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By Derek Newberry, Advocacy Fellow on 3/20/2017

UPDATE 3/21/17: The National USGBC created a call to action for companies and organizations to support the ENERGY STAR, Safer Choice, and WaterSense programs. If you are part of an organization that supports this, please sign the letter here. USGBC MA has signed on and encourages all other organizations concerned about energy efficiency to sign on as well!

President Trump's federal budget proposal will eliminate a number of vital energy efficiency programs from ENERGY STAR to ARPA-E. ENERGY STAR, which was started in 1992 by the EPA and DOE, has had unprecedented success in reducing consumer energy use. The program has prevented 2.7 billion metric tons GHG emissions and saved Americans $430 billion on their utility bills since the program’s inception in 1992. It has seen continuous increases in energy savings, emission reductions, and has become a paragon of sustainable branding with at least 85% of people associating the label with energy efficiency and quality. The budget cuts will leave at least 18,000 American jobless and endanger the 1.9 million American workers that work for the federally supported energy efficiency industry. 

While the program may be transferred to a private company, with a transition cost of $5 million, removing the ENERGY STAR label from federal control could discredit program, will likely prevent true third-party evaluation and verification, and will reduce American prominence in the energy efficiency field around the world. It will also hinder net zero energy building and LEED compliance and expansion. 

ENERGY STAR will be one of 60 other programs and 19 agencies to lose discretionary funding. Other energy-related programs to be cut include the Clean Power Plan, the International climate change programs, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, the State Energy Program, and the Rural Business and Cooperative Service’s discretionary programs.

On the other hand, as military budgets increase (by $54 billion) they will have more opportunities to invest in renewable energy technologies. In the name of efficiency, safety, and security, the DoD doubled its renewable power generation from 2011 to 2015 to 10,534 billion BTU and supported hundreds of millions in solar power contracts. The military plans to continue investing in renewables and the National Defense Authorization Act of 2007 established the DoD’s voluntary goal of 25% renewable energy consumption by 2025. The military desires to expand renewables and hybrid technologies to increase security by reducing the threat of grid attacks and current dangers of explosive fuels instead of to reduce emissions and save the planet.

However, as the current Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, has repeatedly noted his support for weaning the military off its fossil fuel dependence for national security reasons the military will likely continue on its path to clean energy and national security. Still, Trumps budget cuts to the energy programs like ARPA-E will actively hinder the expansion of new safe energy systems for the military and prevent new advancements and improvements in military technology.

Overall, the loss of ENERGY STAR will seriously weaken US energy efficiency standards and slow progress to a safe and sustainable future. Some hope can be found in expanded military clean energy use but much progress will be lost unless this budget is amended and improved to protect the American people. If you think ENERGY STAR should be protected then contact your congressional representatives and tell them to stop these cuts. 



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Massachusetts' New Solar Incentive Program and SREC II Program Extension

By Derek Newberry, Advocacy Fellow on 3/14/2017

The Massachusetts Department of Energy recently extended its SREC II program until January 2018 and released plans for a new solar incentive program called the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Energy Target (SMART) program to supersede it. As Ben Vila, a member of our advocacy team, described in his "Switching from SRECs to a $/kWh tariff system [through SMART] is expected to cut costs to the state and ratepayers by almost half while providing greater predictability for developers, investors, and facility owners." The new SMART tariff framework will incentivizes at least 3,200 MW of additional solar development over the next few years (hopefully expanding net zero energy buildings!) and promote solar development on specific categories including low income, community shared solar, projects that integrate building mounted solar, as well as solar instalations on brownfields, landfills, and commercial and industrial zones. 

While incentives will be lower, especially on larger projects, the SMART program will offer 10-20 year fixed price compensation on a tier system that declines with increased capacity. This will allow total program costs to be assessed with certainty and reduces financial risks. The DOER also decreased 25kW SREC project compensation from 80% to 70% of current SREC II values. Nonetheless, the extension of the the SREC program will bridge the incentive programs and ensure continued investment in solar over the coming months and into 2018. The SMART program still needs approval from the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) which may happen later this year. For more details check out Ben Vilas' blog and the DOER's SMART Final Program Design. Also, check out another blog on the SMART program here



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Upcoming Sustainable Energy Spring Seminars

By Derek Newberry, Advocacy Fellow on 3/13/2017

Interested in the future of renewable energy? Do you think there should be a carbon price? What can we do to improve our energy use? These and many other questions will be answered in the coming weeks at multiple university public seminars, including Boston University's Institute for Sustainable Energy’s Spring 2017 public Seminar Series starting March 20 and going until late April. Come to these events and learn about the many aspects and issues of transitioning into a economically and socially sustainable future.

Come to Boston on March 20 for "Energy Storage Economics: The Impact on Renewables & Climate," to learn about modern energy storage, feasibility, and applications. On April 3rd there will be "Pricing Climate Risk," a discussion on carbon prices and taxes; on April 13, "Hurry or Wait: Pacing the Roll-out of Renewable Energy in the face of Climate Change"; and on April 24, BU will hold "US State & Local Policies: Key Catalysts to Renewable Electricity’s Ascent" to go over the ins and outs of environmentally sustainable policy.

