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Bay State utilities can now tap more green energy than ever

Renewable power available in N.E. nearly doubled in a single year

A wind turbine in Hull. Cape Wind wants to erect 130 energy-generating turbines in Nantucket Sound. A wind turbine in Hull. Cape Wind wants to erect 130 energy-generating turbines in Nantucket Sound. (Associated Press/ File)
By Steve LeBlanc
Associated Press / December 15, 2008
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Production of renewable energy is increasing in Massachusetts, for the first time giving electric companies the chance to buy more green power than they are required to under a set of goals established a decade ago.

Much of the electricity - from solar and wind energy to landfill methane gas and low-emissions biomass - comes from within Massachusetts, but other New England states, New York, and neighboring Canadian provinces also add to the total amount of green power available to local utility companies.

The amount of that power available nearly doubled from 940,000 megawatt hours in 2006 to about 1.6 million megawatt hours in 2007, according to a new report from the state Department of Energy Resources.

That meant utilities had more than enough green power to meet their obligation to purchase at least 3 percent of their electricity from renewable sources in 2007.

State Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles said the jump in production reflects the "mainstreaming of renewable power into our electric generation mix."

"The naysayers have said for a long time that renewable power is not going to be produced in large enough quantities, that it's too expensive, it's too hard to develop," he said. "What we're seeing is a rapid response out of the market."

The so-called renewable energy portfolio standards were created as part of the state's 1997 utility restructuring act. One goal of the law was to diversify sources of electricity in Massachusetts and create demand in the market to help spur the development of renewable power.

The standards first took effect in 2003. The amount of renewable energy local utilities will be required to purchase will continue to rise. Next year's goal is 4 percent and the obligation will creep up by 1 percent a year, reaching 15 percent by 2020.

Electricity suppliers that don't meet the goals must pay into the state's Renewable Energy Trust, designed to help fund clean, sustainably generated power in Massachusetts.

In 2007, eight of 24 electricity suppliers fell short and made payments into the fund, although sufficient supplies of renewable energy were available.

The head of the Department of Energy Resources, Phil Giudice, said the state needs to keep up the momentum.

"The challenge now is to speed up the development of renewable energy production in Massachusetts to keep pace as we raise our goals for the use of clean energy," he said.

Massachusetts has some renewable energy sources, including hydropower dams and natural gas from landfills.

Also, there are plans to build three wood-burning plants and a 15-megawatt wind farm in the Berkshires.

The state's highest-profile renewable energy project is the proposal by Cape Wind to build 130 energy-producing wind turbines in Nantucket Sound.

A study commissioned by the state found that renewable energy projects in Massachusetts currently under construction, design, or consideration would, if approved and developed, meet roughly half of the 2020 requirement of 15 percent of generation.

To help maintain the momentum, the state enacted a law that requires energy companies that purchase green energy to enter into long-term contracts of 10 to 15 years with producers. That guarantee of funding helps green energy companies persuade banks to lend them the money needed to expand renewable plants.

The push for renewable energy is spreading.

Massachusetts was one of the first states to institute a mandate. Now more than 20 states have some version of a green power purchasing requirement, Bowles said.

He said the shift to green energy makes more than just economic sense. It also helps clean the air and wean the country off foreign oil.

"The more we can continue to build power plants that have nothing to do with fossil fuels, that's a long term hedge against the volatility of fossil fuels," he said.

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