Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Rally for Clean Energy

WHAT: Salem Gas Plant Action and Street Theater
WHERE: Salem Common, Hawthorne Blvd x Washington Sq. (16 Washington Sq. W)
WHEN: Saturday February 8th, 2:00 - 5:00 PM
From 2:00 - 3:30pm: tour of Salem beginning on the Common past the existing coal plant to Derby Warf on beautiful Salem Harbor. Bring signs and banners!

From 3:30 - 5:00pm: reception at Hotel Hawthorne with a band, snacks and hot drinks.

Why Conversion of the Salem Coal Plant to Gas Should Be Stopped!!

You cannot be for clean energy and let this conversion happen.

The proposal to convert the Salem 330 MW coal plant to a 692 MW natural gas plant has generated a lot of controversy. The coal plant closure was announced in 2011 to take place this year.[i] The Sierra Club’s Massachusetts Chapter asks you to join the protest being planned for Feb. 8 in Salem. The issue was brought to the fore by a Boston Globe article on the Salem plant and the three following letters to the editor: (1) “Move to a natural gas plant can help build bridge to renewable future” from SAFE - Salem Alliance For the Environment, who are proponents of the conversion; (2) “Investment would just continue our fossil-fuel dependency” from Jay McCaffrey, Senior Campaign Representative, Beyond Coal Campaign; and (3)We already rely too much on natural gas” from an individual. [ii] And the proposed conversion will require a new gas pipeline.

 The Sierra Club Massachusetts Chapter is for clean energy and opposes the conversion - and here is why.

The Proposed Plan Increases Green House Gas Emissions:

Comparative carbon dioxide emissions:
The natural gas plant will produce more carbon dioxide than the current coal plan at rated capacities. The coal plant’s rated capacity is 330 MW.[iii] The proposed gas plant’s rated capacity is 692 MW.[iv] Therefore the natural gas plant is 2.1 times the size of the existing coal plant.[v]

Applying the accepted rule of thumb that natural gas combustion produces half the carbon dioxide emissions as coal, based on rated capacities the new gas plant’s carbon dioxide emissions will exceed the coal plant’s carbon dioxide emissions by 9.6%.

Comparative total greenhouse gas emissions:
As a green house gas, one molecule of methane, the primary component of natural gas, is at least as potent as 21 molecules of carbon dioxide, according to a now outdated study by the Environmental Protection Agency. “Overview of Green House Gases,” [vi] More recent studies by very reputable scientists estimate that global warming potential as at least 70 times greater than carbon dioxide.[vii] Therefore methane leakage in the gas distribution system is an issue.[viii] See “In a Utah gas field, potent quantities of a greenhouse gas rise into the atmosphere – study” Scientific American, Stephanie Paige Ogburn and Climate Wire, August 7, 2013, showing leakage at 6.2% to 11.7% of production and estimating that methane is 25 times more potent a green house gas than carbon dioxide.[ix]

Using just the outdated 21 times number means that to replace a coal plant with a gas plant with just over a 2% gas leak rate in the system that brings the gas to the plant’s furnace produces almost as much carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas as the coal plant produces in CO2. In sum, a natural gas plant 2.1 times bigger than the coal plant will result in over two times the green house gas emissions than the coal plant has produced.

System leakage of natural gas:
The 2% estimate above is conservative. Natural gas distribution system leakage (from well head to combustion chamber) has been measured at anywhere between 7% to 20% of gas transmitted. The study, “Into Thin Air: Natural Gas Leaks in Massachusetts”, estimates gas leakage from distribution systems in Massachusetts contributes about 4% to the state’s total green house gas inventory.[x] The Markey report has Massachusetts utility leakage figures (see pp. 5 and 24) and national system figures (see p. 6).[xi] See also Washington, D.C. leak study.[xii] Also see “Is natural gas more climate-friendly? Researchers map thousands of leaks in Washington, D.C.” Scientific American, By Stephanie Paige Ogburn and ClimateWire.[xiii]

