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Why Peak Electricity Usage Matters (& The Importance of Natural Gas)

29 July 2020

With hot and humid conditions enveloping New England, demand for electricity across the region hit its highest level so far this year at about 6:30 p.m. Monday.

This year’s peak experience in many ways highlights how the regional power grid is changing and how far it has to go to fully decarbonize.

ISO New England, the organization that oversees the regional power grid, had forecast this summer’s peak usage would hit 25,500 megawatts between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. Actual usage came in at 24,736 megawatts, more than 300 megawatts higher than last year’s peak but nearly 1,600 megawatts lower than 2018.

The all-time peak usage in the region was 28,130 megawatts on August 2, 2006. Peak usage has been stagnant or dropping in recent years, primarily due to energy efficiency efforts that have helped curb overall electricity demand by 3,300 megawatts and small-scale solar and wind installations that reduce demand for power from the grid. 

COVID-19 is also playing a role this year. Energy usage appears to be higher in residential homes as more people stay at home but lower in commercial and industrial facilities. Overall, ISO New England estimates, COVID-19 has cut energy demand by 3 to 5 percent. 

Peaks have out-sized importance because the region needs enough power plants to meet demand when demand is at its highest point. Lowering the peak is beneficial since it means the region can get by with fewer power plants.

Peaks used to occur in the afternoon, when temperatures hit their highest levels and air conditioners are going full tilt. But the deployment of solar panels on roofs across the region has pushed the peak into the early evening. During the afternoon, the behind-the-meter solar installations produce the most power. As the sun begins to set, however, solar power production falls off and the region becomes more and more dependent on large-scale power generators.

There is lots of talk on Beacon Hill about going 100 percent renewable, but Monday’s peak experience illustrates how far the region has to go. The regional power grid handled Monday’s surge in electricity demand easily, but in doing so it relied primarily on power generated by natural gas (70 percent), nuclear (16 percent), hydro (8 percent), renewables (5 percent), and even a bit of oil and coal. The oil and coal plants tend to come online only when demand is at its highest.

Most energy analysts want to decarbonize the economy using electricity. Cars and trucks, for example, would shift from gasoline to electricity. Electricity would also be used for heat and hot water in homes and commercial buildings. Brookline took a step in this direction recently by approving a bylaw banning pipes carrying natural gas and oil in all new construction. Attorney General Maura Healey, while sympathetic to the bylaw’s intent, rejected the measure because it conflicted with three state laws. 

If the region’s power grid doesn’t go green, the shift to electricity won’t pay many environmental dividends. That’s why the state is pursuing the purchase of offshore wind and hydro-electricity from Canada, to help reduce reliance on natural gas and other fossil fuels.

As of Tuesday morning, however, the power grid was relying most on natural gas. According to ISO New England’s real-time information, the grid’s power was coming primarily from natural gas (74 percent), with the balance from nuclear (19 percent), renewables (5 percent), and hydroelectricity (2 percent). 

Commonwealth Daily Download, By Bruce Mohl 

Economic Benefits through the Direct Use of Natural Gas

22 July 2020

Over 69 million American households rely on natural gas utilities to provide energy to appliances inside their homes. Another 5.7 million more commercial and industrial businesses are supplied through the same local gas utilities to meet their daily needs. This feat is made possible by hundreds of thousands of individuals employed by gas utilities and their extended supply chains. However, job creation and economic development don’t end with the actions of utilities or by producers. Through this service, job opportunities exist across the entire U.S. economy through the direct, indirect, and induced effects of supplying energy to homes and businesses.

In addition to the 138 thousand individuals employed by natural gas utilities, companies that supply these utilities create associated natural gas jobs too, and the grand sum of all employed individuals encourages additional economic activity through the consumption of goods or services by individuals. These companies also provide a critical intermediate service for other businesses to operate. This analysis will determine both the total impact on employment from the natural gas direct use supply chain as well as to uncover the extent to which utility jobs stay local.

Based on the findings from the REMI model, in 2018, over 3.4 million jobs were connected to the direct use of natural gas. These jobs added $408 billion to GDP and paid $152 billion in personal income. The model also indicated a strong relationship between natural gas utilities and the local economy, with as much as 83 percent of all employment remaining local. Also, the prospects for new sales and the more specific inclusion of converting electric homes to natural gas have positive economic growth beyond the potential savings sustained by individual households. 

Want to be part of the solution and part of the conversation? Contact Northeast HPBA.

Click here for the full report.


MA Reps Rally for Emissions-Cutting Roadmap Bill

15 July 2020

Action Possible After July 31, Two Reps Suggest

BOSTON, JULY 15, 2020.....About a dozen House lawmakers joined climate and environment advocates Wednesday morning to drum up support for a bill that would require the executive branch to prepare a formal plan to reach the shared goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka this year each declared their support for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, a policy that climate activists have long been pushing. Both branches have passed climate bills but the 2050 target still hasn't been formalized by the Democrat-controlled Legislature with time set to run out on the session in two weeks, unless lawmakers waive their own rules.

