The New Climate Roadmap

Discussion with Senator Mike Barrett, the lead senator on the roadmap bill, recorded here. More detail on the transportation sector here.

Today, the Governor indicated that he would sign “An Act creating a next-generation roadmap for Massachusetts climate policy.” The new roadmap sets aggressive goals for reduction of greenhouse gases over the next three decades. We will need to work very hard to achieve the goals we have set with this legislation.

The roadmap bill strengthens the Global Warming Solutions Act, originally passed in 2008. The GWSA set a goal of reducing carbon emissions 80% by 2050 (as compared to 1990 levels). The GWSA called on the secretary of environmental affairs to set an interim goal for 2020 and the secretary chose a 25% reduction goal for 2020. We are waiting for the latest data, but we may be close to achieving that initial goal, having reduced emissions by 22.5% through 2017.

Source: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/ghg-emissions-and-mitigation-policies (see detailed charts at bottom of page)

The new roadmap requires that Massachusetts’ net emissions must be zero or below zero by 2050. Net emissions means gross emissions as reduced by ongoing forest growth and other processes that remove carbon from the atmosphere. Under the bill, gross emissions must also be less than 15% of 1990 levels by 2050, regardless of offsetting reductions. In my view, net zero is not an endpoint — it is a milestone on the way to net negative. The science suggests that we will need to be net negative in the future if we are to fully control climate change.

The roadmap requires that the secretary of environmental affairs define interim goals every five years and requires that the 2030 goal must be at least 50% below 1990 levels. The legislation requires that emissions sub-goals be defined for each sector of the economy — electric power, transportation, commercial and industrial heating and cooling, residential heating and cooling, industrial processes, and natural gas distribution and service.  The last sector brings natural gas leaks within the scope of the planning process.

In addition to defining a more aggressive roadmap, the legislation strengthens transparency and accountability, requiring clear planning as to how each goal and sub-goal will be achieved and prompt reporting on whether each has been received.

The legislation gives the secretary a mandate to regulate all emissions sources to achieve the roadmap goals. The legislation makes clear that the imposition of a carbon fee on one or more types of fossil fuel is a permissible option. The original senate bill required the secretary to impose carbon fees on different sectors on a set timeline, but the final version leaves it to the secretary as to when and whether to use carbon fees to achieve reductions.

Additional provisions in the bill that will support accomplishment of the roadmap goals include:

  • A new “net zero” building code option for municipalities.
  • A statutory mandate for the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to consider safety, reliability and greenhouse gas emissions as well as cost.
  • A requirement that the DPU factor in the social cost of carbon when it evaluates cost-effectiveness of energy savings measures.
  • Acceleration of the renewable portfolio standard so that electric utilities will need to purchase 40% of their power from renewable sources by 2030.
  • Strengthened appliance efficiency standards.
  • Programs to expand the rate benefits of solar energy to lower income areas.
  • A requirement that municipal lighting systems achieve the carbon emission reductions on the same schedule as the roadmap.
  • More support for energy innovation through the Clean Energy Center.
  • Various helpful adjustments in net metering for solar.
  • Increase of required wind procurements from 1600 megawatts to 4000 megawatts. An additional 1600 megawatts is authorized but not required under existing law.

We will need all available tools and likely others that have not been developed to achieve the goals in the new roadmap. Over the past 30 years, we have reduced emissions roughly 25%, but over the next ten we are proposing to cut emissions another 33% from where we now and in the following decade another 50% from where we will be then.

This acceleration in the pace of reduction is likely to be challenging since roughly half of the emission reductions that we have achieved so far have been due not to our energy efficiency and solar and wind programs, but to low natural gas prices and commercially reasonable decisions to switch to natural gas from oil and coal. Ironically, the low prices are the result of plentiful natural gas produced by environmentally harmful fracking.

Factoring out the switch to natural gas, over the past 30 years our policy interventions have cut emissions by 10% or 15%. We have been systematically choosing the most cost-effective and easiest policies to implement. Over the next ten years we hoping that our policy interventions will cut emissions 33% — we are trying to do three-fold more than we have done so far in a shorter timer frame and we have already exercised the most fruitful policy options.

