Our Opinion: Continuing to lead on renewable energy

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Massachusetts residents should be proud of the fact that their state was named first in the nation for energy efficiency in 2017 by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a nonprofit organization that advances national energy efficiency goals. Achieving such a status takes imagination, commitment and hard work. Most important, improving energy efficiency is a project that, while always striving for perfection, is never truly completed. In that spirit, it's encouraging and not unexpected that a summit Monday convened at BCC to seek the holy grail of 100 percent renewable energy drew a capacity crowd; community leaders, politicians, nonprofits and state agencies were there to share ideas, suggestions and advice. (Eagle, March 6)

Energy costs in the Commonwealth are among the nation's highest, which is an effective catalyst for converting good intentions into action. Since most electricity in Massachusetts is still generated in natural gas-fired plants, the summit's stated goal of eventually generating all of it from renewable resources is boosted by real economic incentives.

Industries that rely on stable electricity rates for planning production and expansion, for example, have been buffeted by hikes related to the cost of fuel; the ramifications are real when it comes to having to trim jobs in order to absorb them and continue making a profit. Likewise, fuel-related rate hikes affect taxpayer-funded entities like public buildings, street illumination and schools, packing a double punch for property and business owners.

While wind and solar are not constant sources, one of the advantages that green energy enjoys over more conventional forms of generation is that once the infrastructure investments have been made, systems can operate relatively free from the gyrations of market forces. In addition, recent groundbreaking advances in energy storage and batteries may ultimately smooth out green energy's generating inconsistency, making it an even more practical alternative.

Present at the summit was a representative from the state Department of Energy Resources who spoke of financial incentives to help individual residents reduce home energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, reminding listeners that fuel we don't use is as helpful in reaching the goal as green energy. As Jane Winn, executive director of the non-profit Berkshire Environmental Action Team told The Eagle, utility-sponsored programs like MassSave that help low-income people weatherize and insulate their homes is still reaching too few people. She mentioned other nuts-and-bolts ways to free energy users from fossil fuels, like electrifying municipal vehicles, converting all mass transit to electric, and converting home heating systems to solar electric. While electricity is not the greenest of energy sources at the present time, it is most adaptable to various uses and types of renewable power generation — helping to make the 100-percent goal more attainable in the long run.

Ultimately, the goal of fully renewable energy isn't just beneficial for the planet, the state and the county in terms of reduction of greenhouse gases; inherent in its adoption is the need for more skilled and specialized jobs in the green energy field. Moreover, such jobs can't be "offshored." Summits like Monday's are critical to bringing all parties together and coordinating their efforts into a coherent strategy, and the strong support shown by state government in particular is the grease that will help get the wheels of totally renewable energy production in Berkshire County rolling.


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