Getting to a Green Grid

Today, Massachusetts residents get most of their electric power from natural gas generating plants. As we electrify vehicles and heating systems, electric power demand is expected to roughly double (see EoEEA, Energy Pathways to Deep Decarbonization (“pathways analysis”), Figure 22). If we are to reach “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050, we need to build a lot more green generating capacity.

Our state office of Energy and Environmental Affairs has developed alternative pathways for greening our power generation and reached the conclusion that the transition is feasible. EoEEA’s pathways analysis, released in December 2020, is a very thorough analysis of what it would take for Massachusetts — with its particular climate and resource profile — to get to a green grid.

The common element in all pathways is a significant expansion of off-shore wind farms in Massachusetts waters. In most scenarios, a minimum of 15 gigawatts of off-shore generating capacity is installed (pathways analysis at page 78). That amount of wind generating capacity would generate about as much power as the whole state currently uses each year.

Understanding wind facility size

The “capacity factor” is the ratio of average energy output across varying wind conditions to maximum “nameplate” capacity. The capacity factor depends on both wind patterns and turbine performance. The overall capacity factor for the 6 gigawatts (GW) of installed wind capacity in Denmark is 30%. Vineyard Wind is estimating a capacity factor of 45%. If the average capacity factor for Massachusetts’ projected 15GW of wind capacity were 40% over the 8760 hours in a year, it would generate 52.5 trillion watt-hours (Twh) of electricity. Massachusetts used approximately 52 Twh of electricty in 2019.

To reach 15 gigawatts of wind power by 2050 we will need to add roughly 500 megawatts of new capacity per year. Currently, we have two major wind projects moving through the permitting process in Massachusetts: Vineyard Wind and Mayflower Wind. If these two projects roll out as targeted by 2027, we will have added 1.6 gigawatts of capacity — 200 megawatts per year over 8 years. We will have to pick up the pace considerably. In March, section 91 of our climate roadmap legislation increased the 2027 goal from 1.6 to 4 gigawatts of capacity. That would put us on the necessary pace of development.

We will see soon whether the increased goal leads to the necessary new proposals — the Department of Energy Resources has just issued a request for proposals for additional wind construction with price constrained to a maximum of $77 per megawatt hour. This maximum price may suffice to attract proposals since as it is above recent project prices in the United Kingdom — see box below.

The number one challenge will be finding enough sites. While worldwide, most wind development is on-shore, the pathways analysis does not expect us to build much wind capacity onshore in Massachusetts. The expectation is that we will need to use floating as well as fixed off-shore farms. A related challenge is siting the transformer facilities for bringing the power into the power grid.

Example: Hornsea One — Largest Operating Wind Farm as of 2020

Hornsea One is a 1.2 Gigawatt wind farm 75 miles of the Yorkshire coast in the North Sea. It is comprised of 174 wind turbines each rated to produce 7 megawatts. It went online in 2020. The area occupied by the windfarm is 157 square miles. It is the first phase of a complex of wind farms to be built in that area. See project brochure site here. The project was built by Orsted, a Danish companty. Orsted retains 50% of the generating capacity. See Orsted financial details here. Orsted does publish audited production statistics for their offshore portfolio which includes the facility.  They retain half (600MW) of the generating capacity at Hornsea 1 and their total owned offshore generating capacity is 4,379 as of March 31, 2021. Their financial results show power generation from that portfolio of 4.5TWH in the first quarter of 2021, which would translate to an annualized capacity factor of 47%.  

The striking fact about the Hornsea One facility is the high cost. UK ratepayers will be paying approximately $227/Mwh for the wind power from Hornsea One. The price received by a renewable facility operator in the UK is set by a “Contract for Difference” where the Low Carbon Contracts Company (owned by the UK government) will pay the difference between an inflation adjusted “strike price” and the actual price of electricity. The strike price for Hornsea One is currently 164.96 pounds sterling per megawatt hour. (The pound is at $1.39 as of May 3.) By contrast market prices for electricity are between 20 and 40 pounds per megawatt hour, so the support for the Hornsea One plant is very deep. The subsidy is funded by a levy on non-renewable power producers. A second project in the same area, Hornsea Two, has come in at much lower level, $95/mwh. Some critics suggested that the lower price was too low to support construction, but Hornsea Two seems to moving forward full steam. More recent projects have even lower prices: Dogger Bank is at $65/Mwh.

The other big challenge will be managing the variation in wind velocity. Wind power doesn’t fluctuate daily like solar power, but it does vary based on sustained weather patterns. If we are able to build enough wind capacity, EoEEA’s analysis contemplates exporting power to Quebec on good days, allowing Quebec hydro facilities to build up their reservoirs to release power when we have extra need because of sustained calm. This is how Denmark manages the variation — Denmark exchanges power with Norway which has hydro-power generating capacity that can be ramped up and down to offset wind variation.

Battery storage is another strategy for managing renewable energy variation, but it is not a central element or constraint in the scenarios modeled in the pathways analysis (see page 80). Instead, the analysis emphasizes overbuilding wind and solar and using electrolysis facilities to generate hydrogen fuel when wind and solar facilities are producing more power than we need. Another strategy that reduces demand for systemic battery storage is managing the timing of the new elements of electric load — charging of vehicles and generating building heat. Retaining some fossil fuel generating capacity to fire up during rare sustained wind power deficits saves $1000 per year per household over a scenario in which all fossil fuel generation capacity is decommissioned. Pathways analysis at note 53.

Our power grid — transmission lines and power transformer stations — will need to expand to handle the overall increase in load and also the new variable power flows from renewable generating facilities. The biggest challenge may be increasing the interconnection with Quebec. More generally, the report finds economic value in flexible sharing of generating capacity with other states. Regional cooperation will be important to our success.

While wind is the dominant power source envisioned, solar is also important. Most pathways contemplate approximately 25 gigawatts of installed solar capacity in 2050 (pathways analysis at page 55) — a 10 fold increase over today’s 2.5 installed gigawatts. The pathways analysis (p.84) finds that even if 1 in 3 rooftops in the state have solar installed, significant use of ground mounted solar will be needed to achieve the required solar capacity — approximately 66 thousand acres. In the maximal solar scenario, up to 3% of the state’s land area 158,000 acres would be covered with solar.

Understanding Solar Facility Size

As explained above for wind, the “capacity factor” is the ratio of average energy output across varying sun conditions to maximum “nameplate” capacity. For solar panels, year round capacity factors depend heavily on latitude and placement of the panels as well as weather and technology. Values range from 10 to 25% in typical installations. In my own solar installation — a good, unshaded location on a south facing roof — our capacity factor has been 15.1%. We installed 21 panels rated at 220 watts each to create a 4.63 kilowatt facility. Over a recent 5 year period, the array generated 30,648 kilowatt hours of power. If the facility had been in full sun 24/7 (8760 hours per year) over that period and each panel generated 220 watts continuously, it would have generated 202,356 kilowatt hours of power over 5 years. Divide 30,373 by 202,356 to get my installation’s capacity factor of 15.1%. This is apparently fairly average for Massachusetts installations. In Arizona and Utah, typical capacity factors average almost twice as high. The low solar capacity factor in Massachusetts as compared to wind explains why the pathways analysis emphasizes wind.

