Posts Tagged ‘energy’

Remaining Optimistic Despite President Trump’s Paris Agreement Decision

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

by Katherine B. Preston

As I sit here digesting the news that the Trump Administration has decided to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which in my opinion is a decision that will have negative consequences for the country beyond just environmental impacts, it strikes me that what the U.S. does at a federal level isn’t a deal-breaker on climate.  Despite this unfortunate turn of events, I have reason to be optimistic.

How can this be?  Well, first of all, the feds weren’t really doing all that much to begin with on climate change.  While the Obama Administration accomplished some important initiatives designed to address climate change, such as corporate average fuel economy standards, the clean power plan, energy efficiency standards for federal buildings – I believe the real action is happening in the private sector and at the state and local level.  Motivated states and cities have been doing what the federal government hasn’t been able to do like set greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, renewable energy generation goals, and putting resiliency plans into place.  Just ask California, Massachusetts, New York City, Seattle, Chicago, and so many more – too numerous to list here.

According to data from the 2010 census, over 80% of Americans live in urban areas – which means that our collective contribution to climate change and exposure to climate risks is overwhelmingly focused on American cities.  This is GOOD news, because it is cities across the country that are taking some of the most aggressive actions on climate change.   In fact, there are almost 600 U.S. members of the organization ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability taking action on climate change and becoming more resilient communities.  The United States Conference of Mayors strongly denounced the President’s decision and pledged to continue to work towards the goals in the Paris Agreement.  Climate deniers at the federal level can’t stop all that progress at the local and state level.

Sure the corporate average fuel economy standards and the Clean Power Plan rule were important.  But there are seismic shifts happening in sectors of our economy and economic forces in play regardless of what is happening (or not happening) in Washington, D.C.  Renewable energy development is on the rise as costs continue to decrease, and states continue to enforce renewable portfolio standards.  Solar power generation has risen at an exponential rate in the past 10 years, and as costs continue to decrease, this trend will continue.   Hybrid and electric vehicles continue to become more cost competitive and EV ranges are increasing.   Disruptive technologies hold enormous potential to address our collective GHG emissions too.  Autonomous vehicles could potentially realize a significant decrease in fuel consumption because of efficiency gains (humans aren’t really great drivers after all).

And let’s not forget the recent trend of activist boards forcing companies to fully account for the risks posed by climate change (see Exxon, for example).  This is a particularly exciting development, and I look forward to watching as investors and consumers vote more with their wallets to encourage continued progress.

Many industries are taking it upon themselves to act, whether it’s to better manage risk (regulatory, public relations, financial or otherwise), or because they view it as the “right thing to do”.  My own industry is a good example.  Airports across the world are voluntarily participating in carbon emissions reductions programs.  Some are required by local laws, others because of community expectations, some to compete with peer airports, and others because their leadership understands that managing the airports’ contribution to climate change carries more benefits than costs.  The Airport Carbon Accreditation program (just one of several frameworks in use for managing CO2 emissions) has grown to 189 participating airports and resulted in 206,000 tons of CO2 reductions last year alone.  A drop in the bucket compared to global GHG emissions, but it’s a start and it’s growing.

All of this isn’t to imply that there aren’t actions that the White House and Congress could take to push our economy even further in the right direction on renewable energy and energy efficiency.  Of course there are – and it’s too bad that we’re not.  We could reinstate the investment tax credit which helped the solar industry grow exponentially over the past 10 plus years by helping to bring costs down.  We could implement a cap and trade system – or even better a carbon tax and invest the profits in R&D to develop better renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies we could sell to the rest of the world.  We could ensure parity between renewables, biofuels and fossil fuels by giving equal subsidies and tax breaks to producers of these fuels instead of favoring oil and gas.  We could make sure farmers have access to crop insurance for biofuel crops to lower the barrier to entry.  We could implement renewable energy portfolio requirements. These are obviously just a few examples of many different actions that we could take at the federal level that would make a difference.  But as we’ve seen, progress in the private sector, at the state and local levels and internationally will not stop, regardless of the decisions made in Washington.

That is perhaps one final reason for optimism about the decision of this Administration.  There is a gaping opening for other countries to take more of a leadership role.  China and the EU have jointly stepped up to the plate, and India has indicated it will stay in.   Hopefully our hiatus on the global stage is a short one, but in the meantime others will continue to their efforts.  American cities, states, businesses, organizations and individuals will join the rest of the world in addressing climate change.  Though I am disappointed in the decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, there are many reasons to remain hopeful that our collective fight against the greatest challenge of our generation will continue.

Massachusetts Energy Priorities Expressed by Commissioner Judith Judson

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

by Stephen Barrett

MA_Energy_Priorities

I had the honor of recently moderating a panel of experts with the new Massachusetts Commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources, Judith Judson.  Commissioner Judson was appointed on April 21st so her appearance at the Environmental Business Council of New England’s (EBC) breakfast marked the end of her first month on the job, which is enough time to be engaged in many hot issues facing the state, but too little time to be in a position to communicate specific policies still in development.  But she did kick off by stating her five energy priorities for the Commonwealth which is helpful for understanding the context of the discussion:

  1. Stabilizing ratepayer energy costs
  2. Retaining national leadership status in energy efficiency and clean energy
  3. Maintaining progress in clean energy procurement toward achieving greenhouse gas emission goals contained in the Global Warming Solutions Acts.
  4. Facilitating operations of safe and reliable energy infrastructure
  5. Working to modernize the grid

The Commissioner explored more deeply many topics of interest to EBC members.  She said she likes data and cited some interesting statistics including: 10% of all electricity consumed in Massachusetts in 2015 is from renewable energy; 350 of the 351 towns in Massachusetts have at least one solar installation on a home or business; $2m are available from the Commonwealth in rebates for buyers of electric vehicles; and a study out of Texas demonstrated that deploying 5,000 MW of energy storage on the grid is cost-effective.  The latter point may be of particular interest to Commissioner Judson as she has worked in the private sector over the past decade for companies involved in developing innovative technologies to help make the grid run more efficiently, including Massachusetts-based Beacon Power and its flywheel technology.

