FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, May 6th at 12pm
New Report on Clean Energy Transition in New England
A new report on clean energy decision-making in New England highlights how responsibility for fossil fuel projects comes down to a handful of key players. The Applied Economics Clinic, a non-profit consulting group, analyzed six ongoing energy justice advocacy campaigns to compile information on which entities held the authority to adjust or reverse course on the projects. The most common decision-makers across the six case studies were the regional energy grid operator, Independent System Operator-New England (ISO-NE), governors, and the Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
“ISO-NE plays a critical role in determining New England’s energy mix,” said the report’s lead author Dr. Bryndis Woods, Senior Researcher at the Applied Economics Clinic. “In theory, ISO-NE is an unbiased facilitator of the region’s electric markets, but in practice, the line between energy markets and policy is blurred. We find that changes at ISO-NE have the potential to render many polluting New England energy projects less competitive.”
The report delves into advocacy efforts being spearheaded by local groups, ranging from longtime organizations to brand new community activists. The six campaigns include opposition to the proposed peaker plant in Peabody, MA; continued operation of New England’s last coal-fired power plant in Bow, NH; three existing peaker plants in Berkshire County, MA; a proposed gas-fired power plant in Killingly, CT; a proposed gas pipeline between Longmeadow and Springfield, MA; and an approved electric substation in East Boston awaiting construction.
Given the overlapping authority of various state and regional entities, advocates are often met with decision-makers passing the buck and claiming no authority. “One of the things I’m learning as a retiree who became a full-time climate activist, there is always an element of the absurd involved, as well as a large learning curve to understand the energy field and endless acronyms,” said Sudi Smoller of Breathe Clean North Shore. “When we first asked about Special Project 2015A in March 2021, government leaders claimed not to know about the peaker plant proposed eight years ago. They said the Peabody Municipal Light Plant (PMLP) was responsible, and the Light Commission sent us to the owner of the new plant, who then pointed to ISO-NE.”
In a well-functioning, democratic, and transparent energy regulatory system, accountability to customers and impacted communities should be a given. “Right now, our energy regulatory system is designed to benefit corporate utility companies and to disempower those impacted by polluting, climate-killing energy projects,” said Naia Tenerowicz of the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition. “Information is hard to find and official reports are written in highly technical, inaccessible language. We need our utilities to be a public service, not a public burden.”
Publishing this report and clearly delineating the players involved in local energy projects being developed empowers community members to seek real answers and participate as informed stakeholders. “We were amazed at how removed the entire process of grid improvements is from the people who will be directly affected by these decisions,” explained John Walkey, Director of Waterfront and Climate Justice Initiatives at GreenRoots. His organization is fighting the proposed East Boston substation. “There is very little opportunity for environmental justice communities to even know that these projects are being planned, much less give an informed opinion on them.”
While the report highlights state decision-makers such as the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the Energy Facilities Siting Board, state legislators also play a crucial role. “We engaged with state and municipal leaders in conversation with peaker power plant owners, putting pressure on them to transition to clean energy and storage,” said Rosemary Wessel of Berkshire Environmental Action Team. “These dialogs revealed gaps in climate and energy policy that made it difficult for well-intentioned plant owners to do the right thing and transition their business model. Our legislators are now working on eliminating some of the regulatory inequities that have been obstacles for plant owners, and three Western Mass power plants are scheduled to transition by the end of 2023.”
The influence of ISO-NE on all of these projects cannot be ignored. As the report mentions, “ISO-NE—via its markets—selects which energy resources will be used in the future and which utility companies will supply them.” Very rarely, these market mechanisms shake out in favor of the activists fighting new fossil fuel infrastructure in their communities: in Killingly, CT, a proposed gas power plant was essentially defeated when ISO-NE withdrew the plant’s future capacity contract and accompanying payments for not meeting its deadline to be available on the grid.
More often, however, the regional grid operator is the key facilitator in keeping some of our oldest and dirtiest generation facilities on the grid. “Merrimack station, the last coal-fired plant in New England, is only profitable because it is subsidized with payments garnished from our electricity rates, without our consent. If you live in New England and pay an electric bill you are funding this coal plant. This plant emits more CO2 in one hour of operation than the average American does in 26 years of their life. As a parent to small children living in Bow, NH, four miles from the plant, I am appalled at the ability for this plant to intimidate people in town while polluting our air, land, water and climate. We need this plant to transition to a renewable energy source,” Mary Fite of 350NH’s Bow Node said.
This report makes clear that a rapid and just transition to a clean, renewable electric energy system hinges on the choices of a small set of decision-makers. Community Action Works Energy Justice Director Mireille Bejjani called on these players to step into their authority and assume a leadership role: “Though ISO-NE, our governors, state legislators, and agencies all want to pass the buck, they have a part to play in building the grid of the future. We have the technology and the resources to make New England an energy justice leader, we’re just missing the political will.”
Fix the Grid is a grassroots campaign in the Northeast that aims to accelerate a just transition to a democratic, transparent and renewable electric grid. We focus on pushing regional energy regulators to incentivize clean energy like wind and solar power, instead of keeping us hooked on polluting fossil fuels that exacerbate the climate emergency and harm our most vulnerable communities.
Our vision: We need an energy grid that works for all of us and moves us to the clean, local, renewable energy system that we need. Fix the Grid is calling for ISO-NE to create an energy grid that:
- Stops propping up dirty energy electrical generation sources for use in the Northeast
- Transitions to 100% renewable energy through conservation, demand reduction, electrification, and expansion of clean, local, safe renewable energy sources
- Encourages small-scale and decentralized energy production and storage that protects our air, water, soil, forests, environment, and communities
- Is governed transparently and democratically with community input on infrastructure siting
- Is affordable and accessible for all.