It is our hope that the interim goal setting and the strong transparency provisions in the bill will keep the executive branch, the legislative branch and all observers intellectually honest and well-focused on the challenge we face.

There is a whole additional dimension of what this legislation does: It creates new rules to assure environmental justice to disadvantaged communities. More on that important step forward in future discussions.

Resources

Note on the Role of Fuel Switching since 1990

A little over 2/3 of the emissions reductions that we have achieved since 1990 have been in the electric power sector. Total retail sales of electricity in Massachusetts have actually risen by 13% since 1990. Most of the reduction in electric power emissions has been due to switching from coal and oil to natural gas for electric power generation. Although natural gas is a fossil fuel, it generates less carbon dioxide per unit of energy when burned. Most of Massachusetts gas comes from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania.

In 1990, 82% of the power generated in Massachusetts was from fossil fuel generating plants, mostly coal and oil, only l5% from natural gas. In 2019, 72% of Massachusetts power generation was still from fossil fuel but that was almost all from natural gas. Other variables held constant, that change in electricity generation fuel mix alone would bring down electric power emissions down by 40% and account for roughly half of the total reduction in carbon emissions.

In fact, Massachusetts has lost a lot of generating capacity as it as closed coal and nuclear plants. Massachusetts generated 78% of its own power in 1990 but only 39% of its own power in 2019. However, the power sources imported used on the New England grid are also heavily natural gas.

The building energy sector accounts for most of the reductions since 1990 not accounted for by the electric power sector. Insulation, windows and other efficiency measures have reduced the need for heat energy, but people swapping oil burners out for more efficient gas burners also contributes.

These are rough calculations, but should suffice to show that switching to natural gas accounts for a middling share of our measured emission reductions. Of course, given all the leaks associated with gas drilling and distribution and the high global warming impact of methane, these reductions may be illusory.

A major limitation of the crude analysis above is that does not give any credit for emissions avoided through efficiencies in a growing sectors (like vehicle efficiency in the transportation sector). For a more sophisticated and more generous estimate of the contribution of policy interventions to emissions reduction in Massachusetts through 2016, see the Global Warming Solutions Act — 10 Year Progress Report at page 10 which concludes that “Of the 20.2 MMTCO2e reduced in 2016 from the 1990 baseline level, approximately 11.6 MMTCO2e [57%] are attributed directly to the implementation of GHG mitigation policies from 2010 to 2016.”. This estimate does factor in coal plant closures, but does not appear to factor in the idling of petroleum based generating capacity which now is used only to meet peak needs or when there is a gas shortage.

The available emissions data as of this writing does not factor in the recent closure of the Pilgrim nuclear plant which accounted for 16% of Massachusetts power generation in 2018. To the extent this base load capacity is replaced with greater reliance on natural gas, we will lose ground in our efforts to reduce emissions.

Emissions detail data (supporting graph)

The table below shows the actual numbers for selected years for the graph further above. 2017 is the last full year for which data available as of this writing. Through 2017, according to this inventory, gross green house gas emissions had declined by 22.8% since 1990, from 94.5 MMTCO2E to 73.0 MMTCO2E. The MMTCO2E abbreviation refers to million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. There are greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide, notably methane, but in this analysis, they are converted to the equivalent quantities of carbon dioxide — equivalent in the sense that they would have the same impact on global warming. The equivalency value is sensitive to the time horizon of analysis — some gases breakdown quickly in the atmosphere. See gas summary tab in Appendix C to Greenhouse Gas Baseline, Inventory & Projection (Mass DEP): In 2017, using a 100 year horizon for equivalency computations, carbon dioxide accounted for 88.8% of greenhouse gas emissions. The CO2 share has remained roughly constant since 1990.

Emissions (MMTCO2E)19901995200020052010201520162017
Building Consumption29.529.528.526.424.424.921.923.3
Electricity Consumption28.224.726.729.522.915.614.713.6
Mobile Combustion30.530.133.634.930.329.531.530.5
Natural Gas Systems2.42.01.71.31.00.80.80.8
Industrial Processes0.71.32.52.83.43.83.83.8
Agriculture & Land Use0.30.40.30.30.30.30.20.2
Waste2.72.71.11.20.90.80.80.8
Gross Emissions94.590.794.496.583.275.873.873.0

Source: Appendix C to Greenhouse Gas Baseline, Inventory & Projection (Mass DEP)

The chart below shows the change in each sector since 1990.

