A court-ordered clean energy plan to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions in Massachusetts could increase emissions for the whole New England region.
Gov. Charlie Baker’s (R) administration devised the plan to comply with Massachusetts’ state Supreme Judicial Court’s 2016 ruling requiring further limits on greenhouse-gas emissions.
Court Requires Emission Cuts
In Kain et al. v. Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), Massachusetts Energy Consumer Alliance, and four teenage plaintiffs asserted DEP failed to set legally binding limits on greenhouse-gas emissions, as required under the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA). The state argued GWSA required DEP only to set emissions targets, not hard caps, and gave the agency broad discretion over how to reach them.
On May 17, 2016, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled against DEP, ordering the state to implement regulations to meet carbon-emissions-reduction mandates required by GWSA.
“The purpose of [the law] is to attain actual, measurable, and permanent emission reductions in the Commonwealth … by the 2020 deadline,” wrote Justice Robert J. Cordy in his opinion for the court.
Cordy wrote GWSA requires the state to set “limits on multiple greenhouse gas emissions sources … [that] must decline on an annual basis.”
Mass. Cuts Increase Emissions
In response to the court’s ruling, Baker’s plan mandates state power plants begin cutting their emissions. Starting in 2018, power plants must achieve 2.5 percent annual reductions. The plan would also require Massachusetts power plants to shut down once they reach their annual greenhouse-gas limits, and it would cap transportation-sector emissions and require utilities to capture emissions from natural gas mains.
An analysis conducted by New England’s regional independent electric systems operator (ISO-NE) projected Baker’s proposal will increase electricity costs in the region by approximately $42 million per year while increasing greenhouse-gas emissions in New England.
Citing ISO-NE’s report, in testimony at a DEP hearing concerning the plan, Dan Dolan, president of the New England Power Generators Association, said implementing these regulations would increase greenhouse-gas emissions as Massachusetts imports a larger proportion of its electricity.
“While Massachusetts plants have their ability to operate severely curtailed, electricity demand will still have to be met,” said Dolan. “Plants in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and other states that are less efficient and higher-emitting will run more. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Natural Gas Prices Spiking
Paul Bachman, director of Research at the Beacon Hill Institute, says during the past few winters, Massachusetts essentially shut down its coal power plants, relying instead almost exclusively on natural gas power plants for baseload electricity.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t put the infrastructure in place and we don’t have enough natural gas pipelines coming in, so all the natural gas goes toward heating and the natural gas power plants have to brown out for a bit,” Bachman said.
“A couple of winters ago, on very, very cold days, we were seeing natural gas prices spike at over $100 per million BTU, well beyond the $3.05 market value,” Bachman said.
Bachman says that is a portent of things to come.
“It will be a situation where you have brownouts and/or you have to find the marginal producers, which is usually oil-based producers, which is much dirtier, and you’ll probably have to run longer periods, not just peak days, and become more a part of the baseload power supply,” said Bachman. “Recently, we’ve had the fourth-highest electricity prices in the country, and they may be rising.”
Perception Comes First
CLF attorney David Ismay acknowledges DEP’s emissions-reduction plan may increase emissions overall.
“It would be worth the possibility of a small rise in emissions, because we would be sending a clear, strong signal to the market that the future of power in Massachusetts will be clean and renewable,” Ismay told the Boston Globe on February 13.
Bachman says the fact greenhouse-gas emissions cuts from Massachusetts’ power plants will increase overall emissions shows environmentalists actually care more about being perceived as doing something to fight climate change than actually fighting climate change.
“This plan means they are not worried about emissions; they’re more worried about how it looks,” Bachman said.
Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.
Seth D. Jaffe, “Comments from the New England Power Generators Association on Proposed Regulations Under Global Warming Solutions Act,” New England Power Generators Association, February 24, 2017: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/comments-from-the-new-england-power-generators-association-on-proposed-regulations-under-global-warming-solutions-act-3d-310-cmr-774