"I personally think it's the best bill that is in the Legislature right now," Rep. Smitty Pignatelli, House chairman of the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee, said of Rep. Joan Meschino's bill to require a 2050 emissions reduction roadmap.

Meschino's bill (H 3983) would codify the target of net-zero emissions by 2050, require the establishment of interim 2030 and 2040 targets, require the Baker administration by the end of 2021 to file a plan detailing how Massachusetts can meet the 2050 target, and require that the plan be updated every two-and-a-half years. The bill was reported out of Pignatelli's committee favorably almost a year ago and has been in the House Ways and Means Committee since.

"We're all well aware of the climate crisis. The issues present as public health, public safety, environmental justice, environmental health, social justice. However, the solution is an economic one. It is the decarbonization of our economy," Meschino said during a virtual rally hosted by 350 Mass, Conservation Law Foundation, Mothers Out Front, Elders Climate Action Massachusetts and others. "And if we're going to accomplish those goals, then we need a plan. And that is why I filed this bill. I filed the 2050 roadmap because we need a plan to achieve our goals."

The 12-year-old Global Warming Solutions Act requires an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2050, but the Baker administration is already working on its own roadmap to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 with the help of "experts and stakeholders," the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs has said. The administration intends to release its plan to meet the state's carbon reduction goals by the end of this year.

Meschino said she thinks of her bill as making a series of critical updates to the Global Warming Solutions Act and noted that Baker's energy and environment secretariat "has begun to do some of the work around the backcast analysis," in which the schedule of emission reductions is detailed and then paired with the strategies proposed to achieve them over time.

"I think that this bill is one of the single most important pieces of legislation that we're going to put through this year. It's going to be transformative of the way that we live, and it's going to be transformative for our economy," Meschino, a Hull Democrat, said.

Though the bill is in the House Ways and Means Committee, Pignatelli advised advocates to focus their lobbying efforts on DeLeo and Rep. Tom Golden, the chairman of the House Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy who is spearheading a review of climate and environmental bills.

"I think that's where these decisions are going to be made," he said.

And though formal sessions of the Legislature are currently due to end after July 31, Pignatelli said he expects that lawmakers will get another crack at passing climate legislation and other bills later this year.

"Everything has been kind of thrown off the rails, like I said. We normally would be done by the end of July. I truly believe that we will be called back into session sometime this fall. We don't even have a state budget at this point. So, under normal circumstances, we'd all be scrambling for the last two weeks of this session to get this bill across the finish line. I still would love to see that happen on Joan's bill," he said. "But if it doesn't, I don't feel any of us should feel the collective, 'oh my God, we lost another time.' So I think that the advocacy should continue, whether it's the next two weeks, or the next few months."

Legislative leaders haven't announced plans to attempt to extend formal sessions, although at this point it appears nearly impossible for the branches to pass an overdue annual budget through both branches this month.

Rep. Michelle Ciccolo of Lexington said that Meschino's 2050 roadmap bill is one of the top 10 bills that she would like to see get across the finish line this session, whether the vote comes before July 31 or sometime between August and January.

"Toward that end, I've been sending letters and emails to [House] leadership, making phone calls and actually asking them to look at extending the session," she said Wednesday. "I'm fully in favor of us coming back after the election, after the primaries, staying late into August, whatever it is that we need to do to make sure that we get this across the finish line."

Rep. Kay Khan, chairwoman of the House Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, said she would be happy to raise the subject of Meschino's bill with both DeLeo and Golden.

"I think that carbon neutrality by 2050 is within our reach and it is our responsibility to our children -- and I'm lucky enough to have seven grandchildren and I think about them every day and the importance of moving forward and to get this done -- and the roadmap bill lays out a very big yet promising goal and path ahead," Khan said. "It is designed to accelerate our progress toward net-zero emissions by pushing us to exploit and explore all possible avenues toward reaching that goal, and the time is now."

Climate legislation had figured to be a central focus of the legislative session's home stretch since the House and Senate had each passed major climate-related bills before most business was put on pause.

The House last July approved a roughly $1.3 billion bill -- the so-called GreenWorks bill -- centered around grants to help communities adapt to climate change impacts, and at the end of January the Senate overwhelmingly passed a suite of climate bills that called for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and set deadlines for the state to impose carbon-pricing mechanisms for transportation, commercial buildings and homes.

Golden has said that the House "is eager to move forward" on climate legislation, and he and his Senate counterpart, Sen. Michael Barrett, are in agreement that the Legislature ought to pass a climate bill into law by the end of 2020.

"The House of Representatives has taken an approach for some time with GreenWorks," Golden said at the end of June. "I'm looking forward to working with Senator Barrett on moving our vision as well as the Senate's vision towards a final, rectifying a final piece of legislation. I think it's vitally important that we finish this before 2020 ends."

Want to get involved? Want to get involved in the conversation? Contact Northeast HPBA today!

statehousenews.com, by Colin A. Young7/15/20 3:02 PM

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