Graphic courtesy of the Sierra Club
Yes, the Trump administration is packed with oil and gas interests. The Environmental Protection Agency is in danger, and our new President has threatened to pull out of the Paris Accord.
But in Massachusetts, all is not lost. “The action is at the state level,” says Catherine Williams of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), the state’s quasi-public agency promoting renewable energy. Environmental advocates agree. Regardless of what happens in Washington D.C., Massachusetts is on a path to cleaner energy.
Scientists say that greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. According to Emily Norton, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, Massachusetts can show the rest of the country how to transition to a renewable economy.
She says our job is to “Keep pushing on every front to do more as quickly as possible. We are not going to solve climate change on our own. But you look at gay marriage, Romneycare. Massachusetts started it. It is important what we do here.”
To be part of the solution, Loie Hayes, Program Associate at the Massachusetts Energy Consumer’s Alliance, suggests people “Think: home, community, political” and take incremental action in each area. Some steps to consider:
1. Get efficient. Go to Mass Save to learn how to save energy at your home or business. Funded by Massachusetts gas and electric utilities, Mass Save performs free energy audits and educates consumers on efficiency options, including insulation, air sealing, and replacement of inefficient lighting, appliances, and heating systems. Mass Save can cover the cost of most air sealing and up to 75% of insulation work. Other upgrades can be financed with a 0% HEAT loan.
2. Go solar. There are renewable electricity options for almost everybody in Massachusetts.
On the roof: People with south-facing, unobstructed rooftops can generate electricity from the sun by installing photovoltaic (PV) panels. The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MCEC) and partnering banks offer Mass Solar Loan, a 10-year, low-interest, fixed rate loan, to help pay for upfront costs. Those with incomes below 120% of area median income ($127,408 for a family of four) may be eligible for “principal reduction” to lower project costs by 20-30%. Tax credits reduce costs even further. The federal government allows homeowners to deduct one third of the cost of a solar photovoltaic project from federal income taxes. Massachusetts allows a deduction of up to $1,000 from state income taxes.
Through the grid: Tenants and people who don’t have roofs appropriate for solar can purchase renewable electricity through the nonprofit Massachusetts Energy Consumers Alliance (MECA). MECA customers pay an extra $14-20 on top of their regular electric bills. In return, their monthly payments support electricity generated by local wind and solar. For more information: https://www.massenergy.org/renewable-energy/nstar.
In the community: Another option is buying electricity from a community solar project. With community solar, a developer installs solar panels in a central location and sells contracts for the electricity produced. The monthly cost of purchasing renewable electricity is generally the same as, or a bit lower than, standard electricity. To find out about community solar projects under development, contact the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.
3. Switch to clean(er) heat. “Heating and cooling accounts for one third of Massachusetts greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire electricity sector,” says Peter McPhee, Program Director for Renewable Thermal at MassCEC. But, few Massachusetts residents have taken action to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions from heating and cooling. To change this, MassCEC has a $30 million initiative to encourage residents to buy efficient heating technologies: air source heat pumps, ground source heat pumps, solar thermal hot water heaters, or biomass boilers. Of the options promoted by MassCEC, air source heat pumps have generated the most interest, with 6,763 installed to date. Air source heat pumps take thermal heat from the outside air and transfer it, via a refrigerant, to building interiors. In the summer, the process is reversed, and pumps act like air conditioners. Heat pumps are powered electrically but use a fraction of the energy required by traditional electrical resistance heat. When connected to green electricity, heat pumps can heat and cool with no greenhouse gas emissions. Information at http://www.masscec.com/.
4. Eat less meat, especially beef. Livestock contributes 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Program. Most of these emissions come from cattle ranching. Manure releases carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Cattle feed and land clearing for pasture causes additional harm. Eating vegetarian reduces climate impact by about half, according to UN studies, but hard-core carnivores can still make a difference by reducing their beef intake or replacing beef with other animal proteins.
5. Join a local group. “Just trying to cut consumption at home can be a little isolating,” says Carol Oldham, Executive Director of Massachusetts Climate Action Network. So she, and other environmental advocates, say one of the best ways of being part of the climate movement is to join a local group. Loie Hayes says, “Joining a group binds you to other people with similar goals and gives you ideas about actions you can take. The Sierra Club, Massachusetts Climate Action Network, 350.org, and Mothers Out Front all have chapters working at the town or neighborhood level. Oldham says that “Local action proves that this stuff works,” a key factor in getting good ideas adopted at the state level.
6. Push the state forward. Environmental advocates and state legislators are trying to get the Massachusetts Legislature to move faster on renewable energy. Some Bills to watch and weigh in on:
Increase the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS): Massachusetts requires the investor-owned utilities to purchase 12% of their energy from renewable sources. Each year, the state increases the required renewable percentage—or Renewable Portfolio Standard—by one percent. Representative Kay Khan of Newton and Senator Pacheco of Taunton have sponsored Bills to raise the annual increase to 2-3%.
Increase net metering: Representative Paul Mark of Dalton and Senator Jamie Eldridge of Acton have Bills to eliminate net metering caps, which currently limit the number of solar projects that can sell energy back to the grid.
Put a price on carbon: The Climate Action Business Association and 350.org are prioritizing “carbon pricing” bills sponsored by Representative Jennifer Benson of Lunenberg and Senator Mike Barrett of Lexington. These bills charge sellers of fossil fuels for the pollution their products create. Descriptions of these and other bills are at http://www.sierraclub.org/massachusetts/2017-2018-priorities.
7. Say no to gas lines. Local activists successfully stopped the planned Kinder Morgan gas line, but other Massachusetts pipe line projects may go forward. Environmentalists believe that new pipeline infrastructure locks the state into a commitment to natural gas just at a time when we need to be moving away from all fossil fuels. Follow the latest pipeline developments at http://www.plan-ne.org/.
8. Fight bad federal policy. Stay informed and oppose harmful federal proposals. Join a group that is working on federal policy, support them financially if you can, and contact your legislators. Some advocates working on the federal level are: Clean Water Action, 350.org, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, National Resources Defense Council and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
9. Travel light. Drive less. Use public transportation more and, when it is time to buy your next car, go electric. The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources has invested $12 million to increase the uptake of electric vehicles and plug in hybrids. Eight thousand Massachusetts residents drive electric vehicles today and DOER is hoping to increase that number to 300,000 by 2025. There are 450 public charging stations across Massachusetts, and home electric systems can be upgraded to charge cars at home. The Massachusetts Energy Consumer’s Alliance has discount pricing for some cars, and rebates can reduce purchase costs by $10,000. To learn more or arrange a test drive go to https://www.massenergy.org/drivegreen.
10. Move your money (or somebody else’s). Move your money out of funds that support oil and gas. While you may not have a lot invested, you can also join with others to push large institutional investors—your university, pension fund, or City—to divest. David Zwick of Progressive Asset Management, a socially responsible investment firm in Wellesley, says about 12% of publicly managed money is now in funds that use some sort of social or environmental “screen.”
There are a lot of positive steps you can take to fight climate change. So, get a home energy audit, shrink your carbon footprint, join a group, stay informed, and take action.