For ground mounted solar facilities, an important question is how much land area is required per megawatt of capacity. The pathways analysis uses a midpoint number of 4.06 acres per megawatt, with a range of 2.9 to 7.8. A solar developer of facilities in the 1MW to 10MW range said that his firm’s rule of thumb was 5 acres per megawatt plus a 20% allowance for connections, spaces, etc. That would suggest 6 acres per megawatt. Additionally, the developer pointed out that in many parcels that one might acquire, not all of the land area is usable — the parcel might include rocky areas or wetlands. It may be that the high side estimate of 7.8 acres per megawatt is closer to the truth.

The pathways analysis (at page 69) is encouraging as to the economic impact of decarbonization. Total energy expenditures are modestly higher than in the baseline fossil fuel case (10 to 20% depending on pathway), but the share of spending within the state goes up from roughly half to roughly 80%, as in-state construction projects replace out-of-state fossil-fuel purchases. Decarbonization also reduces the exposure of the future energy consumers to commodity price swings.

None of the identified pathways to net zero emissions depend on new technology, but they do depend on acceleration of our construction of wind, solar, and transmission systems. The pathways analysis (at page 89) acknowledges that the necessary pace of construction is “far in excess of the rates seen historically” for wind and solar. “Modeling . . . cannot make normative judgements about whether these build rates can be achieved and sustained.”

This acknowledgement of the unprecedented pace of construction is the principal red flag in the pathways analysis. When I see numbers representing historically slow production of wind capacity, I see the angry local forest advocates who thronged the state house to protest the installation of a mountain pass wind farm and I recall the successful state and national campaign by wealthy beach front owners to kill the wind project in Nantucket sound. I can foresee passionate local opposition to covering meadow lands with thousand of acres of solar panels.

The Role of Nuclear Power (Added May 2)

Thank you to commenters who pushed me to acknowledge the role of nuclear.

Having recognized the potential construction challenges for wind and solar, I should have branched to a discussion of the nuclear option. Nuclear power is not an economically viable option at this time, but it may be later and we should keep it as part of our conversation. For more on the short-run non-viability of nuclear, see this further post.

Before achieving a zero emissions grid, we may well run into limits on acceptance of additional wind and solar installations. Those limits could relate to Nimby-ism, to ecological concerns that compete legitimately with carbon reduction, or to inability to manage the power variation of wind and solar. When that looks like it is soon going to happen, we will have to re examine the viability of nuclear power as part of our clean energy solution.

For now, we are putting a lot of emphasis on off-shore wind which compares favorably to nuclear on a cost and risk basis. The favorable agreements that we have entered into for wind power supply appear to be cheaper than nuclear. For example, including sales of renewable energy credits, power from the Vineyard Wind project is expected to cost rate payers $79/Mwh ($79 per megawatt hour) over a 20 year life. This price is just a bit higher than the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s high range estimate for Levelized Cost of Electricity(LCOE) for offshore wind coming online in 2025: $77/Mwh (downloaded May 2). The same source (NREL) estimates mid-range price (no low-high range offered) of $74/Mwh for nuclear coming online in 2025, but Lazard Frere’s 2020 LCOE analysis puts offshore wind at $86/Mwh and nuclear much higher at $129/Mwh to $198/Mwh.

These favorable wind prices may not be real. It remains to be seen whether the projects will be built at those favorable prices. For the Hornsea One project which was actually built, the price was $227/Mwh. Almost three times the Vineyard Wind bid.

But one thing is clearer than comparative costs: even large offshore wind investments are more scalable than nuclear and therefore less risky. We can make more incremental bets. A range of project sizes for the Vineyard lease from 200MW to 800MW were considered. Even at full size, the estimated project size is much less than a nuclear plant: $2.8 billion (early estimate) vs. $14 billion (pre-escalation cost of Vogtle). Unlike a nuclear plant, if the project were halted before completion, some of the installed turbines could likely be used: The 800MW project will come online in two 400MW phases.

A final critical distinction between nuclear and wind is that nuclear cannot be built without a rate payer commitment to cover construction costs (see this post). We are committing to pay for power delivered from the wind projects at a fixed price, but we are not bearing the risks for the projects failing or coming in at an unexpectedly high construction or operating cost (see, the draft 83C PPA’s).

Except for residents of Everett and Chelsea who reside next to the oil and gas terminals, most Massachusetts residents experience energy production and delivery as aseptic activities. We don’t see the smoke when we turn on the light switch. Mining and fracking don’t exist in Massachusetts. Bringing energy generation home to Massachusetts in the form of wind and solar farms will require all of us to accept more of the environmental costs of our energy consumption. While we may have to see and hear more of what it takes to produce energy, the good news is that as vehicles and buildings go electric, our air will be less polluted locally and we will be doing our part to reduce global carbon emissions.

Wind and solar lifecycle carbon emissions

An important question to ask is how zero emission power generation technologies like wind and solar look on a lifecycle basis. The good news is that while there are carbon costs in manufacture and construction of wind and solar facilities, the lifecycle emissions are vastly lower than fossil generation technologies. See World Energy Council (2004); nuclear power industry sponsored literature review (2011); for additional reviews of wind facility life cycle emissions, see Life cycle costs and carbon emissions of wind power: Executive Summary (2015) or Life cycle greenhouse gas emission from wind farms in reference to turbine sizes and capacity factors (2020); for deeper review for solar, see Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Solar Photovoltaics (2012)

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

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80 Comments

  1. I would be curious if there would be options for Western MA to contribute wind farms, or solar energy. There are areas that have low employment and cheaper land than Eastern MA. I wonder if this is an area to explore.

      1. Maybe they’d trade it for east west rail, eh? Heh, the more time I spend in Springfield the more I sense how tone deaf we in Metro Boston are to their point of view. Shea’s Rebellion II anyone?

  2. On a related topic, in the last year I had solar panel installed on our roof and bought an electric car.
    Brookline has 6 free charging stations in town-owned parking lots in Coolidge Corner (open to anyone, regardless of where you live). To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing similar in Boston. Many people can’t install a Level 2 charger at home and if the City and State want to encourage people to buy electric cars, there need to be a lot more charging stations.
    For solar, https://www.energysage.com/ and https://www.google.com/get/sunroof are great resources. I think the City and State could do more to promote resources like these and help people learn how easy and cost-effective residential rooftop solar can be.
    To the contrary, the Eversource ConnectedSolutions Demand Response program which helps lower carbon emissions of the electrical grid is too complicated and hard to understand the costs and benefits.

