More Gas Pipelines?

The Sunday Globe (October 5) includes an editorial calling for investments in gas pipelines across New England. The Globe argues that improved gas infrastructure need not hinder investments in renewable energy—both are necessary as we move toward greater reliance on renewables. Today, we are relying more heavily on gas–and in winter months, gas supplies may be insufficient. As a result, consumer electric bills are rising 37 percent (for National Gird customers).

WITH THE recent announcement that National Grid would raise its electricity rates an eye-popping 37 percentthis winter, New England is beginning to pay a real price for its stalled energy policy. The rate increase, which will hit some Massachusetts households to the tune of $150 a month, likely won’t be the last bad news this year: NStar, the state’s other major electric provider, is also expected to announce a rate hike soon. New England has always endured higher-than-average electricity costs, but this year’s price surge reflects a relatively new problem: With the retirement of many old coal-burning plants, natural gas now accounts for about half the region’s electricity generation, leaving utilities and their customers unusually exposed to spikes in gas prices.

The consequences for struggling families this winter will be dire, and are likely only a foretaste of what’s to come unless policy makers respond with urgency. Two strategies would lower electricity bills over the long term. First, the region needs to diversify its energy mix by bringing in more wind, solar, hydropower, and other renewables. Having more renewable energy will cushion the region against the ups and downs of the gas market, while also reducing carbon emissions. But the region has trouble handling the renewable energy that’s available already; making full use of the region’s rivers, wind, and sun will require new transmission lines from Canada and northern New England, proposals that create enormous backlash and, critics argue, mar pristine landscapes with ugly power lines. A proposal by the Patrick administration that likely would have resulted in more power lines failed in the Legislature earlier this year, a troubling reminder of the political obstacles to building needed transmission.

But even fully integrating renewable resources into the grid won’t eliminate demand for natural gas; it’s not always windy or sunny. So while connecting to renewables must be a top priority to bring down costs, the region simultaneously has to tackle a second task: upgrading the natural gas network, which was never designed for the crucial role it now plays in New England’s electricity market. Congestion in the delivery network is one of the major drivers of this year’s price surge, and more pipeline capacity would lower prices. Several proposals have emerged. Yet pipelines are an even harder sell than transmission lines. They’re just as unsightly, and carrying more fossil fuels into New England seems like just the wrong approach when the goal is to reduce carbon emissions.

The task for policy makers is to combine the two goals in an environmentally sensible way, so that lower prices for natural gas will help, not hurt, the transition to renewables. The six New England governors have made some progress in that direction. Last year, they suggested offering financial support to a new pipeline into the region, paid for in part through an assessment on electric ratepayers, while at the same time pledging to also support transmission lines needed to reach renewables north of Boston. What the governors’ plan lacked, though, was an explicit commitment that the two would go forward in tandem. It will be much easier to convince a skeptical public to accept new gas investments if the arrangement also contains a firm commitment to help tap renewable resources. Read more.

SAFE Environmental Ballot Forum 2014

October 7, 7 pm

First Church in Salem, 316 Essex St.

Make an informed choice on the ballot questions this November. Come to the SAFE Environmental Ballot Forum 2014.

Vote Badges
Find out why local environmental groups support a NO vote on Question 1 (Gas Tax) and a YES vote on Question 2 (Bottle Bill). Speakers are Sen. Joan Lovely (D-Salem), Phil Sego of Mass Sierra Club-YES on 2, and Andre Leroux of MA Smart Growth Alliance-NO on 1. Hear about the ballot questions and learn how you can join the campaign to help advance our environmental agenda.

Co-sponsored by SAFE (Salem Alliance for the Environment), Mass Sierra Club and MASSPIRG-Salem State. For more info, contact Pat Gozemba at (978) 744-9141.

Bottle Bill–Yes on Question 2

The primary is over and the general election looms. This year’s ballot includes several referendums, including Question 2, which gives voters the chance to do what the legislature has refused to do: update the Bottle Bill.

Yvonne Abraham’s September 14 column in the Boston Globe cogently explains why voters should vote Yes on Question 2.

Now that the primary is over, the ballot question battles begin. On Question 2 — the proposal to expand the state’s bottle deposit law to cover water and other unfizzy drinks — you’re going to get hit with the best ads the deep-pocketed beverage industry can buy. So far, they’ve put a whopping $5.4 million into the campaign — more than the casino bigs desperate to stop a repeal of the state’s gambling law. Groups backing an expanded bottle bill (who have raised a meager $145,000 so far) say they expect the industry to pour in at least $5 million more. Hey, money is no object when it comes to protecting their profits.

They won’t tell you that’s what it’s about, though. No, the companies that make bank selling drinks in petroleum-based plastic will try to convince you they’re as green as spring meadows. Pay no attention to the shareholders behind the curtain: Defeating a law that would keep billions upon billions of plastic bottles out of landfills is all about protecting you and Mother Earth, dear vote.

Truth be told, this bottle bill shouldn’t even be on the ballot. A recent Globe poll showed 62 percent of voters favor it. And 209 of the state’s 351 cities and towns have passed resolutions supporting it. On Beacon Hill, it has been supported by at least a hundred legislators, and the governor. The Senate has approved it. But time and again, House speakers have refused to allow it to the floor for a vote, fearing the wrath of the voters who might think it’s too much like a tax. It’s hard to recall another case where the will of so many people was thwarted so utterly, for so long. Read more.

Footprint Power Removing Oil Tanks

If you’ve driven by the Salem power plant of late,  you will have noticed some big changes. No coal pile! And the oil tanks are coming down (see photos below from Marilyn Humphries).

Recently a challenge before the EPA was denied, so Footprint Power is now moving ahead to finalize financing and begin demolition of the old plant. In addition, Footprint and the City are finalizing a Community Benefits Agreement.

FootPr078 FootPr069 FootPr068 FootPr044

Urban Agriculture Ordinance

Public Hearing: September 11, 7 pm
Where: 93 Washington St., City Council Chamber

Are you or your neighbors considering keeping chickens? Have you considered beekeeping to help support urban agriculture?

The City Council will be accepting comments from the public as it considers an urban agriculture ordinance. Come show your support for an ordinance that supports our local food economy.

Sea Level Rise: Salem’s Vulnerability

Date and Time: Wed, September 10, 7 pm

Location: First Church, 316 Essex St.

Could Salem withstand a storm like Hurricane Sandy?

cropped-salem-ma-2.jpg
Professor Steve Young from Salem State University’s geography department will present his research on the vulnerability of Salem to sea-level rise in the face of climate change. In addition, Salem SAFE co-chair Jeff Barz-Snell, an environmental researcher, will place Young’s research in the context of the latest reports from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Finally, Kathy Winn from the Salem planning department will bring us up to date on recommendations made by a consulting group to protect Salem as the waters rise. This event is free and open to the public.

Urban Chickens: A FREE How-To Workshop

Location: First Church Salem, 316 Essex St.
DAY & Time: Tuesday, August 26, 7 pm.

chicken

Come to SAFE’s first urban agriculture event, where Salem residents and professional educators Kathy Karch and Cady Goldfield will walk folks through the nuts and bolts (or eggs and molts) of keeping urban chickens. They’ll share tips, tricks and best practice strategies for keeping yourself, your hens and your neighbors happy and healthy.  Participants will go home with a packet containing information and a list of all the resources mentioned during the workshop.