Ariel Moyal and Sarah Gardner: Renewable energy takes heat off

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BOSTON, WILLIAMSTOWN — Massachusetts residents expect and may even welcome some heat after a long winter. However, the heat that residents have experienced across the state this June and July have gone beyond expected summer temperatures and veered into dangerous degrees. Unfortunately, scientists tell us these heat waves are not an anomaly, but Massachusetts' new normal. If we do not take expedient action to avert the worst effects of climate change, science tells us it is going to get even hotter.

Many people are familiar with the facts of a warming climate and rising sea levels. We experienced these impacts directly in July's scorching heat waves in which temperatures reached over 90 degrees across the state. Berkshire Medical Center saw over 50 patients with heat-related issues in just one hot weekend during the early July heat wave.

Unfortunately, this not a passing event. According to the Commonwealth's own research, in Massachusetts, the number of days with temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit is expected to increase from the five to 20 days that we experience today, to 30 to 60 annual days by the end of the century.

In 2016, residents in the Pittsfield area experienced almost 50 days of poor air quality. These two months of poor air quality will only increase with a warming climate. Rising temperatures will also exacerbate respiratory illnesses, vector-borne diseases, and water quality concerns.

And yet, a different, more resilient, path is within reach. Right now, we can begin the complete transition away from the fossils fuels that got us to this place. Massachusetts has historically been a nationwide leader in renewable energy. With strong energy efficiency programs and the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA), the Commonwealth has a track record of action.

Despite these efforts, now is not the time to rest on our laurels. Massachusetts is behind its legally-binding 25 percent emissions reduction goal set forth in the GWSA, and continues to import polluting out-of-state natural gas, while building more pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure.

Berkshire initiatives

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What Massachusetts needs now is bold leadership. Across the state, local initiatives exemplify the renewable energy transition that Massachusetts as a whole should work towards.

Communities in the Berkshires have been winning statewide recognition for their efforts towards renewable energy. The city of Pittsfield won a large grant to study the feasibility of a downtown microgrid that would incorporate solar and hydropower and utilize energy storage. This microgrid study builds upon Pittsfield's clean energy track record, with 11 solar arrays within the city including at the landfill, wastewater treatment plant, and airport.

South of Pittsfield, Great Barrington was the only Western Massachusetts town awarded a position in a pilot round of HeatSmart Mass, a community outreach and group purchasing program for clean heating and cooling technologies. Great Barrington's efforts prioritize inclusivity and environmental justice, hacking away at the "green divide" by prioritizing outreach to low-income residents.

These local efforts are innovative and strong, but we also need action on the state level.

Right now, state officials are considering legislation that would increase the percentage of our electricity coming from renewable resources to 50 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2047. A recent study showed that adopting this policy, along with removing arbitrary limits on solar power and setting ambitious goals for offshore wind and energy storage, would reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 600,000 metric tons per year by 2030, equivalent to the pollution from 128,000 cars.

The Massachusetts' governor also has an important role to play in implementing policies that would accelerate this transition. These include setting a strong goal for 100% renewable energy economy wide by 2050, mandating net-zero energy building construction, and increasing the availability of clean transportation options across the state.

Massachusetts has always been a leader in clean energy and energy efficiency initiatives. Now is the time for strong leadership once more. For the sake of breathable air, a resilient coast, the future of our economy, and the health of our children- our leaders should take swift action to accelerate and encourage a renewable energy transition in the Commonwealth.

Ariel Moyal is a member of Environment Massachusetts and Dr. Sarah Gardner is associate director and lecturer in Environmental Studies at Williams College.


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