Boston – With Massachusetts’ energy future up for debate on Beacon Hill, advocates and experts released a paper today arguing that a society powered by 100 percent renewable energy, such as solar and wind, is within reach.
The white paper, We Have the Power: 100% Renewable Energy for a Clean, Thriving America, comes as state officials consider whether to expand solar power and bring offshore wind to Massachusetts, or spend billions of dollars in public money on new fossil fuel infrastructure.
“To avoid dangerous global warming, scientists are clear that we must transition off of fossil fuels before the middle of the century,” said Ben Hellerstein, State Director for Environment Massachusetts. “The good news is that a future powered entirely by clean, renewable energy is well within reach. But we’re running out of time.”
According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the United States has the technical potential to meet its current electricity needs more than 100 times over with solar energy and more than 10 times over with wind energy.
A review of seven detailed studies on clean energy systems conducted to date — by academics, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations — suggests there are no insurmountable technological or economic barriers to reaching 100 percent renewable energy.
“The study confirms what many people have already come to believe. Good policies and wise investments today can allow renewable energy sources to meet most or all of our energy needs in the not too distant future,” said Jon Mitchell, Mayor of New Bedford, Massachusetts, and Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Energy Committee. “The idea is not fanciful at all. In fact, it is more doable than ever.”
The City of New Bedford is a national leader in renewable energy. Today, New Bedford’s municipal buildings derive 50% of their electricity from ten major solar projects. With federal and state governments moving to develop wind energy projects off the coast of Massachusetts, the City’s deep-water port and marine terminal are poised to play an important role in a second renewable energy industry in years ahead.
Economists predict that we can build a 100 percent renewable energy system at costs comparable to or less than what we would have to spend to continue using dirty energy.
“Dirty energy sources have no inherent economic advantage over renewable energy,” Tony Dutzik, researcher at the Frontier Group, who co-authored the white paper with Environment America, Environment Massachusetts’ national federation. “On the contrary, expanding renewable energy creates local jobs that cannot be outsourced, reduces the impact of fossil fuel-induced harm to our environment and health, and safeguards the economy from the volatility of fossil fuel prices.”
Since last March, caps on a key solar energy program have prevented solar installations from moving forward in nearly half of Massachusetts’ cities and towns. The program, known as net metering, allows families, businesses, and local governments to receive fair credit for the solar energy they provide to the grid.
State leaders have yet to come to an agreement on lifting the solar caps. In November, the House of Representatives passed a widely criticized bill that would cut solar net metering credits by 75 percent for most types of projects and impose a minimum charge on solar owners, while only lifting the caps by a small amount.
State officials have said that they plan to consider an “omnibus” energy bill this legislative session, which could include support for offshore wind farms to be built off the coast of Massachusetts.
The omnibus bill may also include provisions relating to controversial natural gas projects. One proposal would add charges to electric bills to pay for new gas pipelines, likely to cost several billion dollars. Advocates argued that these pipelines would harm natural landscapes and increase Massachusetts’ dependence on fossil fuels, while placing added burdens on ratepayers.
“Across Massachusetts, communities are feeling the impacts of our dependence on dirty energy,” said Claire Miller, Massachusetts State Director for Toxics Action Center. “Building new gas pipelines will cause further risks to our health, our safety, and our natural landscapes. Our state leaders should say no to fossil fuels and commit to a bold goal of 100 percent renewable energy.”
The clean energy industry employs more than 98,000 people in Massachusetts. The state has consistently ranked high for solar and energy efficiency, but advocates warned that Massachusetts’ leadership status was at risk without further action from elected officials.
“When it comes to global warming, we’re in a race against time — and we won’t win it by resting on our laurels,” said Hellerstein. “It’s time for state officials to get serious about achieving 100 percent renewable energy.”