If we do the math using a distribution systems leakage rate of 6%, the proposed 692 MW gas plant will result in at least 4 times as much greenhouse gas emissions (methane and carbon dioxide together) than the 330 MW coal plant (carbon dioxide alone).[xiv]

The prevalence of gas leaks in our state has led to two principal bills to stop the leaks: “An Act enhancing natural gas pipeline safety”, House No. 2933, and “An Act to prevent unnecessary arboreal costs due to natural gas leaks,” House No. 2934. Both are sponsored by Representative Lori Ehrlich of the 8th Essex District. The Massachusetts Sierra Club Chapter testified before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy in support of those bills orally and in writing. The leaks bill is slated to reach the House Committee on Ways and Means shortly as House No. 3873.[xv]

The proposed gas plant impairs the ability to reach green house gas emissions goals under the Global Warming Solutions Act:
Any increase in green house gas emissions conflicts with the state mandate to cut green house gases. The proposed plant is incompatible with the state's green house gas reduction goals under the Global Warming Solutions Act, as a pending law-suit will determine.[xvi] Any power plant or energy grid project proposal must show how it meets the long-term energy plan for the state, which includes an overall reduction of green house gas emissions of 25% by 2020, and 80% by 2050.

The Need for and Availability of Alternate Sources of Electricity:

The projected deficiency:
We understand the ISO projected short term need on the North Shore due to closure of the Salem coal plant is only between 100 to 200 MW. A dwelling unit uses about 2 to 4 kilowatts. Assuming an average home is rated at 3 kW, 130 MW of electricity translates into 50,000 homes at the midpoint. Of course businesses and industry will also use electricity. That deficiency can be met by a number or combination of means.[xvii]

Reconfiguration of the grid:
One solution to any deficiency is reconfiguration of the grid, including making the grid more robust to take advantage of wind energy that is being spilled right now because of grid deficiencies.

Hydro Quebec:
While the Sierra Club doesn’t condone Hydro Quebec’s projects in Canada, and has opposed their current transmission line path in NH, the projects are moving ahead – and these are being built specifically to sell to New England. Within 10 years, there will be an enormous increase in their output, resulting in a net output of 4.7 TW, dwarfing anything that could be built on the Salem site.

New clean energy facilities, energy efficiency and conservation: Lowering the demand for gas is accomplished by promoting the development of new clean energy facilities, energy efficiency and energy conservation, as well as net zero zoning, which the City of Cambridge is now considering. Massachusetts has been for several years the leader in energy efficiency and there is a lot more to do. These types of improvements should be required for all new and renovation project. They also mean local jobs.

Home heating gas consumption can be reduced to eliminate the need for the pipeline:
There are other natural gas plants in the state that use gas to generate electricity and natural gas systems feed natural gas into homes for heating. Replacing those home gas heating systems with air source and ground loop heat pumps can dramatically decrease the demand for gas for home heating and free it up for electricity production without building new pipelines and new gas plants [xviii] and 'Rocky Mountain Institute' Study An Alternative to oil heat for the Northeast - input for planners and policy-makers.[xix] At current gas prices and heat pump prices fall, a heat pump is a viable alternative to gas.

Will the Price of Gas Rise to Meet Global Market Prices? Is the following scenario plausible?

The price we now pay for natural gas piped into Massachusetts is at about $4 per MBTU. The global price ranges from $14 (Europe) to $20 (Asia) per MBTU. If Everett becomes an export terminal, Massachusetts will be competing at global prices and our price will rise to about $8 to $10 per MBTU. Moreover, as more LNG export terminals come on line in the US (and there are several being built), the buyers of gas for New England that use the interconnected pipeline grid will be competing for gas at the global price, whether Everett becomes an export terminal or not.

Is the proposed pipeline construction a forerunner for exporting natural gas as LNG through Everett?
The Salem natural gas plant will need a gas pipeline built to it. No pipeline company will build a pipeline only big enough to serve Salem, i.e., one customer. The capacity will be many times any needs of Salem. That excess is predicted by the statement attributed to Footprint CEO Peter Furniss by the Boston Globe on Feb. 5, 2014 as follows: “Footprint CEO Peter Furniss says the plant will start off as a crucial supplier of electricity to New England’s often strained power grid, especially as the Vermont Yankee nuclear station and the Brayton Point coal plant come off line. But Furniss says the Footprint gas plant will eventually taper to a role of firming up energy supplies as more solar and wind sources come online under Massachusetts’ aggressive green-energy policies, which require an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050.” Emphasis added.

