Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is co-leading a lawsuit over federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) rollbacks. The ESA is needed more than ever in the face of climate change and habitat loss, and as Mass Audubon notes in the press release, reducing its protections now would be a big mistake.
The state is reviewing its Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target program, which provides financial incentives for solar energy projects. We submitted comments expressing strong support for solar energy, but recommending it be located away from ecologically- and socially-valuable land.
State Funding Awarded for Land Protection
The state has awarded $12.9 million in grants to protect land and natural resources, create and restore parks, and increase climate resilience. This funding will help communities conserve 1,191 acres of land.
Across Massachusetts, communities are taking
their energy decisions into their own hands.
Climate change is the single greatest threat
facing the nature of Massachusetts, and we are already seeing its effects as warming temperatures, shifting seasons, and
rising sea levels are disrupting the behavior of our wildlife and the
ecosystems that support them. For their part, many communities are taking
measures to prepare for impacts like extreme precipitation and flood risks, completing
vulnerability assessments and developing action-oriented plans to improve
But we still have an opportunity to prevent the worst of these impacts from occurring, if we take bold and immediate action. For our part, Mass Audubon has eliminated all carbon emissions from electricity use through the purchase of renewable electricity and through on-site generation of solar power from our own 44 photovoltaic arrays.
Local efforts to reduce emissions at the community level are another crucial way to make a difference. That’s why many
communities have started incorporating renewable energy components into their Community
Choice Aggregation (CCA) programs, allowing them to take control over their
Massachusetts state law, CCA programs enable
a city or town to choose the electricity supplier for its residents and
businesses. When adopting a CCA
model, communities also have the opportunity to increase the renewable energy content of
their electricity supply.
For example, the Green Energy Consumers Alliance’s “Green Municipal Aggregation” model recommends communities add at least 5% more Class I renewable energy per year into their electricity supply, compared to the 1% per year required by the state through their Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS). Some communities also choose to set their initial base percentage higher – Brookline, for instance, has set their base percentage at 39% compared to the state’s 14%, and the City of Newton recently made the decision to set theirs at 60%!
Some communities, like Newton, Somerville, and all 21 towns on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard have chosen to offer customers the option to “opt up” to 100% renewable energy by purchasing Class 1 Renewable Energy Certificates equal to their total electricity consumption for an additional fee.
We encourage communities to support the adoption of CCA programs that incorporate the strongest renewable energy component possible, including by increasing the percentage of electricity from Class 1 renewable sources beyond what is required by the RPS.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
This week at the State House, proposed legislation to update Massachusetts’ Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) is up for a hearing.
The Massachusetts RPS drives clean energy development by requiring utilities and other electricity suppliers to buy an increasing percentage of local “Class 1” renewable energy each year. Currently, the RPS increases by 1% each year, but we need to take bolder action to satisfy the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act requirements and help reduce emissions to avoid the worse impacts of climate change.
Our friends at Mass Energy have put together a helpful page on how you can contact your legislators in support of legislation that could increase the RPS by 3% per year – learn more.