Emissions (MMTCO2E) — CHANGE SINCE 199019901995200020052010201520162017
Building Consumption0.0-0.1-1.1-3.1-5.2-4.6-7.6-6.2
Electricity Consumption0.0-3.5-1.51.3-5.3-12.6-13.5-14.6
Mobile Combustion0.0-0.43.14.4-0.2-0.91.10.1
Natural Gas Systems0.0-0.4-0.8-1.1-1.4-1.7-1.7-1.7
Industrial Processes0.00.61.82.12.73.03.13.1
Agriculture & Land Use0.00.00.00.00.0-0.1-0.1-0.1
Waste0.00.0-1.6-1.6-1.8-1.9-1.9-2.0
Gross Emissions0.0-3.7-0.12.0-11.2-18.7-20.7-21.4

Source: Calculations from Appendix C tp Greenhouse Gas Baseline, Inventory & Projection (Mass DEP)

Published by Will Brownsberger

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

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19 Comments

  1. I would love to convert to solar power. But I have a three family house and each floor pays there own utilities. If the solar power can find a way to split the use by apartment then each tenant can still pay for their own use.
    How do these big condo apartment building that have sprung up in Watertown handle the issue of have the owner/tenant pay for their own useage?

    1. There are a lot of possible models. In a three family, it may make sense to allocate the power to one unit. It is entirely likely that the biggest array you can install will only support one unit. Alternatively, you separate the array and have several power downfeeds. You can also do more complex accounting for power across units with appropriate metering.

      1. There are several cooperative/community solar arrays in MA. People who are low income or who do not own a residence can join in supporting the construction of this type of array and receive reduced electricity prices and benefits depending on their contribution. People who are able to give an initial loan or financial contribution get back more money more quickly than those who do cannot afford to do that. Coop Power in Greenfield has a website with more information.

  2. Would be nice to get the renewable power from Hydro Quebec if only the uber enviros would stop blocking the Northern Pass power line.

    1. The cost and environmental degradation from this powerline will be huge. Instead MORE power could be generated by the Vineyard Wind offshore wind turbines that are planned. Construction could have begun earlier but roadblocks were thrown up by several different groups. Offshore wind turbines work at night and in winter when winds are steady and strong. They would be located near our metro areas and electricity could flow into EXISTING power transmission lines that used to carry power from Pilgrim Yankee Nuclear facility. New large wind tubines can generate 5 to 12 MW of power EACH depending on their size and the wind speeds. Migrating birds can fly through them because they rotate slowly and are not close together. ( Many migrating birds now die by smashing into sky scraper glass and our smaller birds are killed by cats). The metal and cement used in constructing these wind turbines would be LESS than the concrete and steel that would go into constructing the thousands of transmission towers and many hundreds of miles of new lines that would have to be constructed to bring hydro from Canada. And global warming will affect this hydro supply, while the offshore wind arrays could be expanded as needed because they would be entirely under US control. RI and VA are interested in offshore wind and once the first big array is constructed, this source of electricity will be get easier and less expensive to construct.Vineyard Wind will create permanent higher paying jobs in MA. Check out what has been happening in Denmark and the UK over the last 2decades to see the statistics and costs vs benefits.

  3. Will – thanks so much for this helpful summary and all your work on this critical issue. I’m wondering what are the most important steps that citizens can take to help achieve these goals.

  4. Thanks, Will. It seems like we’re making some progress.
    I’m concerned about the net-metering fees that power companies are using to kill rooftop solar. Especially in ideal solar states of the South West. Can we prevent that in MA?
    I’m also concerned about crypto-currency mining which, from what I’ve read, is a huge waste of energy and does little for society other than perpetuate its already inherent inequalities. The Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index (https://cbeci.org/) has good data, if you’re interested.