These events are free and open to the public. They feature specialists in economics, engineering, business, law, and multiple authors including Brett Perlman and Gernot Wagner. Check out the events, their speakers, and RSVP here. The events will be from 4:00 to 5:00 pm at the Hariri Building, Room 508, 595 Commonwealth Avenue Boston MA, 02215. 

Also, check out Harvard's sustainability events here! They have many fun, free, and public events going on in the near future. 

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Boston and The Coming Tide: To Build or Not to Build?

By Derek Newberry, Advocacy Fellow on 3/2/2017

What would you do if you knew 90,000+ Bostonians and nearly $80 billion in real estate and capital was threatened by sea level rise? Would you scoff at the possibility? Tell everyone to close up shop and run? Avoid investment in beachfront property? Or maybe, build a wall and adapt?

Well, that last one is just what the city of Boston is currently considering. In the December 2016 Climate Ready Boston Final Report, the city found that even with major reductions in emissions the chances of at least 21 inches of sea level rise is nearly certain by 2050 and 36 inches is highly likely by the end of the century. The study also found that there remains a 15% chance of 7.4 feet of sea level rise by 2070 if emissions were to stay at exactly today’s levels. Moreover, a January NOAA Technical Report increased the administration’s previous worst-case sea level rise scenario from 6.6 feet to 8.2 feet: not an encouraging update for a city that rests just 1 foot above mean sea level.

These graphs show the annual monetary losses for different scenarios and sectors contributing to the losses in the 36-inch scenario: from the Climate Ready Boston Final Report.

All scenarios would lead to more frequent flooding, more severe floods, and massive losses of land and capital. Estimated losses from the 36-inch scenario would amount to $1.4 billion in annual losses due to interruptions in business activities, destruction of infrastructure and private capital, costs of human relocation, losses in productivity, and much more. One can only imagine the costs of worst case scenarios.

These costs have spurred investment in feasibility studies for constructing a 4 mile, 20-foot tall sea wall from Winthrop to the Hull Peninsula. Other ideas include building a wall around Boston and Logan Airport, covering from Winthrop to Quincy, or building a shorter system of dikes between Deer Island and Telegraph Hill. These would be designed with hydraulic gates that could be closed during high tides and large storms and opened to permit shipping and trade vessels. The image here from the Boston Climate Report show where some of the walls might be located.

However, such a structure would cost billions and have severe ecological and environmental impacts throughout the harbor from species loss to water pollution and changing currents. It also begs the question, why are we willing to consider such a large adaptive measure without also discussing the issue at hand? If we spend billions to build a wall, we should also invest billions in renewable energies and net zero buildings. While the threat of sea level rise to the city and surrounding areas will most likely outweigh the the costs, preventative measures and sustainable, low carbon policies could greatly enhance the success of this project and reduce its ultimate cost.

It goes without saying that anthropogenic climate change has established a hazardous and costly future for Boston, the state, and coastal civilization in general. While the immediate options might seem clear, prepare and adapt to the coming changes or suffer the consequences, we must take a step back from the issue and understand how we got here and how to address the emission issues while adapting to the inevitable consequences. Maybe your decision, and the city's, should be to create a wall covered in wind turbines? Regardless, combining adaptation and mitigation strategies will lead to the most sustainable and prosperous future. 

If you are concerned over the future of Boston and its plans to combat climate change please read our climate adaptation and management page, go through the Climate Ready Boston Final Report, read this Boston Globe article, and contact your representative here. 


*Thumbnail, banner, and image are from the Climate Ready Boston Final Report

Microsoft and Yale to Lead Panel on Carbon Pricing 3/15

By Derek Newberry, Advocacy Fellow on 2/27/2017

On March 15th from 4:00-5:30pm, the Boston Green Ribbon Commission and Boston University are sponsoring a panel of climate change experts to discuss carbon pricing. The talk is open to the public and will be at Boston University’s Metcalf Trustee Center on the 9th floor of 1 Silber Way (go past the large tapestry on the right to find the elevators).

Titled “Reducing Emissions by Pricing Carbon: How Microsoft and Yale are leading the charge,” the panel will include TJ DiCaprio, the Senior Director of Environmental Sustainability at Microsoft, Casey Pickett, the Director of Carbon Change at Yale, Kenneth Pucker, former COO of Timberland and Lecturer at the Questrom School of Business, and be moderated by Andrew Revkin, Senior Reporter on Climate Change at ProPublica and former environmental reporter at The New York Times.

Some of the topics will include the results of Yale’s 2015/2016 pilot climate pricing program and the impacts of Microsoft’s carbon pricing program on the company's culture, emissions, investment in renewable energy, and millions of people around the world.

Check out more on carbon pricing here and RSVP for the panel here! Seats are limited. 

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Republican Leaders Meet to Discuss Carbon Tax

By Derek Newberry, Advocacy Fellow on 2/8/2017

A group of senior GOP officials led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III introduced a carbon tax to senior White House officials Wednesday. The group, which includes former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Walmart chairman Rob Walton, and a host of other presidential advisors and business leaders stretching back to the Reagan era, argues that this conservative climate proposition follows both the GOP’s laissez-faire and small government ideals while also promoting true progress towards lowered emissions and reducing the risks of climate change.

