Greenhouse gas emissions continue to decline in New England

For about two decades, the bulk of new power resources built in New England have been natural gas-fired plants, which meet the region's electricity needs more efficiently and with fewer emissions than the oil- and coal-fired facilities that once dominated the power grid.

The region's increased reliance on natural gas has taken the biggest bite out of long-term greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report released last week by ISO New England, the nonprofit that runs New England's power grid and electricity market. Since 2001, emissions of sulfur dioxide are down 98 percent, nitrogen oxides 74 percent, and carbon dioxide 34 percent across the region's six states, the agency said.

Last year, relatively high winter temperatures led to reduced generation from coal and oil resources, helping cut emissions further.

But ISO New England notes other trends, including the region's focus on energy efficiency initiatives and efforts to procure electricity from renewable resources, have helped cut emissions and should continue to do so for years to come.

Marcia Blomberg, an ISO New England spokeswoman, described New England as a leader in energy efficiency because many states have implemented a host of initiatives to decarbonize the economy. New England states have pushed toward cleaner construction and tougher building codes; more efficient lighting, appliances and cooling; electric vehicle rebates; and incentives for home energy audits and solar installations. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Vermont rank among top five states in energy efficiency in the U.S., according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy's 2018 rankings.

"These energy efficiency programs are having a noticeable effect," ISO New England said in a statement Thursday. ISO New England estimates that the $1.2 billion states will invest annually from 2019 to 2027 will save an average of 2,059 gigawatt hours each year and will reduce peak demand in the region by almost 300 megawatts annually.

ISO New England said power generation in New England was 2.8 percent lower in 2017 than in the previous year, at about 102,562 gigawatt hours. The decline in generation followed a 2.6 percent decline in total demand for power, at about 121,220 gigawatt hours in 2017.

Demand in the region has declined since about 2005, partly due to the growth in solar and increased energy efficiency measures.

As solar costs have declined, growth in small-scale solar power systems "shows that more and more New Englanders are supplying some or all of their own power, thereby reducing demand for electricity from the regional grid," ISO New England said.

Chris Collibee, spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said Monday that ISO New England recently reported that the Thanksgiving midday peak "typically seen from ovens and family gatherings was curtailed this year because of the installation of rooftop solar in Connecticut and New England states. This region truly focuses on protecting the environment for today and 100 years from now. A key part of that is decarbonizing the energy economy."

Collibee said the Malloy administration's creation of DEEP streamlined the state's focus on energy and "allowed for staff and policy makers to work closely together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve the environment and drive down costs for consumers."

Collibee added that the Connecticut Green Bank — which helps finance green energy projects for homeowners, businesses and institutions — "is the first of its kind in the nation and has served as a model for other states."

Since its inception in 2011, the Connecticut Green Bank and its private partners have injected more than $1 billion into clean energy projects, creating jobs and leveraging $6 in private investment for every dollar of public funds invested in the bank.

The ramp-up in renewable energy sources — Connecticut this year set a goal for 40 percent of all electricity to come from renewables by 2030 — is another factor that will drive down emissions.

The region saw "significant increases in production from hydro, solar, and wind resources," ISO New England said, with solar and wind resources combined increasing production by 995 gigawatt hours, 31 percent more power than 2016. Generation by hydro facilities rose 1,115 gigawatt hours, 15 percent more than 2016.

As of October 2018, about 64 percent of projects proposed to connect to the New England grid are wind-power resources, which will lead to further emissions reductions, ISO New England said.

The region also sees more power coming from outside of New England, and external generation doesn't count toward regional air emissions. Blomberg said Monday that in the early 2000s, imported power ranged from about 5 to 10 percent of New England's total energy usage, with most of the imports from Quebec and New Brunswick and some power imported over transmission lines through New York. But last year, about 17 percent of the region's energy needs were met from lower-priced external sources.

While ISO New England doesn't know the generating source of all imports, "it is known that most of Hydro Quebec's energy comes from hydro, and imports from Quebec are typically larger than imports from New Brunswick or New York," Blomberg said.

b.kail@theday.com

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