Berkshire Gas Co. this month launched a program that could make its Western Massachusetts service territory less dependent on the very fossil fuels it sells.
The natural gas utility on Dec. 5 announced $1 million in "alternative heating" grants to help eight communities affected by Berkshire's longstanding moratorium on new or expanded energy service.
The company in 2014 and 2015 imposed the bans on new service, citing pipeline constraints -- and recently said it had abandoned any immediate plans to lift the moratorium. The company deemed that building new pipeline or liquefied gas storage to serve the area would be too expensive.
In announcing the grant, Berkshire invited the towns of Deerfield, Greenfield, Montague, Sunderland, Whately, Amherst, Hadley and Hatfield to send their proposals to the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, or DOER.
"Recognizing the challenges imposed by the moratorium, Berkshire Gas sought the opportunity to support jobs and economic development through the alternative heating program," the company said in a news release. (read more)
Cambridge’s Transit Committee to pitch dozens of ideas to MBTA for improved bus service (Wicked Local Cambridge 12/17/18)
Important changes to Cambridge’s public bus system are in the works.
Potential ideas include a bus service from Harvard Square to Assembly Square in Somerville, a bus-only lane at the BU Bridge rotary, and bus lanes into and out of Alewife Station.
The list of 30 draft proposals was pitched by the Transit Advisory Committee to Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Senior Transportation Planner Andy Smith on Dec. 5, during its monthly meeting at the Cambridge Senior Center.
The committee - composed of Cambridge residents, local business owners, and representatives of institutions - handles planning and funding for transportation. At the meeting, seven of the committee’s 21 members sat around a table and used a map to show potential changes. The ideas were part of the state’s Better Bus Project, an initiative program by the MBTA that hopes to make service changes and improvements statewide by 2020.
“We hope as a whole it continues to improve the reliability and the ability of the service to meet the residents and the visitors and the workers needs,” said Tegin Teich, senior transportation planner for Cambridge.
The set of ideas and concepts shared Tuesday came from TAC members themselves, but also from Cambridge residents -- over 500 of them -- who participated in online surveys. (read more)
In landmark agreement, Mass., eight other states vow to cut transportation emissions (Boston Globe 12/18/18)
In a landmark agreement to address climate change, Massachusetts and eight other Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states have agreed to create a system to impose regionwide limits on transportation emissions, the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution.
Under the agreement, announced Tuesday, the states, which extend as far south as Virginia, have one year to develop a framework that caps the region’s overall transportation emissions and requires fuel distributors in those states to buy pollution permits for some of the carbon they produce.
“Reducing transportation emissions is imperative to combating the causes of climate change and meeting Massachusetts’ aggressive greenhouse gas reduction targets,” Governor Charlie Baker said in a statement.
If approved, the agreement would be modeled after the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a nine-state regional “cap-and-invest” system for power plant emissions known as RGGI. Widely seen as a national model, the mandatory market-based program has helped reduce power plant emissions from Maryland to Maine by about 40 percent below 2005 levels without raising average electricity prices. (read more)
No more gas-powered cars. Frequent commuter rail trains, running all day. Maybe even hefty fees on drivers who insist on driving into downtown Boston and adding to the already fearsome traffic.
This could be the futuristic vision of getting around Massachusetts in just a few decades, as recommended Friday by a commission assembled by Governor Charlie Baker to tackle some of the most vexing transportation challenges, including ever-growing congestion, pollution, and decrepit infrastructure.
At the heart of the mammoth report’s many recommendations, said Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, is fixing public transit and putting it on sound financial footing, with the explicit goal of reducing the number of cars on the road.
“Whether today or in the future, we simply must move more people in fewer vehicles if we are serious about reducing congestion and greenhouse gas pollution,” Pollack said.
So maybe it’s no surprise the gas guzzler comes in for a bit of a drubbing.
Massachusetts should develop tools to phase out the use of gas-powered cars and light trucks after 2040, the commission said, by offering rebates and other incentives to steer people to electric vehicles, for example. While internationally, France, the United Kingdom, and others are moving toward such policies, in the United States only California has come close to even broaching such an aggressive idea. (read more)
The blockbuster auction for offshore wind leases that wrapped up Friday should leave few doubts: The industry has finally arrived in New England.
