New England Clean Energy Council hopes for renewable energy push from candidates

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PITTSFIELD >> New England Clean Energy Council officials say they're hoping for more details from political candidates this election season on how Massachusetts can continue the surge of renewable energy and efficiency initiatives that has made the state a national leader.

"Energy is a big deal, clean energy is a big deal in New England," said council President Peter Rothstein during a recent visit to The Eagle. "It is going to be a big issue no matter who is the next governor."

Rothstein and former longtime North County state Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, now government relations executive with the nonprofit council's policy and government relations team, discussed the role of efficiency and renewable energy for the state and region. They said the state's recent efforts have spurred exponential growth in the sector, and the resulting projects and products will have a direct bearing on the demand for natural gas pipelines and other fossil fuel projects.

"Demand is flattening out," Bosley said, referring to a recent trend in energy efficiency's effect on the need for electricity. "This is mostly because of efficiency, and we are leading the nation."

Traditionally, he said, economic growth and an increase in a demand for additional power generation have followed a similar trajectory, "but new economic development and energy growth are now decoupled."

Wind, solar, hydro and other renewable resource-generated power sources also are steadily chipping away at the need for fossil-fuel powered sources. Bosley said.

Under the Deval Patrick administration, Massachusetts has been ranked first among the states for three years by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Rothstein said, and that is reflected in rapid growth in the sector, which now encompasses nearly 6,000 businesses.

According to a report from MassCEC, the clean energy sector here is a $10 billion industry that has grown nearly 50 percent in four years and includes more than 88,000 employees — a figure projected to top 100,000 over the next few years.

As a result of myriad energy-related initiatives — many involving innovative new technology or new efficiencies — "it is unclear whether we will need any of these [proposed new fossil-fuel] projects," Rothstein said.

The officials praised the outgoing governor for pushing a number of state programs that have led to business start-up activity and innovation. "I would like to hear more from both major party candidates [for governor] where we are going to be during this transition," Rothstein said. "A lot has been done in a few years."

Opponents of Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.'s planned $6 billion natural main line expansion, which would cross 28 Massachusetts communities, have argued that the state and region "are at a tipping point" in terms of a long-term trend toward renewable energy, making a new 129-mile gas line unnecessary.

Project supporters and gas company officials deny that assessment, contending more natural gas is needed in New England simply to provide an adequate bridge toward predominant use of renewable energy sources.

Rothstein acknowledged that the need for natural gas today is real — particularly for electric power generation, as more than 50 percent of the power generated in the region new is produced at gas-fired plants. However, he and Bosley said gauging the need for more natural gas is difficult, given efficiency efforts to cut power use and renewable alternatives.

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In addition to liquefied natural gas, compression storage of natural gas might help relieve the shortages that are expected to cause electricity price hikes during winter peak periods, they said. Compressed gas, like the more familiar LNG, can be trucked, Rothstein said, and also could be compressed at the site of a gas-fired generation facility, providing a back-up supply during peak demand periods.

"It is also important that the region doesn't tie itself up with just one fuel," Bosley said of the growing reliance on natural gas as aging oil- and coal-fired generation plants are closed down. "We have to diversify."

Concerning wind power generation, Rothstein said that most claims of problems with turbines were found in a state study to be "exaggerated," but that siting guidelines are needed statewide to ensure proper setbacks and ensure that the equipment is continually upgraded to include the newest, least intrusive technology.

Hydro-generated power and a companion need for modernization of the region's aging power grid with new infrastructure and "smart" technology are other critical components, they said. Smart grid upgrades would better control distribution and storage of power and more efficiently use the power that already is being generated.

The power grid today is essentially "the same as in Edison's day," Rothstein said, having grown up as demand for electricity expanded but often in a haphazard, inefficient manner.

Newly developed designs for modular nuclear power plants also could provide an alternative within 10 years, the officials said. Cutting-edge designs, which have yet to reach the full operating model stage, would use "spent" nuclear fuel now being stored and deplete all or most of the up to 95 percent of radioactivity that typically remains in the fuel from existing plants.

If you go ...

What: Show-biz veteran John Davidson performs "golden oldies" of the '50s and '60s.

When: Thursdays at 8 p.m. (through Nov. 6)

Where: Firefly Restaurant, 71 Church St., Lenox.

Information: (413) 637-2700. Cover charge: $7 per person.

On the Web: www.fireflylenox.com; John Davidson

To reach Jim Therrien: jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com or (413) 496-6247. On Twitter: @BE_therrien


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