A 692 MW natural gas plant is not needed to firm up wind or solar or other intermittent sources of power. So consider whether that excess will in fact drive up our gas prices as described below.

Will we be competing for gas at global prices?
Right now we rely on imported liquid natural gas through Everett to partially fill our needs. Increased clean energy installations, energy efficiency and energy conservation reduce demand for natural gas, as will more clean energy production (solar, wind, environmentally compatible hydro, heat pumps and even eventually fuel cells).[xx] The lowered demand will mean that the imported natural gas through the new pipeline will exceed our needs, the need for imported LNG will be eliminated and the excess piped in gas can be expected to be exported, either through the Everett facility or a new facility. So the bridge will likely be to nowhere but higher gas prices.

Increased Natural Gas Dependency Will …

Stunt the Growth of the Clean Energy Industry and the Local Jobs It Would Otherwise Produce:
Massachusetts is at the end of every fossil fuel pipeline, barge route and tank car line. Every dollar we spend on fossil fuel is exported; the money does not stay here. Clean energy investments (solar, wind, hydro, heat pumps and even eventually fuel cells) are investments at home, with local jobs to install and local technology development that could be done here.

Threaten Our State’s Energy Security:
ight now Massachusetts relies on natural gas for about 55% of its energy needs. That is projected to rise to 65% in a few years. That is simply too high a number. The price of gas is volatile and always will be, even in areas that have abundant gas, for reasons out of our control. See Market Prices and Uncertainty Report Released: January 7, 2014 This is a regular monthly supplement to the EIA Short-Term Energy Outlook [xxi] and Short-Term Energy Outlook - Natural Gas Section Released: January 7, 2014 Short-term forecasts of natural gas supply, demand, and price projections.[xxii]

History and Political Considerations:
In short, there are three factions in this dispute about the Salem conversion: (1) Salem elected leaders, (2) Environmentalists, (3) Salem “SAFE” Salem Alliance For the Environment.

Some Salem elected leaders have long taken the position of needing a tax base and job preservation. Downtown Salem has been rebuilt over the last 50 years and now hosts the world-renowned Peabody Essex Museum. It is a significant tourist destination for its history, historical buildings and the Salem Witch House for example.

The coal power plant had supplied over 20% of the city’s tax base; now it’s less than 5%. It also had employed 400 workers; now it employees just 100. For a city of Salem’s size, this is a deep wound. The normally quite progressive mayor (Kim Driscoll) had strongly supported the coal plant when it was operating. Now that it’s winding down, she’s seeking to preserve whatever jobs she can. She is also promoting wind in the harbor, trying to follow Gloucester’s shining example of clean energy. Her focus is rightly the city budget and jobs. That can be done with clean energy, which provides jobs and fixes energy expenses over the long term.

Although the coal plant hadn’t originally been built in an extremely densely populated area, sprawl has overtaken the plant’s environs. The result has been a noticeable increase respiratory illnesses. While coal hasn’t presented a significant danger of explosion, natural gas does. Explosions are not uncommon, and only 2 weeks ago there was a gas explosion in Manitoba.[xxiii] With no nearby highways, the area around the Salem plant cannot be quickly evacuated.

Opponents of the development have also cited the need for open space (Salem is very dense), the potential for a smart growth community of mixed retail/commercial, and the desirability of a waterfront mixed use development plus park.

Anti-environmentalist leaders had been using tactics to construct a new gas plant that have been e challenged as not legal and have resulted in lawsuits. Some have drawn sharp media rebuke as “a sweetheart deal.” “The Salem lawmaker at the center of a heated battle over a proposed North Shore power plant has dropped legislation short-circuiting all legal challenges to the proposed plant, saying he’ll now let the state’s highest court decide the plant’s fate.”[xxiv] All have been harshly criticized by the environmental community.

