The Future of Energy in Massachusetts

Massachusetts Plan Boasts Emissions Cuts, Clean Energy

Massachusetts is helping to lead the way in greenhouse gas reduction and clean energy adoption in the United States. The state’s progress in this area is due, in part, to its participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a consortium of nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states working together to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and reverse the effects of climate change. The RGGI’s primary method to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is the implementation of a market-based strategy known as carbon pricing, or cap-and-trade programs. Thanks to this initiative, Massachusetts has already dramatically reduced its carbon dioxide emissions, creating thousands of new jobs, saving customers money on their energy bills and creating a cleaner atmosphere across the state. While implementing these efforts, Massachusetts and the RGGI continue to seek out new ways to embrace renewable energy generation across the state and region.

A Team Effort

In 2008, Massachusetts passed the Global Warming Solutions Act, requiring state energy companies to reduce 80 percent of their greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. By 2014, the commonwealth had already made progress, cutting back emissions by 21.3 percent. Massachusetts’ cooperation with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has been instrumental in this process. Recently, Massachusetts and the nine other states belonging to the RGGI have developed plans to cut their carbon pollution by 30 percent by 2030.

Conservation groups and experts have praised the RGGI for its positive environmental and economic impact. The Sierra Club called the RGGI an “unquestioned success.” Additionally, the Conservation Law Foundation cited the creation of thousands of jobs and prevention of thousands of asthma attacks as proof of the RGGI’s success. 

“Cap-and-Trade” Programs

Massachusetts and other states belonging to the RGGI are using carbon pricing, or “cap-and-trade” programs as a primary method of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These plans place a cap on the combined total CO2 emissions among regulated power plants within the state. In order to comply, power plants must have a permit for every ton of CO2 that they emit. While the state limits the number of permits allowed, companies can buy and sell permits among themselves. This gives power companies much-needed flexibility and incentivizes the transition to clean energy.

New Plans for Renewable Energy Generation

This spring, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) took a new step to reduce carbon emissions. The state worked with electricity distributors to issue a request for proposals, asking companies to submit their plans for renewable energy generation. An article in the National Law Review explains that the bids outlined ways to ship clean energy into Massachusetts. One such bid suggested transmitting hydroelectric power from Quebec, while another proposed using an undersea cable to transport wind power and hydro power from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. These transmission projects are currently being evaluated to determine which ones will help the commonwealth reach goals signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker last year.    

What Comes Next?

While Massachusetts has made major headway with its clean power plan, it still has much to accomplish. Experts agree that in order to progress, the state will need to turn its attention to the transportation sector. This is because transportation accounts for approximately 40 percent of CO2 emissions in Massachusetts — more than any other industry in the state. Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton recently explained that Massachusetts will not be able to reach the goals set out by the Global Warming Solutions Act unless it finds a way to reduce carbon emissions from vehicles.

While Massachusetts still has much work to do in order to reach its carbon reduction goals, it sets an excellent example for other states across the nation. The success of cap-and-trade programs should provide reassurance to other states considering similar programs. States should also keep an eye on energy transmission projects in Massachusetts and draw inspiration from the innovation happening there. As more states become devoted to reducing carbon emissions, the U.S. will be on its way to creating a national grid that runs primarily on clean energy.

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