Their plan involves placing a carbon tax (also known as carbon price) on fossil fuels that starts at $40 per ton of carbon dioxide produced and slowly increases over time. Fossil fuels would be taxed at their point of entry into the economy and likely raise between $200 and $300 billion annually. These funds would be repaid to consumers at an annual estimate of $2,000 per family of four. The plan would also increase the costs of fossil fuel imports from nations that do not have a similar carbon tax system to prevent them from gaining an unfair advantage. 

The group has stated that this plan would have been supported by former President Ronald Reagan and should replace the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. Regardless of the acceptance or strength of the plan, this initiative marks a significant movement towards climate change mitigation, planning, and political acceptance of the issue and will an important factor in the future of federal climate change policy. To read the full report click here. To read more on the issue click here


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Bernie Sanders LIVE Climate Action Webinar: Wednesday, February 8 at 7 p.m.

By Derek Newberry on 2/6/2017

Join Senator Bernie Sanders, REV Renewable Energy Champion awardee, State Senator Christopher Bray, and other leading Vermont environmental advocates for a LIVE webinar Wednesday, February 8 at 7 p.m. Learn about the 2017 state and federal legislative outlook, what is being done now, and how you as a concerned citizen can help!

Click here to complete the registration form. Climate Change is now one of, if not the most critical issue of our time and the coming social and environmental issues require a new degree of outreach, coordination, and cooperation. From advocacy to promoting net zero energy policy come learn what you can do and get involved in the discussion!

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The New Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART)

By Derek Newberry on 2/6/2017

After months of working group meetings and sorting through and reviewing hundreds of stakeholder comments, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources has announced the state’s new solar incentive program called the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target or “SMART” plan. Department officials publicized the plan on Jan 31, 2017, and emphasized its goals to expand installed solar energy capacity by 1600 MW in Massachusetts in improved locations while also strengthening the stability and certainty of the solar financial market. 

The SMART program will replace the current SREC-II program (Solar Renewable Energy Certificate) and encompass current net metering programs to create a staggered subsidy system where the government sets a price for each 200 MW “block” of installed capacity and compensates installers in dollars per kWh produced depending on size and location of the solar generation. Compensation or subsidy rates per installed block of 200 MW will decline by 4% each after the first installed 200 MW block and will be distributed through net metering benefits, an on-bill crediting mechanism, or a buy-all/sell-all rate for certain standalone facilities. Developers will receive a 10- to 20-year fixed compensation/incentive rate regardless of changes in future energy values. Additional subsidy options exist for installing solar in certain ideal locations such as low-income areas, brownfields, and landfills, and for low income, community, and built up areas. The program also includes certain land use requirements that limit environmental impact and compensation for energy storage development.  

While the program will likely not be approved until at least next year, depending on the Department of Utilities review and feedback, the plan provides a more efficient and secure long-term solar subsidy plan. It also provides an effective option to further develop net-zero buildings and policy throughout the state to mitigate and adapt to the changing climate. USGBC Massachusetts will continue to closely watch the state’s SMART plan and advocate for its implementation. If interested in the exact details and calculations of the SMART plan’s subsidies, check out DOER’s full presentation on the final SMART program design.

Graph retrieved from DOER presentation on SMART.

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HUD supporting Green Building with insurance rate reductions

By Anthony Lucivero, Advocacy Fellow on 9/15/2016

Julian Castro, the Secretary for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), announced a measure last week to support green and affordable housing. Federal Housing Administration annual insurance rates for energy efficient green housing will be given a 20-45 point reduction.  Also announced were insurance rate reductions for affordable housing units.  HUD cited numerous studies showing decline in home ownership and income, and an increase in the home rental market. This is another important victory in promoting energy efficient building design!

You can read the original news story here.


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MA House Budget cuts 5% of environmental spending

By Anthony Lucivero, Advocacy Fellow on 5/16/2016

As you might have heard as the news broke last week, the Massachusetts House Ways & Means cut spending on environmental protection by 5%.  This is a big disappointment, as the total spending on the environment will continue to be less than 1% of the total MA budget.  

However, there is a slight silver-lining.  There were a number of amendments that saw increases in funding for certain environmental programs.  

The increases are (from the Environmental League of Massachusetts):

  • Climate Change Adaptation & Preparedness – increase of $150,000
  • Department of Agricultural Resources Administration – increase of $640,000
  • Department of Environmental Protection Administration – increase of $125,000
  • Division of Ecological Restoration – increase of $75,000
  • DCR State Parks and Recreation – increase of $2.1 million
  • Community Preservation Act: received a $10M transfer from the FY2016 Consolidated Net Surplus 
  • Established a farmland protection advisory commission
  • Statewide habitat conservation plan – increase of $100,000

So what can we do going forward?  As a community, we need to keep the pressure up to let legislators know we want more than the bare minimum for environmental protection spending.

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