Three developers backed by major European energy companies paid a record $405 million to gain access to 390,000 acres of federal waters nearly 20 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. These firms will each pay $135 million to the federal government for the rights to build massive windmills in their respective slices of the ocean.
“We are completely blown away by this result,” Walter Cruickshank, acting director of the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, told reporters after the auction ended.
Cruickshank was speaking for the agency that oversaw the auction, but he also summed up much of the industry’s reaction.
Until now, the record for an offshore wind lease was held by Statoil, which agreed two years ago to pay $42 million to win control of nearly 80,000 acres off New York’s coastline. (read more)
Gov. Charlie Baker’s bill that would require more oversight by engineers of natural gas work got a boost Tuesday when it was endorsed by the state’s public utility companies.
After natural gas explosions killed one person and caused massive property damage in the Merrimack Valley, Baker proposed legislation that would require all natural gas work that could pose a risk to public safety be approved by a certified professional engineer. The bill is pending before the Legislature.
At an oversight hearing before the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy with top executives from the state’s five natural gas utilities, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, asked if any of them believe lawmakers should not pass Baker’s bill.
“We support that bill and do hope that bill moves forward,” said Stephen Bryant, president and CEO of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, the company responsible for the gas explosions. The other four executives appeared to nod in agreement, and none spoke out against the bill. (read more)
The Nov. 27 editorial “Don’t curb gas utilities; clean them up” begins an important discussion on making the transition from natural gas to renewable energy.
The options discussed, hydrogen and renewable natural gas, may be more sustainable, but both have problems.
Hydrogen is a smaller molecule that leaks more easily and is corrosive to several pipe materials. Once it leaks, the range under which it will explode is more than four times greater than gas. After what we’ve seen in the Merrimack Valley, few will want to assume that risk.
Renewable gas is made from manure or agricultural and food waste. This idea has promise, but not at the scale needed. Boston’s waste treatment plant uses sewage from 3.1 million people, but produces enough power from the methane it generates only to partially run the plant itself. (read more)
Watertown Becomes 1st Town In New England To Require Solar Panels On New Commercial Constructions (WBUR 12/9/18)
Watertown will now require commercial developers to put solar panels on new buildings, becoming the first town in New England to do so.
The town council unanimously approved a zoning ordinance requiring new commercial construction, as well as renovations of existing buildings that are more than 10,000 square feet, to have solar collectors.
Cambridge is considering a similar solar requirement, as both communities have been undergoing construction booms.
Vincent Piccirilli, vice president of the town council, said the plan has been in the works for about a year-and-a-half.
"It grew out of concern with all the development in Watertown," he said, "that we really should be doing more to require developers to do something to help the environment, particular with solar energy generation." (read more)
Starting in March, Newton electric customers will have the option to get some or all of their power from renewable sources through a green energy contract signed by the city’s mayor late last month, according to a city statement.
The Newton Power Choice municipal aggregation program allows the city to choose the supplier for electric customers, rather than having the local utility buy the electricity, the statement said.
With the deal in place, the local utility in Newton — Eversource — will continue to deliver electricity to customers, bill them, and provide customer support, the statement said.
“The difference is that Newton now selects the supplier of the electricity for customers rather than leaving it up to the utility,” the city said in the statement.
Along with Newton, about 140 Massachusetts communities have municipal aggregation programs, the statement said.Through the 22-month contract signed by Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, the city said that at least 60 percent of the electricity to customers will be from local renewable sources, such as solar and wind, according to the statement. (read more)
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- There should be plenty of power this winter across New England, though the company that manages the electric grid says an extreme cold snap could pose some challenges.
In its winter forecast, ISO New England said this week that consumer demand across the region is expected to peak at 20,357 megawatts (MW) under normal weather conditions or 21,057 MW at extreme temperatures.
But pointing to last winter's two-week cold snap, the company didn't rule out some bumps along the way. Should there be a scenario in which the region loses a large generator, electricity imports are affected or fuel deliveries are disrupted, the company could be forced to put in place emergency procedures. It would consider importing power from neighboring regions and asking consumers and business to voluntarily conserve energy. (read more)
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