  3. Thank you so much for your comprehensive report. I was wondering if any thought has been given to “greening” the MBTA. The use of in-car batteries and power generation from the kinetic energy of the car is being pursued on multiple fronts. If you would like to speak to an expert on this, I can refer you to somebody (he’s even a liberal Democrat!).

    Thanks for working so hard for us.

    1. Thanks, Bob.

      Yes, there is a lot of attention being given to greening the MBTA. Electrification of buses is a high priority to reduce diesel air pollution as well as CO2. The MBTA is actively planning for that transition. Additional electrification of rail is also under study.

  4. I would like to see the state expand efforts to educate about solar, specifically how recent decreases in cost and changed in federal rebates make formerly non economic rooftop solar economically possible.

    Secondly I would like to see a campaign to get parking lot solar deployed. Based on google maps the large town parking lot in Watertown square looks to be an ideal location for lots of solar but I have not seen any efforts to put solar panels on publicly owned lots the way some private enterprises have. REI is a good example that has good publicity, UMass Amherst has similar, but less publicity. If the town could not only install solar but also publicize the process for commercially owned lots that could lower the barrier to adoption for many companies. As a side benefit parking lot solar could reduce snow plowing costs as well as providing shade for cars.

  5. In addition to roof-top solar panels, I would like to see vast areas of blacktop asphalt covered in solar roofing – such as parking lots, which then can have a couple of charging stations. I also love the idea of a half-pipe of (clear) panels over highways – would keep roads snow and thus salt free.

  6. Very insightful analysis. Finding ways to overcome the intermittency issues will be critical in a grid dominated by wind and solar. Using Quebec’s hydro or generating hydrogen are very interesting ideas and have a lot of potential

  7. One issue with solar is lack of incentive for putting solar on buildings on properties in Metro Boston. A significant portion of the residential and commercial buildings are owned by a person or company that rents it out. This ranges from small multi family buildings to larger office and residential buildings. There is a lack of incentive for property owners to put solar on buildings they do not live or work in since they can’t sell power back to the grid at the same rate they would if it was the home they live in. Making changes to the states solar program would be great as it would give property owners a new revenue source and lead to an uptick in solar across Metro Boston.

    One other area outside residential that needs Solar/wind is on state/local property specifically schools and the T. These areas have large roofs and land areas that can house panels and open areas that can support wind turbines. Since these entities can often be larger energy users having energy generation at these sites is a no brainer as it will pay for itself in the long run. Maybe the state can do a no interest loan to these entities to get them to build this out?

  8. What is not addressed here is the fact that so many homes and apartments are heated by oil – it’s not green and extremely expensive. The state should implement a financial incentive (tax breaks and equipment buy backs) for homeowners to convert their heating system from oil to a greener alternative that could eventually be run off of a green power grid. There should also be incentives for new developments to build greener (LEAD certified buildings) buildings. Good for residents who will save money in the long run and a much cleaner energy.

    1. There used to be an incentive program through they state for a 0% interest loan over 5 years to cover for such a conversion, at least from oil to natural gas, but I think that program was phased out a few years ago. It also required a landlord who was amenable to that type of up-front expense, regardless of whether or not the tenants wanted the less-expensive and cleaner/less-smelly form of heating.

  9. I am surprised that hydropower is not part of the discussion, given the number of rivers we have in Massachusetts. Do you know the reason for this omission?

    1. We have rivers, but not rivers with enough elevation drop to make hydropower work at a large scale. What you need is big rivers running out of high mountains like they have in the western states. We don’t have the landscape to hold a big mass of water back and drop it through turbines.

  10. Even if 2 out of 3 new vehicles sold were electric, it would have little impact on climate BUT a severe impact on electrical requirements. Currently federal incentives to purchase EVs has expired (except for newer manufacturers) which makes them expensive to purchase. At the same time there is discussion of a “mileage tax” on these vehicles since they pay no gas tax.
    Wind energy is not cost effective over its life cycle and without storage capability adds little to meeting the increased demand for power.
    We have to find a way to even out the demand over 24 hours by shifting consumption consumption to off peak periods.
    In the early 1960s, electric hot water heaters came with off peak electric meters which carried the incentive of a lower rate charge if water was heated between eleven PM and six AM.
    Many electric meters currently installed have the capability to provide this rate reduction during these off peak periods periods.
    At present there is no incentive for EV owners to charge during off peak hours. Some electric vehicles have the capability of “scheduling” their charging times which would shift significant demand and reward the EV owners as well.
    We have the capability of an immediate impact on demand at literally no cost, no fighting wind farm opponents, and no investing of federal monies in non-cost effective options.

    1. Agreed: Load shifting to off-peak hours is an important strategy and, as you point out, we have the technology to do it. Rolling out time-sensitive electric billing is one of the ideas in the pathways report reviewed in this post.

  11. I’m happy to see the comments about incorporating solar panels into overhead structures that will be more aesthetically pleasing, and serve a dual purpose (shade, snow block),than row after row of solar panels. I think it’s important to foresee the impact of these alternative energy sources. To have solar panels covering acres of grass or, worse, to cut down trees to provide space for these panels seems to create an unhealthy situation in the long run.

  12. It will be interesting to see if we can get to practical Green Hydrogen distribution. As a by-product of either wind or photovoltaic electrical generation, we may see the day when the electricity that moves your car comes from a fuel cell.

  13. One of the huge challenges of long-term projections is that small changes can compound over time to yield very different results over a multi-decade period. In this case, where projects extend out to 2050, it is useful to remember that 30 years ago, there were no smart phones and both mobile communications and laptops were bulky, clunky and not very functional items. Neither wind or solar power was close to being economic back then. And nuclear power was still claiming it was expensive to build but would soon be cheaper; and that once built you couldn’t find a cheaper energy source to run. (They are still hugely expensive to build and claiming new technologies will bring that cost down, but instead of claiming they are cheap to run, the industry is lobbying for subsidies to keep the old plants open).
    Modeling alternative pathways is a good way to try to bound this uncertainty. But it raises two related issues. First, are there breakthroughs that even the report’s modeled breakthrough scenario isn’t picking up on? Photovoltaic paints and transparent PV panels (i.e., windows) are examples, both of which are under development. The coatings in particular would dramatically change the available area on structures that can be used to generate distributed solar, reducing the need for land. The second issue relates to ensuring that the current market structure is providing the proper signaling to accelerate the changes you are seeking. Because R&D and product life cycles often generate incremental and successive learning and improvements in a series of small steps that build on each other, the benefits in terms of cost reductions and better performance also compound over time.
    Existing policy does not always send the proper market signals. For example, if you want to decarbonize an economy, why does energy consumption and fuel purchases in residential and commercial applications continue to be exempt from state sales and use taxes? (Any concerns over energy poverty can be dealt with in other, more targeted ways). A carbon tax and removal of other subsidies to fossil fuels will also help accelerate decarbonization, and would apply to all fossil fuel consumers including industry. Regulatory requirements on fugitive emissions along the natural gas fuel chain (e.g., not allowing utilities to recover the cost of lost gas from rate payers, rapid leak repair requirements for moderate or higher losses, and regular publication of losses and flaring rates and locations along the distribution route) are also important. Not only would these changes reduce the climate impact of the residual period of reliance on natural gas, but the price increases to comply would tilt investment at the margin to other, lower carbon resources.
    Now is also the time to think about downsides of replacement technologies and address them through policy. These are much easier to internalize now than in the future once they are deployed at scale and a large amount of fixed capital is already in place. Unfortunately, the downsides of scaling were not planned for in advance with biofuels, and very bad patterns of global deforestation and biodiversity loss resulted. Wind installations, both on- and off-shore, are large construction projects often in pristine environments. Funding to decommission the installations at the end of their useful lives and reclaim the site, including third party bonding in the case of owner bankruptcy, should be built into the system now. These requirements will have a tiny impact on the levelized cost of energy from the installations, but a big impact in ensuring we don’t have a replay of asset abandonment problems that have plagued the communities hosting oil, gas, and coal extraction.