In response to a question from panelist Matt Shortsleeve of Solect Energy about obstacles to continued growth in the Massachusetts solar industry due to net metering caps and fulfillment of the Solar Renewable Energy Certificate (SREC) II Program, the Commissioner acknowledged the problem with pending uncertainty for private investors with the start/stop nature of these programs.  However, she said that the Baker Administration is interested in putting in place mechanisms to facilitate sustained and long-term growth with market predictability which considers the changing role of the utility companies as more power is generated locally.  The administration continues to review the Net Metering Task Force’s Report released in April to help formulate a path forward.  Other topics discussed among the panelists included maintaining Massachusetts’ position as #1 in the country in Energy Efficiency, working with the regional on gas supply to stabilize electricity prices, purchasing more renewables through long-term contracts to meet Green Communities Act goals, working to facilitate the development of regional electric vehicle infrastructure network, and prospects for offshore wind in New England with the problems faced by Cape Wind and the commencement of construction this month of the country’s first offshore wind project off of Block Island, Rhode Island.

With so much ground to cover, the Commissioner promised to make a return visit in the fall to provide an update.

Recap on EBC Program on Energy and Environmental Affairs

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

by Stephen Barrett, LEED AP

SecretaryBeatonIMG_5408

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion organized by the Environmental Business Council of New England (EBC) with Matthew Beaton, the new Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs under Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.  While the Baker Administration took the reins in early January and Secretary Beaton has been on-board since day one, this panel was one of his first public appearances as he has been busy building his team and getting them up to speed.  Some in the clean energy and environmental industries had been concerned that the Baker Administration would roll back clean energy policies and environmental protections, though Beaton emphasized that the Administration was entering office with an open mind and no actions would be considered during an initial three month freeze period on any new regulations or programs.  Renewable energy advocates were happy to hear the Secretary’s announcement at the PV America Conference the previous day that the Administration would continue the Patrick Administration’s commitment of 1600 MW of solar by 2020.  Beaton was asked by the panel about another Patrick Administration proposal – the Clean Energy Standard – which would incentivize the purchase of Canadian hydropower in Massachusetts in an effort to achieve the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act goal of 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050.  With the proposed program out for public comment, Beaton only said that he would wait to review public comment, but that he would focus on cost-effective solutions.  The high cost of electricity in Massachusetts due to constrained supplies of natural gas elicited a lot of interest.  While everyone seems to agree that high energy costs are a burden on the economy and that increasing natural gas supply in some manner is the best short-term solution, how to deliver new supply (e.g., new or enhanced pipelines, more Liquid Natural Gas [LNG] deliveries by sea) and how much to deliver given the region’s current over-dependence on natural gas is of much debate.  Beaton did not offer a plan for avoiding price spikes next winter but said it would be a focus of his agenda in the coming months.  All in all, the evening was a welcomed introduction to the new Secretary and the start of a productive dialogue with the environmental and energy business community.

Observations from a Panel at the ACC/AAAE Design and Construction Conference in Denver

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

by Stephen Barrett

I had the pleasure of participating in a panel on how airports apply unique engineering techniques to take advantage of available resources. I started off the panel discussion by presenting information on ACRP 02-56, Developing the Airport Business Case for Renewable Energy where I described how the research will produce a ranking system which quantifies the economic, self-sustainability, and environmental benefits of renewable energy projects. These benefits include stabilizing long-term electricity costs, investing in a modernized electricity generation and distribution network to ensure reliability and resiliency, and advancing environmental initiatives to open up permitting for future development. Traci Holton, Manager of Design at the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority, followed up with a discussion of a variety of examples from Nashville Airport (BNA) including solar planning (which I am helping them with – thanks for the kudos Traci), to asphalt and rock reuse, to converting mulch produced through vegetation management activities into improving site stabilization and minimizing runoff. Traci also described their Geothermal Project which will utilize the constant water temperature from a large on-site quarry for heating and cooling resulting in savings to the airport from avoided natural gas use and potable water previously purchased for boiler make-up and on-site irrigation. The project is currently out-to-bid with a design-build format and requiring a minimum payback period. The last speaker was Dale Stubbs, Associate Vice President for AECOM in Atlanta, who talked about Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson’s (ATL) Green Acres Recycling Facility that is presently under development. The unique facility will be built, owned and operated by a third party contractor on 39-acres of airport property where all the airport’s waste will be delivered, sorted and managed including the use of compost for growing food that will be sold back to concessionaires. Each of these projects shows how airports can be leaders in developing innovative approaches to areas such as energy consumption and waste management that can produce a financial benefit through the efficient use of available resources.

ACRP Releases HMMH-authored Report on Energy Projects and Airports and Airspace

Friday, April 25th, 2014

by Stephen Barrett

HMMH is pleased to inform clients and colleagues of the official release of Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) Report 108 “Energy Technologies Compatibility with Airports and Airspace.” This report is the first in a series of ACRP Reports on energy and airports that are expected for release in the next year. The HMMH-authored report reviews the aviation industry’s experience with a variety of energy technologies including solar, wind, oil and gas drilling, and traditional electricity generation and transmission, and provides guidance for future projects to avoid impacts on airports and airspace. The report is timely given the country’s focus on domestic energy production to serve economic and national security interests and to diversify energy generation sources toward cleaner fuels, including renewables. The guidance will also help airports as they consider opportunities to lease out underutilized non-aeronautical property for energy production.

ACRP Report 108