Where Does Massachusetts Get Its Electricity? The Bay State’s Energy Scene by the Numbers

, Senior energy analyst | February 23, 2016, 1:45 pm EDT
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Massachusetts’s electricity mix is a hot topic these days, from the pages of the local papers to the governor’s State of the Commonwealth address. While we’re thinking about our energy future, it’s helpful to think about our energy past, and how far we’ve come—plus what more we need to do to make sure we’ve got safe, affordable, reliable, and clean electricity. Here’s the Massachusetts energy scene by the numbers (Hint: it’s about 0, 58, 4, 1,…).

0: Number of coal plants, starting next year

Coal was fueling a quarter of electricity generation in Massachusetts just a few short years ago. Then the coal plants, big and small, fell by the wayside (as so many coal plants have been doing nationwide). By next year, Massachusetts will be coal plant-free.

Changes afoot in the Massachusetts energy mix: Enter natural gas and renewables, exeunt coal and oil

Changes afoot in the Massachusetts energy mix: Enter natural gas and renewables, exeunt coal and oil

58: Percentage of in-state generation from natural gas

A big reason for coal’s decline has been natural gas, which came on strong in Massachusetts more than a decade ago. But high dependence on gas brings risks, including financial ones for the state’s homes and businesses (from price swings, for example), and the state’s wrestling with that issue.

4: Rank among states installing the most solar

Solar has been a great story in Massachusetts in recent years, and the just-released 2015 results show the state still in the top ranks. While the state does have more sun than you might think, what’s made it one of the top states for solar has been forward-thinking policies driving solar’s development, and lots of individuals committing to make a difference through their energy choices.

1: Rank among states on energy efficiency

Energy efficiency is an even brighter star in the Massachusetts energy firmament. The state has been #1 for five years running in the annual ACEEE ranking of state efficiency policies, based on a whole range of policies that recognize efficiency as the lowest hanging fruit for saving money and cutting pollution.

20+: Percentage drop in state CO2 emissions since 1990

Part of the progress in Massachusetts has been to keep electricity affordable and reliable, while also making it cleaner. Over the last decade, the state has cut its carbon footprint by more than 20%. The power sector has led the way, fueled by the drop in coal, the rise in renewable energy (both in-state and imported), and that great energy efficiency push.

80: Required percentage drop in CO2 by 2050

The power sector can do more, though—and has to. Under the state’s 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act, we’re required to cut CO2 emissions 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. And, more importantly for near-term planning, we need 25% cuts by 2020. While there are opportunities across the economy, we know that the electricity sector still offers some of the best opportunities to cut more carbon.

The federal government has bid out multiple areas south of Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard that hold real potential for energy and jobs for Massachusetts (Source: BOEM).

The federal government has bid out multiple areas south of Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard that hold real potential for energy and jobs for Massachusetts (Source: BOEM).

6,310: Offshore wind potential, in megawatts, just from select areas

One way we’re going to cut carbon and reduce risks of overreliance on natural gas is by expanding the range of tools in our energy toolbox. Offshore wind is a huge untapped resource, and Massachusetts is a potential powerhouse of production from offshore wind. Just the already leased areas off the state’s southern coast could produce enough electricity to power millions of Bay State homes.

1,600: Near-term solar goal, in megawatts

Another opportunity is in more solar. In 2013 Massachusetts blew past a goal of 250 MW of solar set by Gov. Deval Patrick in 2007—4 years ahead of schedule. He set a new goal of 1,600 MW by 2020, and Gov. Charlie Baker has embraced that goal. And the state looks set to hit this one, too, way ahead of schedule.

99,000: Clean energy jobs in the state

What these changes add up to is a whole new sector of the Bay State’s economy. Clean energy jobs have grown more than 60% over the last 5 years.

1: Chance to get our energy future right

So, now what? How do we keep the jobs coming, keep solar growing, make sure we hit our carbon reduction goals, both near and long term? How do we keep from investing too much in natural gas for our electricity, in ways that aren’t going to serve us well a few years from now? What role can/should offshore wind—and maybe large hydro—play in Massachusetts’s electricity mix?

These are all things that need sorting out, and soon. We need to make sure that, when it comes to an affordable, reliable, and clean energy future for Massachusetts, the numbers truly add up.

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  • thinkmorebelieveless

    Wow, Mass could be doing even better if it stopped its discrimination against Small and Micro hydropower. Just think of the energy ( not that deceptive capacity value ) that high capacity factor Small and Micro hydro would contribute if we re-powered all those thousands of abandoned dams across the Commonwealth. What if DOER recognized hydro as a renewable energy source and thought about 24/7 hydro compared to over-subsidized, winter warming, three hour a day solar PV ? What if the Baker Administration and the energy agencies stopped the hypocrisy of importing hydro from Canada while strangling in-state hydro with over-regulation including adding, in addition to State and Federal permitting, the requirement for certification from the pricey Low Impact Hydro Institute.

    If the name of the game is to deploy the most renewable energy as fast and inexpensively as possible, why does Mass.
    over-subsidize the least efficient, most costly solar PV while abandoning or discriminating against capacity proven, low cost, local, Small and Micro hydro ?

    • ucsjrogers

      Thanks for weighing in, thinkmore. Hydro is included in the Massachusetts renewable electricity standard, in different ways. But the main point of the RES, as far as I’m concerned, is to drive innovation, and the development of new clean energy options. We’ve seen the power of that in the cost reductions and scale ramp-up for solar in the last few years that we’ve talked about various times in The Equation. And, when it comes to hydro, that’s the point of the LIHI certification that you mention — driving innovation in ways that make hydro a better partner for our clean energy future. – John

      • thinkmorebelieveless

        Hello John
        MGL chapter 25A section 11F paragraph (b) includes “naturally flowing water and hydroelectric” as a renewable energy generating source. Yet Mass. DOER does not even list hydro as renewable energy and they offer little if any assistance to Small and Micro hydro. Look at hydro’s minuscule net metering allowance of 60 kW compared to the other renewables. The sales tax exemption given to the other renewables is not available to hydro. Hydro does qualify for the real estate tax exemption but hydro must make PILOT payments. Massachusetts blatantly discriminates against hydro.

        As for LIHI, where is their innovation ? LIHI certification is just another no value added cost meant to drive more nails in hydro’s coffin. Saying LIHI certification is necessary is saying the State Agencies are incompetent.

        Small and Micro hydro innovation and new technologies already exist right down to residential scale equipment. The rest of the world is using them. Somebody has to stop picking the winners (solar PV) and the losers (hydro) and the meekly promoted (wind) and start harvesting ALL our renewable energy sources.

  • solodoctor

    Wow, Mass is doing really well! The prospects for more gains via the use of offshore wind are exciting, too.

    This piece failed to note another drawback of nat gas: leaks of methane gas allow a greenhouse gas into the atmosphere that is much more harmful than carbo dioxide. Other pieces by The Equation have commented on this potential problem. Perhaps it was a lack of space that led to this oversight?

    • ucsjrogers

      You’re right that methane leakage is an important issue, solo. And you’re right that space is always an issue. So the post incorporates that by reference: Leakage is one of the issues in the “Natural Gas Gamble” report linked to the final section — worth checking out. Thanks. – John