    1. I buy into the economists’ argument for better “price signalling,” but I’ve come to the point of view that we need to be very careful with that: For too many people, it is just a shot in the pocketbook as opposed to an incentive that they can actually respond to.

      I really like your point about thinking about disposal costs and disposal cycle for expired wind and solar.

      Also well taken: your point about unforeseen break throughs. We need a couple of those!

  14. Madness Will, absolute madness.

    I think anyone inclined to believe these dangerous delusions should first take a good long look at the “credentials” of the twerps on the “Evolved Energy” (San Francisco) crew that you ask us to believe. Not one of them, for one day, has worked on building something meaningful on the real grid. Would you trust five “Doctors” that had never treated one single patient? Most don’t even have relevant technical training. And you waste our hard-earned money on these doubtless costly “reports” from these grifters who, surprise, tell you exactly what fantasy you want to hear. Then, apparently, you believe them.

    Let’s take the solar delusion first. For reference that the public can see, the giant solar array in the Walden Pond parking lot produces 108,100 kWatt-hrs/Year. Sound like a lot? To replace the 1.24 gigawatts, available steady state, 24 hours/day, 365 days/year from Seabrook would require a land area of about 18.2 miles x 18.2 miles, 100% covered by such installations. That’s effectively the entire land area inside of 128. (Seabrook = 0.15 sq miles obtw) And the panels have to be replaced (and landfilled) between 20-30 years as their efficiency declines. China is going to need a lot more coal plants to fulfill your dreams. And, get back to me on a snowy evening in January.

    Windmills…sure Will…15 GW of windmills? Given a laughably optimistic assumption of 25% of actual output of the typical peak rated 2.5 MW rig, you need, oh, optimistically….22,000 large windmills. Offshore, with the need for costly deep oil drilling rig class foundations, they will cost, with infrastructure, perhaps 10 M$ each. That’s well north of 200 B$, easy, just for the build out. For visual reference, that’s a line of windmills (400′ each) >1,600 miles long, an array 6 wide from Boston to Nova Scotia. “Renewable”???…wind turbines last…TWENTY YEARS. (Don’t trust me, ask Vestas) Assume we built this woke Maginot line, it would be ready for ongoing landfill and replacement, almost as soon as they were all up, more than 1,100/year on a perpetual basis! (That’s >3/day, 7/days/week, even at Harvard) Total costs you say…”modestly” higher?? Are you high? AND…the next “perfect storm”, one every 15-30 years offshore New England, would likely knock out many of them permanently as with TX a few months back. Germany tried these wind fantasies already and if you cut through the BS you find they are more dependent than ever on Russian nat gas.

    Any real engineers know this is all a ludicrous fantasy, one sold to gullible politicians like you Will, credulously regurgitating happy talk consultant reports to the dangerously stupid woke. It is an indulgence borne of a lifetime of cosseted wealth provided by earlier generations that built the real grid we depend upon, one now being relentlessly destabilized by fools.

    Soon enough, we are all going to suffer.

    1. To be fair to the study authors, they acknowledge the possibility that the build out may not be feasible – as do I. They note that nuclear may be a necessary alternative if the wind build cannot be accomplished; they point to the great difficulty of siting nuclear facilities — wind and solar are not always easy to site, but siting nuclear may be close to impossible politically (see note 28 in the pathways study).

      Your math appears to be off by roughly a factor of 10 as to both wind and solar. Even taking a high-side of 10 acres/megawatt for installed solar and a below average capacity factor of 15%, then one gets approximately 100 square miles of panels to replace Seabrook — about 1/3 of what you indicate. The pathways analysis estimates 4 acres per megawatt (at page 87), which would bring the land needed down by another factor of 2.5.

      On the windmills, the 15GW is nameplate capacity, so no need to apply a capacity factor. Further, the windmills are bigger – 8 to 14MW each, call it 10MW (see the application to BOEM by Vineyard Wind at page 1-7. The count would 1,500, not 22,000.

      I think the numbers do matter, but even with the right numbers, your basic point is well taken: It’s a lot of construction. I think we need to sustain the conversation to form a collective opinion as to whether it’s doable.

      As to life cycle, even with replacement cycles, the carbon profile of wind power is low – see the multiple studies cited in the boxed text. Solar is not quite as good, but better than fossil.

      The main problem that Germany has had with wind is lack of transmission capacity to connect generating areas in the north to consuming areas in the south. Transmission capacity is one of the challenges we will need to address in the northeast. As to Germany remaining dependent on natural gas, there is a big difference between dependency for base load and dependency for peak need when there is a long stretch of winter calm weather. Preserving the ability to use natural gas or petroleum a few days a year saves huge investments in excess renewable capacity and storage capacity and really has little carbon impact.

      Do you have a different cost analysis? If you have an economic analysis that comes to a different answer, I’d like to see it.

      1. Will, please note y0ur comparison numbers include forecasts, reports, nameplates, so forth, and even then not close to an apples-to-apples 10x better. The numbers I have stated are all comparable, demonstrated, real world numbers, with plausible engineering allowance for improvement, not dreams. Take them as they are. Seabrook has been putting out real power as stated for 30 years. It can easily do so for another 40. And it is a fifty year old design. We could do MUCH better with todays engineering tools. True “zero emissions” electricity. You can measure it. It powers Boston day & night after night.

        I’m likewise using real world, demonstrated numbers for wind and solar, something I have followed closely (and watched lied about by promotors and politicians) for five decades. I stand by them. My Walden solar array number is current, absolute state-of-the-art output for a first-class, ideally sited MA array. You can go and look at it and then imagine covering all of greater Boston with them. You say “only” 100 square miles of panels, not counting access roads, so forth, so 3x less than me. (not 10) Seriously? Even at 100 square miles does that sound like a good idea? And again, it snows here. Output goes to zero for days, sometimes weeks, on end during and after a major winter storm.