  5. Thanks for this update. It is a hard time to think about public transportation, but that will need to be part of the solution. Also hard to achieve ambitious carbon reduction without a specific plan for Logan Airport. Lastly, wind turbines are creating a new set of noise problems (An ENT at Mass Eye and Ear told me the low-frequency noise from turbines changes the structure of the ear. Nothing is easy!). Solar may be a better option.

  6. What the bill is mum over is encouraging off-grid options for residential construction.
    I don’t hear talk about the over dependence on the energy utility industrial complex. Like the natural gas system, there are also a lot of “transportation charges” and customer charges. The electric grid will have to grow 3 times the size it is now and I am concerned about how and who is going to pay the burden to fund this. Years ago I was going to switch to gas (from oil) but now kiss my furnace for providing utility independence. Since I am shortly going to switch from gas to propane for my kitchen range and demand hot water heater and save over $120 year in customer charges. After seeing what life is like in Texas after their grid failure, I was cured of the desire to try heat pumps. I have a chain saw engine portable electric generator that provides sufficient power for basic electric necessities like heat light and fridge.
    during our frequent outages. With an expanded electric grid, we need to keep vigilant over the utility system’s grab for power over the consumer. No energy competition.

  7. Complicated issue and report. First and foremost we need to continue increasing our conservation measures: insulation, efficiencies, habits. Major concern is the lumping together of wind power and solar sources of energy as if the impact of each is the same. Wind power especially off shore but anywhere is inefficient, destructive to our vital oceanic resource. Each turbine takes an acre of seabed floor plus trenching for transmission to consumers. The longer the transmission, the greater the loss of power. The ocean is a vast vital resource that we are constantly damaging in many ways. No point in enumerating the obvious.
    Turbines damage the ocean habitat and birds and on land, kill birds and bats. PV solar most effectively needs the development of better storage batteries and solar “farms’ placed on already disturbed land such as parking lots, large buildings etc. The Speaker’s latest plan for off shore wind needs to be addressed before it progresses!

  8. I can’t help but think that an annually increasing green house gas tax applied to all goods with proceeds going exclusively to supplementing energy reduction would be a terrific incentive for folks to switch to lower emission solutions more quickly. It would make gas powered cars more expensive to own, while subsidizing the cost of electric vehicles. It would make gas and oil heat more expensive while subsidizing the cost of buying and installing heat pumps.

    If applied to all goods regardless of where they were produced, it would drive changes in unforeseeable ways in transportation, material selection, production techniques, and even affect individuals’ selection of services.

  9. You mentioned, “Increase of required wind procurements”. From what I have been reading, the law isn’t aiming at creating more of any old kind of wind farms. Rather, this is all about OFFSHORE wind which is a distinction worth noting for everyone (even though I have a little obvious bias!).

    This is all so exciting Will. Thank you for your work on this and as always, thanks for delving into and sharing the details so well. I look forward to listening in on the session with Sen. Barrett.

  10. Senator
    Thank you for sharing this information. I feel strongly that there is more that the Town of Belmont can do to address this crisis. I intend to focus on it when I re-join the Select Board and would
    welcome your thoughts on it.

  11. It’s all very interesting, but how that bill will effect the public transportation? Especially because we are not done with COVID?

  12. Will: I seems like a supreme irony to me that the Town of Belmont is considering placing two colossal GAS tanks, above ground ! at a time when they should be working actively toward an all -electric Town fleet of vehicles! Also it seems to me risky to place such alot of inflammatory liquid
    in plain sight of some crazy who loves big explosions.

  13. Very happy about this.

    Among other things, offshore wind near 5 GW gives me hope. Solar at that order of magnitude to complement its kind of capacity factor would be nice too. The negative comments above regarding offshore wind sound very dubious to me. Hope you don’t take that seriously (or if there’s real evidence behind those thoughts that someone shares a proper source).

    I’m also grateful for Sen. Barrett’s work and you of course for always being strong on this issue (and apparently a “go to guy” to Sen. Barrett).

  14. I’m not sure a state senator is in a position to influence this much, but for electric cars, “size matters”. Smaller cars means smaller batteries and smaller motors, and smaller additional load on our electrical supply while we’re trying to decarbonize. And, for their owners, smaller batteries will charge more quickly. (Electric cars are not my first choice, but I assume they’re part of our future.)

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