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Massachusetts is facing up to carbon choices

carbon choices

Massachusetts is facing up to carbon choices

By Patrick Moore
Patriot Ledger, Apr 12, 2008

The first step to making sound decisions on the future of energy production in Massachusetts is to get the all of facts on the table. Only then will the steps toward reducing the Commonwealth’s carbon emissions become clear.

For example, at 13.5 metric tons per person annually, Massachusetts currently ranks ninth lowest per capita in carbon dioxide emissions by state. Given the U.S. average is 19.9 metric tons per person, Bay Staters should be proud of their relatively low CO2 emissions.

Much of the reason for the low CO2 emissions for the New England region as a whole (Vermont is second lowest at 10.5 metric tons per person, Connecticut is seventh at 12.2, New Hampshire is 14th at 15.9 and Maine is 17th at 17.8) is that it gets a higher amount of its electricity (26 percent) from emission-free nuclear power than does the rest of the country (20 percent).

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative calls for CO2 levels in New England to be reduced by 10 percent from 2006 levels by 2019. If we assume a very modest growth in electricity demand (21 percent from now until 2019), enormous changes in electricity generation will need to take place in order to keep pace with that growth while at the same time reducing emissions.

A recent study by Polestar Applied Technology of Boston found that cutting carbon emission levels 10 percent with modest growth in electricity demand would require “aggressive efficiency measures, premature shutdown of more than half the region’s oil-and coal-fired plants, construction of eight 500-megawatt natural gas plants and ten 400-megawatt wind farms, plus license renewal of both Plymouth-based Pilgrim and Vermont Yankee.”

Considering that the controversial Cape Wind project is 400 megawatts, the Polestar report in effect notes that 10 new Cape Winds will need to be added.

Renewables are absolutely required if we’re to meet growing electricity demand. By renewables, I don’t just mean wind and biomass, but geothermal heat pumps, which hold huge promise for reducing fossil fuel consumption in buildings and which have been steadily growing in use despite other sources getting much of the “hype.”

There is an imminent danger that Massachusetts could face devastating blackouts if the state does not have enough affordable and reliable electricity. Blackouts are much more than simply an inconvenience or a temporary loss of business. Blackouts cause deaths because people who are already frail and infirm are denied the heat or cooling they need to sustain their lives.

As a life-long environmentalist, I’m very heartened that the Massachusetts Legislature appears poised to enact energy legislation that will help the state move in the right direction on CO2 reduction. For example, Massachusetts is considering mandating the following:

25 percent of the state’s electric load, including both capacity and energy, must be met with clean, demand-side resources including energy efficiency, load management, and demand-response measures.

20 percent of the state’s new electric load must come from new, renewable generation.
Fossil-fuel use in buildings be reduced by 10 percent from 2007 levels.
Further, if as a nation we want to adopt plug-in electric hybrid vehicles to help reduce our transportation-related environmental footprint in the coming years, the base-load power to charge these cars through the night will have to come from clean power sources such as nuclear and hydro. Using fossil-fuel power to charge your electric car defeats the whole purpose of switching to clean-car technology.

But the clear fact is clean, reliable nuclear power will be crucial to meeting the future energy demands of the commonwealth.

The electricity that Pilgrim supplies is created with practically zero greenhouse gas emissions and therefore it does not contribute to global warming. Pilgrim also mitigates the production of hundreds of tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides – chemicals which are harmful to human health and which exacerbate problems from particulate and ozone pollution.

When combined with renewable sources of electrical energy like wind, biomass and geothermal energy, it is crystal-clear that nuclear must be part of the commonwealth’s energy future.

A co-founder and former leader of Greenpeace, Dr. Patrick Moore is chairman and chief scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. and an advisor to MassAREA (www.maarea.us ).

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