        Wind? 2.5 MW (gross) is current realistic for a large windmill. Sure, you may, someday, have some bigger number/mill, 6, 10, 14 whatever, but when, and at what cost? Bigger is not the same as lower cost or project scale. And, fewer, but bigger and more expensive is not the same as a 10x difference. Let me suggest that the current 2.5 – 3 MW will prove close to the practical, cost-effective limit. Engineering works that way. There are engineering matters of physical scale. Costs, forces, speeds, etc go up geometrically with scale. And, there is only so much energy in the wind for a given flow stream. These are highly mature materials and technologies; no Moore’s law effects apply to turbomachinery; progress is fractions of a percent/year. So even if we do get bigger mills, they will not be dramatically more cost-effective. And, if you say we only need a “nameplate” 15 GW from wind, that is only then perhaps 3.5-4 GW actual, sustained base output. So yes, fewer windmills required in that scenario, but also less output…at best 2.5-3 X Seabrook, still requiring by your own numbers 1,000 ++ of humongous, as yet unproven scale windmills, or 4-5000 of realistically, proven-sized mills, somehow sited…where? And, you are talking about incrementally electrifying all cars and trucks, heating, cooling all of our homes, offices, factories, businesses….we need much MORE power than we generate now for the “zero emission” dream to mean anything. And, in the same window you want to replace Seabrook and all of our current nat gas and oil supplied electricity. And you did not touch the implications of the real world of 20 year life cycle for the windmills. Let’s imagine a rough middle of our two estimates…some 5,000 windmills at a peak nameplate of 3 MW…that’s still 250/year that have to be replaced, in perpetuity! And please, show me on the map where you are going to put 1,000’s of these megamills. Show me some real world numbers on fully accounted, ongoing operating costs for such a project. I think my gross 200 Bn$ estimate is quite optimistically low capital cost for such an offshore project. And like a yacht, 20 Bn$/year for maintenance/obsolescence. And, we will still need substantial other infrastructure to back up the wind/solar. We already have the highest electricity rates in the nation; where will they be with this madness in motion?

        My numbers? If we were actually serious about the future we would design and build a uniformly replicable, robust perhaps 300-500 MW nuclear plant (sited on perhaps 10 acres each) and place as many as we need. In 20 years we could confidently get rid of nat gas, coal, and oil for electricity, heating, a/c and gasoline/diesel for motor transport. This is the foundation of a practical, economical, indefinitely sustainable future.

        1. I appreciate the engagement. I look forward to dialoging through these numbers off line.

          Your bottom line point is well taken: Whether one uses the numbers from the recent studies and the industry (as I have) or whether one uses numbers from your experience base (which I respect), we are talking about a program of wind and solar development which is just very big physically and may be hard to implement.

          On the other hand, it has been done elsewhere. As Martyn notes further below: “By the beginning of December 2020, the UK had 10,930 wind turbines with a total installed capacity of over 24.1 GW – 13.7 GW of onshore capacity and 10.4 GW of offshore capacity, the sixth largest capacity of any country in 2019.” A similar scale on a more aggressive timeline.

          1. Agree..with most of Jon’s analysis except for nuclear being a good option. I understand there have been improvements, however situations like Fukishima and Chernoble will continue to happen. I’ve read there is leakage from virtual all nuclear plants in the world. Coal, gas and oil with ever improving scrubbing technologies is the answer. The cult of CO2 reduction is not supported by science…at least non agenda driven science.

  15. Thank you once again, Senator, for a wealth of information (useful details) and your most insightful comments!
    I will have to read again the analysis you shared (Dec 2020 doc), but recognizing solar has more constraints (productivity, onshore), I do not see enough consideration (yet, need to read deeper) of downsides to wind — disruption to seascape (and fishing, shipping, fish & sea life) long term v. short term and disruption to air patterns (birds, etc.) — to me these are non-trivial, and humans need to stop disregarding our earthly co-habitants — especially as this is permanent, change to approach for long-term!
    When considering solar panel placement: need to read deeply to see what report says about impact of having solar on all-feasible residential + commercial properties — where would that get us? Then, as you noted the acreage requirement, are there enough public areas (not requiring literal deforestation at a massive scale) to get us to electrical capacity.
    For me, batteries are a large space utilization, unless we get creative and (like multi-story parking lots) can build battery facilities as needed.
    More again soon…
    Thank you, Senator — most greatly appreciate all you and staff are doing!!!

  16. Add:
    I look at all of this as can-not-be-only-MA — in other words, there are massive tracts of continental USA land that might be useful for solar farms — and a national grid leveraging this… I respect the issue of adequate MA acreage — just simply may not be enough.
    I do think there is an area where nuclear may benefit, but construction and use both have high risks. And current tech (nuclear radiation –> steam –> electricity) is way too inefficient. Need innovation on direct-to-electric capability…

    1. I agree with the point about other geographic areas, such as in the continental southwest. Why not look into purchasing energy credits through offset compacts? My understanding is that some of the universities (ex: BU) incorporated it as part of their long-term strategic investment policy, aside from MA wind farms.

      My understanding also is that locals to the offshore wind farms have objected to the sight lines.

  17. We seem to be hung up on solar and wind as sole sources of electricity. Has anyone investigated geothermal or tidal generation on a mass scale?

      1. Senator B: “I don’t think these sources emerge as cost-effective at scale in Massachusetts.”

        If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll have an opportunity to discuss the potential with the folks at HEET
        https://heet.org//wp-content/uploads/2019/11/HEET-BH-GeoMicroDistrict-Final-Report-v2.pdf

        According to a 2019 Federal DoE report, “Geothermal is America’s untapped energy giant.” https://www.energy.gov/sites/default/files/2019/06/f63/GeoVision-full-report-opt.pdf
        It estimated that the market potential for geothermal heat pumps “in the residential sector is equivalent to supplying heating and cooling solutions to 28 million households, or 14 times greater than the existing installed capacity. This potential represents about 23% of the total residential heating and cooling market share by 2050. Similarly, the economic potential for district-heating systems using existing direct-use geothermal resources combined with EGS [https://www.energy.gov/sites/default/files/2016/05/f31/EGS%20Fact%20Sheet%20May%202016.pdf] technology advances is more than 17,500 installations nationwide, compared to the 21 total district-heating systems installed in the United States as of 2017 (Snyder et al. 2017). These district-heating installations could satisfy the demand of about 45 million households (EIA 2015; McCabe et al. 2019; Liu et al. 2019).”

        Although geothermal heat pumps “can be less expensive in the long run, the cost of ground heat-exchanger loops frontloads the cost burden for consumers and impedes wider adoption of GHP systems.”

        That seems like an appropriate circumstance for intensified government intervention.

