/massachusetts

[3] https://emp.lbl.gov/sites/all/files/lbnl-1000917_0.pdf

[4] http://www.seia.org/policy/finance-tax/solar-investment-tax-credit

[5] https://emp.lbl.gov/sites/all/files/lbnl-1000917.pdf

What You Need to Know About Gas Pipelines

You’ve probably heard about at least one of the new natural gas pipelines proposed to cut across Massachusetts. Increased natural gas capacity is often touted as a “clean” way to meet Massachusetts’ growing energy needs. But according to the Attorney General’s office, Massachusetts can meet its energy needs and lower costs without building new pipelines, through strategies like increasing energy efficiency and reducing consumption during peak demand times.

Example of pipeline construction. Photo by Rosemary Oakeshott

Example of pipeline construction. Photo by Rosemary Oakeshott

Mass Audubon agrees that additional natural gas pipeline capacity is not the best option for meeting our long-term energy needs. We oppose a number of proposed pipelines that would have major environmental impacts on public and private conservation lands and wildlife habitat, including some of our own sanctuaries.

We are also concerned about some of these projects’ compliance with state and federal environmental standards. In some cases, even properties that have been designated for “permanent” protection under Article 97 of the State Constitution are at risk.

Otis State Forest

Otis State Forest

We have been participating in the public review process for three proposed projects to voice our concerns and encourage alternatives to be considered:

  • The Kinder Morgan/Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. Northeast Energy Direct project would have cut through our West Mountain wildlife sanctuary in Plainfield. After suspending work on the project last month, Kinder Morgan has now withdrawn its application, effectively killing the project. The company cited inadequate commitments from prospective customers as the reason for the withdrawal. Although this is good news, other projects around the state are still moving forward.
  • The Kinder Morgan/Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. Connecticut Expansion project would involve a four-mile expansion of existing pipelines in southwestern Massachusetts. This pipeline would cross lands that Mass Audubon assisted the Department of Conservation and Recreation in protecting at Otis State Forest in Sandisfield (learn more on that here). We supported the Attorney General’s defense against the project in court. Update: While the project is still moving forward, AG Healey successfully negotiated for compensation to the state for conservation land taken by eminent domain during its construction. The company will pay $640,000 to the state, and identify and acquire additional conservation land “that provides ecological functions equivalent to the land impacted by the pipeline” such as the nearly two miles of pipeline through pristine Otis State Forest.
  • Spectra Energy/Algonquin Gas Transmission is partnering with Eversource and National Grid on the Access Northeast project, which would expand 125 miles of Algonquin’s existing pipeline system. It includes 26 miles of proposed new pipeline in Norfolk County including construction through Mass Audubon’s 100-year-old Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary in Sharon.

Learn more about our work in opposition to these projects at: www.massaudubon.org/pipeline