Can Massachusetts, and the other New England states, fundamentally change our energy system to reduce carbon emissions while supporting our growing economy and keeping our energy costs down?  Three experts gave a resounding “yes” – if we act wisely.

The electric sector is the backbone of greening the grid, said Peter Shattuck, Acadia Center’s Clean Energy Initiative Director and Director of the Massachusetts Office. How do we green the grid?  Shift gas vehicles and fossil fuel heated buildings to electricity; follow California and New York’s lead and target 50% renewables by 2030; extend RGGI (the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative); increase energy efficiency; adopt time varying rate charges; and develop energy storage solutions.  Such policies pay off: for example, every $1 invested in energy efficiency generates $2.40 in returns.

Offshore wind delivers energy when and where it is needed most, Matthew Morrissey, the founding Managing Director of Offshore Wind Massachusetts, pointed out. In 2015 the offshore wind industry grew 40% globally and had 10,000MW in operation.  The prequalified lease areas off the Massachusetts coast have 8,000MW of offshore wind generating capacity.  This offshore wind will be fully competitive with fossil fuels by 2020-2030, even at the modest procurement level the Massachusetts legislature currently is considering.  Developing the industry to scale will further drive down the price of this local, clean energy resource.

Decoupling energy from economic growth has been a great success for the New England region, according to Christophe Courchesne, Chief of the Environmental Protection Division at the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.  For the first time in US history, electric ratepayers have been asked to subsidize the cost of building new gas pipelines.  The AG’s Office commissioned a study to address whether those pipelines are needed to keep the lights on in New England.  The answer is “no,” electric reliability will be maintained even without new pipelines because energy efficiency investments are lowering peak need even as the economy grows.  Energy efficiency with demand response is the lowest risk, lowest cost solution to keeping the lights on in New England.

Many thanks to our host, the Foley Hoag law firm.

Nancy D. Israel is an E2 New England Chapter Director.