    1. Unsure about on mass scale, but my understanding of one of the new BU buildings being constructed on Comm. Ave. is that they’re digging deep enough to draw from & utilize geothermal.

  18. Thanks for the clear explanation. So glad you are involved in helping us get through this transition. A plan is step one, and with so many individuals having to make decisions independently this will not be easy, but this plan gives me hope, and hopefully gives momentum.

    The main reason I voted for Deval Patrick was his stand on building Cape Wind. Still no offshore wind yet, but talking about it started things off. Now let’s build for the future.

  19. “The biggest challenge may be increasing the interconnection with Quebec.” That’s putting it mildly; Maine and New Hampshire residents are … vigorously opposed … to driving huge power lines through their wildernesses. We should assume more-local solutions will be necessary.

      1. There is serious concern that this will have a horrible and unnecessary impact on Maine’s natural environment. It should be rejected, and if the proposals are not viable without it, they should be scrapped.
        The engineers I know say that without nuclear power, this is an impractical and tragic change in our energy systems. I do not believe that technically competent individuals have created this plan, since the engineers I know who specialize in energy issues say this is a tremendously destructive proposal for our economy and for our energy needs.

  20. I don’t and never have lived on the coast, but having visited the cape in my youth and stared out into the primeval night and that gave me something immeasurable. I don’t believe those who have accumulated wealth have a greater right to the unspoiled, transcendent, soul-filling ‘holiness’ of the ocean we all do. But we consume and consume. Can we consume smarter? How much are we willing to lose? How much are we willing to change?

  21. My concern would be that doing anything at the scale needed in Massachusetts is going to cause a great deal of NIMBY, even if overall the new way of powering our society is a net positive for Massachusetts, economically, and environmentally. Look at the opposition which happened on Long Island, where the offshore wind farm was going to land the power underground in the Hamptons. Major lawsuits by rich people, which are only slowly being settled in court. I would suggest that the Commonwealth consider making Highway corridors like 95/128 and such routes for needed new Regional Power Lines to handle the increased need for such infrastructure. Perhaps having a private/public entity to own the new distribution lines where the commonwealth provides the routes, land, say in how the routes are constructed and means to permit the new investments in exchange for a significant percentage of the revenue generated by being equity owners in this needed investment. This way it is not a total imposition by the investors on the communities hosting the infrastructure, but public good that helps all of us.

  22. Why isn’t Gen IV nuclear part of the discussion yet?
    Can you name a single analysis or report commissioned by any government the findings of which, in retrospect, accurately reflected reality? Change one variable in almost any analysis, and you will come up with a completely different result.
    Where is the money going to come from to replace tax revenues lost on rebates/deductions/other financial incentives for solar, etc.?
    Why are our roads and the MBTA so horrible? Yet you think you can manage a complete overhaul of our system more effectively than you manage your current responsibilities?
    You do not seem to be taking our criticisms seriously. We need leaders who are sincere about addressing the issues we are facing by looking at all options available and being willing to compromise so that any changes required negatively affect our lives as little as possible. That is not what is happening here.

    1. The main problem with nuclear is just public sentiment: Where are we actually going to be able to put a nuclear facility now that the public has seen Three Mile Island, Fukashima and Chernobyl? Even if the numbers actually work, it really is hard to imagine getting it built. And the other problem is that the economics are not that favorable in many scenarios.

  23. Currently, on my street, the gas company has spend a lot of money to replace with plastic gas pipe, the over 100 year old cast iron gas pipe. Together with the plastic pipe to hook up every house, the cost is significant, not to mention repaving done today.

    Would this money and more, on every street, be better spent on electrifying every house: solar cells, battery system, charging station (or at least the inexpensive electric cable for the charging station—as necessary?

    Certainly, every “gas” station will want to install charging stations to hold and gain customers for the electric maintenance of the future.

    Such a concept, above, will add to the megawatts of capacity that will be required. The cost of solar, batteries, and wind power will continue to fall. The money not spent on gas pipe replacement, house service, and paving will all contribute to moving us faster toward renewable. Those few who choose not to benefit from lower cost heating, cooling and electric power for appliances and cell phone could be served at the house with propane. See, for example, most houses in the countryside where some have moved from our cities on account of Covid.

    1. Yup. The continued build out of fossil infrastructure is expensive. But if we don’t fix those leaks by pipe replacement, we are also sending a lot of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It’s a tough dilemma.

  24. Thank you Will for presenting this critical component of serious efforts to tackle the impact of Global Warming, which point to the need among other imperatives to electrify buildings and major modes of transport (cars, buses, trains, trucks..). As has been pointed out we have to plan for much higher demand for electricity and an increased dependence on variable sources of power generation, notably wind power and solar. There are major implications for the power transmission infrastructure which like much physical infrastructure in the US has suffered from years of neglect. Not only must its capacity be increased but also its interconnectivity, in contrast to the insanity in Texas in this regard, which I had not appreciated until its recent weather-related disaster. The emphasis on “Lone” in the Lone Star state is misguided and for some of its residents tragically so.

    It is perhaps worth looking at the UK (one of the few positive things I can say about my land of birth since the self- harm of Brexit) because that country is also counting heavily on wind power Like Massachusetts the UK is well situated for this source of renewable energy. Almost a quarter of the UK’s electricity was generated by wind turbines in 2020, double the share of wind power in 2015 and up from a fifth of the UK’s electricity in 2019. By the beginning of December 2020, the UK had 10,930 wind turbines with a total installed capacity of over 24.1 GW – 13.7 GW of onshore capacity and 10.4 GW of offshore capacity, the sixth largest capacity of any country in 2019. There is a target for 40GW of offshore wind power in 2030. Noteworthy also is that in 2020 construction work began on what is set to be the world’s longest submarine electricity interconnection linking the UK’s power system with Denmark. The 765-kilometre ‘Viking Link” cable will stretch from Lincolnshire to South Jutland in Denmark and is scheduled for completion in 2023. I think the cost is about $2.6 billion. Its purpose is to allow the UK to import green electricity from Denmark when domestic generation is low, and export electricity to Denmark when it has a surplus of renewables generation. The “Viking Link” will be capable of delivering 1400 MW at 525 kV. Great Britain currently has four undersea power interconnectors. They link the mainland power grid with Northern Ireland (still part of the UK) as well as France, Ireland and the Netherlands. Alongside the Viking Link, two more are in construction. The 720km North Sea Link will connect the UK with Norway and will be up and running in 2021, while IFA 2 will be the UK’s second connection with France. By 2030, National Grid (a familiar name in Massachusetts) says 90 per cent of electricity imported will be from zero carbon sources. I note ironically that with the exception of Norway all these international grid interconnections are with members of the EU. Location still matters – a basic observation that Brexiteers still seem to be denying. Note also that the links use DC not AC transmission, which for those familiar with the disputes between Tesla (not the car company but Nikola) and Thomas Edison is interesting. For transmission of large amounts of electric power over long distances, direct current (DC) is preferred, because DC has advantages in terms of losses and insulation requirements among other factors compared to AC, while for short electric power cables the characteristics of AC prevail, notably the ease and cost of changing voltage with transformers (the comparison of AC vs DC has several other factors to consider). Links between the US and Canada, which connect two synchronized AC grids that are not synchronized with each other, must use DC.