Salem’s SAFE were at one time strong allies in the effort to close the coal plant. Now they’re siding with the gas developers, and participating in their community meetings seemingly as full partners.

SAFE’s substantive environmental argument is that “The proposed plant would reduce regional carbon dioxide emissions … ”does not tell the whole story and perpetuates the myth of natural gas. SAFE’s position in the context of above numbers is indefensible. And SAFE does not take into account natural gas system leakage, measured in CO2 equivalents.

In summary, the need for building any new or expanded fossil fuel green house gas producing facility for Salem is not justifiable. Creating more CO2 and its equivalents is environmentally unsound position. The proposed conversion violates the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act goals. The proposed plan slows our conversion to a clean energy state and stunts jobs growth in that sector. And it subjects our economy to the volatility of the global gas market. While ISO New England may need to carefully weigh the possible growth in usage versus supply, one of our jobs as environmentalists is to oppose additional and increasing sources of CO2 and its equivalents. This plant, if built, will put 2.5 MILLION TONS of CO2 in the air annually, not including CO2 equivalents. So be for clean energy and the jobs and leadership opportunities it creates and fight this proposed gas plant!

Please respond to

[v] Divide the capacity of the new plant by the coal plant capacity as follows: 692/330=2.096.
[viii] Natural gas is called methane and chemically is referred to as CH4. Carbon dioxide is a heavier molecule and is chemically CO2.
[xvii] The Boston Globe Feb. 5, 2014 editorial suggests that the electricity from the existing coal plant has the capability of powering nearly 750,000 homes.” It is unclear where that number comes from except to suggest that the number may be the number of homes in the Salem gas plant service area, not the number of homes that are fully powered by that plant, especially since the existing coal plant has been operating at substantially below full capacity for some time.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Will Mass Be 1st State To Introduce A Carbon Tax?

Rep. Tom Conroy (D-Wayland) and Sen. Michael Barrett (D-Lexington) introduced a bill, H.2532, which would make Massachusetts the first state to enact a carbon tax to fight greenhouse gas pollution, and address the urgency and severity of accelerating climate change. Simultaneously, a tax on carbon would drive the 'Brain State' to become the engine of innovation for the next great energy revolution by encouraging everyday consumers to seek out low-carbon products.

Under a carbon tax, low-carbon products would be less expensive to own and use than regular products because their production and/or use would require less fossil fuel, would result in fewer emissions, and consequently avoid the levy imposed on carbon pollution. Conversely, products responsible for larger amounts of pollution would be relatively more expensive to buy and/or own. 

Think Honda Civic vs. the now discontinued Hummer. In a state where you actually had to pay to pollute our atmosphere, which vehicle would you rather own? H.2532, merely asks that citizens take personal responsibility for the amount of fossil fuels they consume and the resulting level of carbon pollution to our atmosphere. 

The magic of a carbon tax is that it unleashes the power of the free market to drive innovation in low-carbon technologies. As consumers seek out less expensive, low-carbon products, companies will dramatically increase research and development in low-carbon technologies, and Massachusetts would quickly become the epicenter of yet another high-tech, high-skill, high-wage industry. Our state's noteworthy strides toward greater energy efficiency and renewable energy development have already shown the promise of the coming energy revolution. Cambridge's own EnergySage is a prime example. 

EnergySage CEO Vikram Aggarwal has applied the concept and technology behind innovative sites like ("deals on over 400 airlines worldwide, compare hundreds of travel sites at once") to the world of solar, and in doing so, he has transformed a notoriously opaque and disjointed market into an easily navigable, online, comparison-shopping experience. But as remarkable as EnergySage might be, this one company is only the tip of the iceberg. 

Massachusetts can lead the next great global energy revolution, but we need the free market to drive the kind of research and development necessary to develop tomorrow's high-tech, low-carbon consumer goods. A carbon tax would correct the market failure that allows people to freely pollute our atmosphere, but at the same time, it would tap into market forces which would propel our economy to a new level of innovation, product development and wealth creation.  

Read more here and here.