Renewable Energy Contracts and Energy Efficiency Progress: New England is Sprinting

, Senior energy analyst | September 23, 2013, 4:31 pm EDT
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For fans of the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots, life in New England right now is awfully good. The Sox hold a commanding lead in the race to the post-season, and the Patriots are 3-0.*

Life in New England is also good for fans of clean energy and a stronger, cleaner energy future, which should include just about anyone with lungs or a wallet. Just-announced plans for more local renewable energy, and a new report on best cities for energy efficiency, show the important progress New England is making in some key areas for our economy and our environment.

Credit: J. Rogers

Credit: J. Rogers

Locking in Renewable Energy: the “Wow” Factor

UCS is a long-standing and vocal advocate for long-term contracts (LTCs) for renewable energy, as a key part of the transition to clean energy. We’ve pointed out, for example, that LTCs help clean energy project developers get the financing they need to do just what we need them to do. They also help stabilize electricity prices for customers, and lock in all the economic and environmental benefits that clean energy offers.

Clearly, others are seeing it that way, too. In a really important step forward for the state and for locking in the benefits of renewable energy, Massachusetts has announced that the state’s four utilities have jointly pulled together the largest renewable energy buy in the region. They’ll be getting the power from 565 megawatts (MW) of wind facilities, which they say will be enough to power “about 170,000 homes” — all at an average price of “less than eight cents per kilowatt hour.”

The structure of the Massachusetts deal means that the state’s press release and the Boston Globe article, “Wind power now competitive with conventional sources”, include telling quotes, like these:

“This proves that competitively priced renewable power exists and we can get it, and Massachusetts can benefit from it.” – Robert Rio, Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM)

“These renewable energy procurements represent a significant step in transforming New England’s generation fleet over to new, clean and cost-effective resources that allow our region to invest in its local economy rather than send millions of dollars beyond its borders for fossil fuels.” – Francis Pullaro, RENEW (Renewable Energy New England)

“Not only are we getting clean energy… It’s below market [price]” – Ronald Gerwatowski, National Grid

“Wow.” – John Howat, National Consumer Law Center

While “wow” might say it all, Mr. Howat goes on to say: “It seems like there’s something for environmental and consumer advocates here to be happy about.”

And that’s really important. Those quotes are from big electricity users, a consumer protection group, the utilities, and RENEW, a non-profit “uniting the renewable energy industry and environmental interest groups” that UCS co-founded. When you can get all these people agreeing, it’s a really good day, and a good sign about where things are headed.

Connecticut is getting a piece of the action, too. The state announced on Friday that its utilities were locking in 20 MW of solar and 250 MW of wind of their own — again, “at an average of less than 8 cents per kilowatt hour.” Like the Massachusetts announcement, that one garnered praise from a broad swatch of Connecticut society, including utilities, renewable energy industry, and environmental groups.

Locking in Energy Efficiency: More Wow

Another solid way to lock in cost and environmental benefits that UCS has supported is through energy efficiency, and New England is no slouch in that area, either. The 2013 City Energy Efficiency Scorecard, which is the list of the most populous U.S. cities “on policies to advance energy efficiency” from ACEEE, ranked Boston as No. 1.

That comes after ACEEE’s most recent State Energy Efficiency Scorecard that had four New England states — Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island — in the top 10. Massachusetts has actually taken the top spot in each of the last two annual rankings.

Go, New England

The above pieces are just a couple of ways that New England is clearly moving forward on some really good approaches to changing our energy usage and supply picture, in ways that strengthen our economy, our jobs picture, and our public health.

It’s shaping up to be a great season, and the scoreboard is looking better all the time.


*Note: I grew up in a household that supported a certain other American League East baseball team, and my local football team sported decidedly different colors, so these observations do not constitute an endorsement of the particular teams. Or even the particular sports, since soccer, for example, turns out to be a lot of fun, even if it doesn’t get quite the same attention in these parts.


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  • I’m an astronomer at UC San Diego and I’ve recently become involved with UCS.

    I was wondering: what is your view about the Jevons Paradox, from the perspective of energy efficiency? I think it’s mostly been applied to issues involving resource consumption, and it’s probably applicable to energy consumption as well.

    Anyway, I think that energy efficiency and renewable energy are both important goals, and it’s great that people are making progress on them in New England.

    P.S. Unfortunately the Padres aren’t doing well at all.

    • Thanks very much for your comment, Ramin. The idea you’re asking about, also known as “the rebound effect”, is important to consider, but it turns out that the effect is small. One excellent overview resource on this issue, The Rebound Effect: Large or Small? by Steven Nadel, executive director of ACEEE, summarized a review of a range of studies this way:

      “We find that there are both direct and indirect rebound effects, but these tend to be modest. Direct rebound effects are generally 10% or less. Indirect rebound effects are less well understood but the best available estimate is somewhere around 11%. These two types of rebound can be combined to estimate total rebound at about 20%. We examined claims of “backfire” (100% rebound) and they do not stand up to scrutiny.”

      So I agree with you that energy and efficiency and renewable energy are both important, and you can rest assured that they’re doing what they’re supposed to: cutting energy use, improving emissions, and strengthening our economy.

      Thanks, too, for your involvement with UCS. Scientists and people who care about science are what make UCS so successful in pressing for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

      Pressing for successful baseball may require something different; sorry about the Padres.