    The way to cope with the variability in capacity that is inevitably associated with wind and solar power is through a combination of regional and even international (in Massachusetts with Canada) interconnections – in the expectation that the periods of surplus and deficiency in capacity relative to demand will not coincide throughout the region across which significant amounts of power can be transferred – and storage so surplus power can be kept in reserve for delivery when there is a deficit in generating capacity. The technology field of storage is itself complicated and the ultimate mix that will make the most sense unclear (at least to me), including hydroelectric, batteries (emerging solid state batteries versus today’s prevalent lithium-ion batteries with their dirty secret of containing materials the mining and refining of which cause significant pollution and CO2 emissions (Li-ion batteries also raise safety concerns), and longer term perhaps hydrogen energy storage in which electrical power is converted into hydrogen. This energy can then be released later by using the gas as fuel in a combustion engine or a fuel cell. I won’t go into the pros and cons of hydrogen versus battery energy storage here, which in any event are likely to change over time.

    I am optimistic enough to believe that the technologies we need are becoming available and solutions (operational and financial) to admittedly very formidable challenges can be formulated and implemented. But then there is politics, which I perceive in today’s US is THE major obstacle to implementing effective and sensible decisions. Perhaps less so in Massachusetts to the extent we can take necessary steps without depending on a Federal program for green electricity infrastructure, or on the good will or commonsense or sense of decency of one of our major political parties, although money will help. But as noted with respect to the Nantucket wind farm, projects can be derailed or blocked by a few wealthy individuals who may (how shocking!) not have the public interest at heart. There is much to admire and to want to retain in local control and community inputs, but at some point. and in order to tackle some issues, fragmentation of authority among multiple levels of governance and the extension of the right or ability to veto to very many sources leads to paralysis or interminable delays or even ultimately frustration in getting anything done, which we can ill afford in tackling climate change at this stage.

  25. I’m a bit disappointed that your analysis of potential construction sites focused exclusively on NIMBYism, and not on the different ecological impacts that the options would have. I imagine building an offshore wind farm has very different impact compared to building one on a mountain, and that deserves important consideration.

    I also want to echo the other commenters who mentioned nuclear power. It definitely has its problems, but I think it should be part of the discussion.

    1. I’m hearing you on nuclear power. It has to be on the table as an option. Ultimately, the practical question is public acceptance and that may turn on perceptions and reality of improvements in nuclear safety.

  26. I like the idea of making use of Western Mass. One there is space and two it would help to build up their infrastructure. They were some of the people were not able to work or school from home during the pandemic due to poor coverage. I also very much like the idea of hydropower as we have many rivers and lakes. Sunlight is not our biggest advantage, given that New Englanders are the most deficient in Vitamin D. We also have a labor source skilled in navigating waters.

  27. I am concerned that the balance for wind and solar power is hydro. In a warming climate there will be maximum demand for electricity in the warmer months when hydro is more constrained. We may still need to consider small, modular nuclear plants.
    Also, the biggest, cheapest source of energy is energy conservation.

  28. Fascinatingly complex set of issues. I pray that the link (now through Maine) to Quebec Hydro gets built now that I realize it is more important than I had thought. It would be instructive to see a thoughtful non-partisan criticism of Jon’s screed (does he know how off-putting his belittling tone is?). Anyway, I see little or no mention of bold energy conservation initiatives (and tax-based approaches to incentivizing them); don’t know how significant that contribution might be. Lastly, it is way past time that safe nuclear initiatives get broaden support: the real energy is “in the atom’” and so much could be gained by supporting R&D and pilot tests of this ultimate, always on emended energy source. The attitude should be: let’s get about making it safe and able to be a good neighbor…

    1. The huge conservation measure ahead is electrification: Electric vehicles and heat pumps consume much less primary energy than direct thermal combustion. But I agree that conservation is always the best strategy when we make it work.

  29. Has anyone thought about the political power of the energy utility industrial complex? We buy all our energy through a “regulated” monopoly with no real competition for retail supply. Also, the electric car fracas indirectly promotes 1:1 substitution of gas cars with electric cars. This only solves the tail pipe carbon problem. Intercity/commuter rail. promotes sprawl. (look whats happening with MBTA ridership when a disturbance like the pandemic hit) people out in penturbia stop going to boston and now work out there. There are a lot of unintended policy consequences that will occurr if we do not forsee them. Now don’t get me started on the Communication utility industrial complex. Internet connections north of $100 a month and employers requiring/expecting that and not paying for it is another trojan horse.

  30. I believe that the market is moving in the right direction and with incentives and a thoughtful approach can get there more quickly. Nuclear is an important baseload for the short term but is expensive. Nuclear power is generally off or on and not flexible to changes in demand or capacity. Wind and solar are now the more cost effective options but will require support for new transmission. Gas is also cost effective and is the most flexible hydrocarbon fuel. The modern gas plant is efficient and can quickly change to meet gaps in capacity. Using existing hydro is excellent particularly if you can exchange to meet demand in both directions. Hydrogen is early days but should play a major role in distributed generation which will be relied on more in the future. Lithium batteries hopefully will be replace someday with a better technology but is the best right now. There are possible game changers that cannot be relied on but fusion and other technologies will likely produce something that is not viable today but will be transformational in the future. Energy diversity provides grid resiliency and reliability which are minimum requirements as part of the conversation.

  31. I don’t have too much to add here, except to support wholeheartedly the development of renewable energy here in MA, as quickly as possible. There is always a lot of pushback, even from unexpected parties- eg, conservationists opposing turbines or panels based on ecological concerns, liberals complaining because wind mills get in the way of their skylines- but the situation requires urgent action. If there is one thing I learned from my family, it is that they can always find some dumbass reason to oppose anything, at some point you just have to act or the problem will never be solved. Folks pushing for renewable energy in spite of all this deserve major applause.

  32. p. 88 “A policy emphasis on rooftop solar development, as in the DER Breakthrough pathway, can cut land requirement for solar in half.”

    To that I say, “yes please!” My 10 year old is very concerned we not use too much land for solar arrays. Yet I’m concerned he not inherit a hell on earth.

    How is floating photovoltaic looking? Like with wind turbines, up to some limit, sticking stuff 20 miles offshore ought to satisfy all but the most dedicated nimbyists. Maybe we could pave the ocean surface around the wind turbines with solar panels, throw in some storage of some kind and have aggregate solar/wind/storage farms with much smoother output over the spoke lines.

    p. 71 has a graph with two low natural gas pathways: no thermal and 100% renewable primary. They cost about $1400 (2018 dollars) per household over other options (which seem to come with no cost increase !!). Wondering if that’s a price worth paying (with lower income people not paying, of course). There’s also a discussion on a nearby page of rate shock from an uncontrolled exit from gas with certain rate powers left at the table with the cheque. Do we have to keep distributing (and leaking) and burning methane to avoid that? Is $1400/household not worth it to not use this stuff?

    p 80 has discussion of the greater use of wind and the import from Quebec Hydro making storage not interesting to the authors. The paragraph ends with expression of a need for more research for localized benefits, but why can’t storage be used to avoid gas peaking plants? Each pathway keeps a minimum 10GW for that (p. 79). There are various kinds of battery in the works, not all of it lithium, some geared for holding energy over longer time periods, and there’s pumping water around, which the paper mentions elsewhere. Is it that we just can’t hold enough energy long enough versus the ease of burning a bunch of gas?

    I feel like 15 GW won’t be that hard to get to despite our limited progress to date. This is probably driven by overly rosy shows like Energy Week (Brattleboro Community Television) citing Cleantechnica articles, but seems to me GE or, what’s it, the big Danish turbine maker expect to be making offshore towers in the mid 20s of MW each within a few years. You noticed how just in the delays with Vineyard Wind they came out using a 14 MW turbine instead of a 12 or whatever, and used fewer turbines.

    I hope that we build as much offshore wind as the industry can put up and our grid + electrolysis can absorb. What is it with these fishermen anyway? Why do they need two mile clearances or whatever?

    Lastly, the idea that public resistance to electric substations and transmission lines would land us in territory where we give up and build nukes is so hilarious I could cry.

  33. Just to add that one imagines that fusion will be viable in 25 or 50 years. When that comes on line, electric heat will be important to have. That could be old style electric heat, or ground source (but admittedly I have yet to see a well functioning ground source geothermal or even radiant heating system.) Hydrolysis seems inefficient from my high school chemistry experiments at least. Is it more efficient to generate hydrogen from water, or to use batteries? Time will tell. I think the challenge for us is that gas is so much cheaper than traditional electric heat. Can we get the cost of electricity to decrease?

  34. Why isn’t more solar being incorporated onto the roofs of affordable housing construction and existing buildings? And specifically, having those savings generated not passed only to community property (like hallways) but also individual residential tenants/owners? In years past, it had been for a few properties, and yet, not much anymore.

    How much of state/federal/local nonprofit CDC held land that’s being underutilized can be re-zoned for affordable housing, specifically that which utilizes energy efficient appliances and heating features?

    Is there some way to incentivize the local monopolies of energy suppliers into subsidizing incentives for the average person who does not own nor in charge of decisions on a residential asset to utilize solar and return excess energy captured back to the grid? The ROI takes so long to break even for it to be an option for many, especially those who only reside in a property for 5-7 years, and not a full 30 year mortgage rate, especially if break even is often a decade or more out.

    Is there a way to capture tailwinds from Mass Pike corridor traffic, especially near Comm. Ave./Fenway? Or from energy expended with flights taking off from the airport? Or along skyscraper corridors, such as around the Hancock Building? Are the turbines on the top of the Prudential merely decorative or also functional at recapturing wind? Or recapturing heat & exhaust emitted from MBTA subway systems, ex: the sidewalk panels by the BPL?

  35. Over the last 90 years or so, tidal power has been discussed. This source of energy is attractive because it does not rely on wind or sun; it runs two times a day in each direction. The Passamaquoddy Bay Project with an average tidal range of 18 feet between Maine and New Brunswick has been off-and-on proposed as an energy source. Could a much smaller-scale project at the Cape Cod Canal be used as a demonstration project? I’ll bet that some MIT folks could study this.

  36. Will –
    I am hugely heartened by your accounting of the problems and prospects of solar and wind sources of energy for MA and New England as well as the far reaching responses.

    While I’m hoping that the still untapped possibilities of retrofitting will hugely reduce the needs for future electricity, I also wonder whether small time hydro-electric generation might fill in some of the gap. I understand that at least until recently MA requirements for water power installations were hard to satisfy. Yet there are likely to be a number of sites throughout the state where small scale installation could provide a lot of power without interfering with fish migration.
    In this as in other solutions, success may depend most upon an accommodating electric grid –

  37. We have to do something to ameliorate climate change; already we have frequent sunny-day flooding in Boston due to sea level rise. Wind is the affordable low-carbon resource we have in Massachusetts. To use that resource, to get access to get more low-carbon power and storage from out of state, and to make it possible for a lot of citizens to use electric vehicles, we need to build a lot of electric lines and generally upgrade the grid. We need to figure out how to actually get the windmills and electricity transmission lines built, not allow people to delay them indefinitely, as has been our recent practice. Time is not on our side, we have to get moving.

  38. Thanks for the summary, Will. Yes, we need more wind. Solar over every parking lot (watertown square, arsenal mall…). Other thoughts: couldn’t (shouldn’t) the Quebec link go on the seafloor? With close to 40 square miles of surface area, Quabbin reservoir could be covered in floating solar (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Floating_solar), producing a lot of energy and reducing evaporation.

  39. It was about 12 years ago when the developer of the proposed Cape Wind project took me and a few others out to the site of the proposed facility in Nantucket Sound. From there one could hardly see the Cape Cod mainland. Yet, primarily due to the opposition of wealthy landowners (a Koch brother mostly) the project was never built. Now, all these years later, there are only two small off-shore wind facilities in all of U.S. waters. But it’s not simply wealthy landowner opposition to energy projects, there is a great deal of opposition from many sectors. Communities often do not want wind facilities or ground mounted solar. Nor do many want the transmission lines that are needed to connect wind and solar and hydro (which is not without its own environmental issues) to the New England electrical grid. Perhaps the two large off -shore projects, Vineyard Wind and Mayflower, will go forward (although the 45% capacity factor cited seems high) but past experience suggests that the road will not be as smooth as we would like. Environmental and other concerns are real but if we don’t get needed renewable facilities sited we are not going to get anywhere near our needed climate goals.

      1. Bill Gates has spent a lot of time and money trying to develop small scale, replicable nuclear. I’ve never been a proponent of nuclear but I don’t see wind or solar, with imported hydro, getting us to our goal. So, yes, even with its problems small scale nuclear could move us a long way along. However, I also doubt nuclear is viable in New England because of the certain political opposition. (What elected official is going to side with nuclear in the face of vehement resident/community opposition?). As an aside, at one time NE had 8 nuclear units. Now we have 3 and none in MA. If we lose even one of the existing units, our task becomes that much harder. (Indian Point nuclear in New York was just retired making it harder for NY to meet its similar goals.).
        Wish I had a solution.

        Wish I had a solution

  40. Dear Senator Brownsberger,

    Nuclear is definitely on the table for me because even with many periodic accidents the morbidity and mortality is less than what we are suffering from from burning coal. Thank you.

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