Northeast Climate Goals Drive Opportunity for Clean Energy Deployment

By Jordan Flanagan, NECEC Policy Intern

Nearly every Northeast has adopted ambitious climate goals that are consistent with current climate science. With the exception of New Hampshire, each state has set a goal or mandate to achieve at least 80% greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions by 2050. Last year, New York became the first to pass a net-zero reduction commitment. Massachusetts followed suit this year, and Governor Mills in Maine has also targeted a net-zero goal by 2045 through an Executive Order.

Reaching these emissions targets will require a coordinated effort. Each state has Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) that will help achieve these reductions. In addition, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island have announced major offshore wind procurement goals for the next 10 to 15 years. Alone, these initiatives will not deliver nearly enough GHG emissions reductions to reach our climate commitments.

Are Climate Targets Feasible?

Energy and Environmental Economics (E3) and Energy Futures Initiative (EFI) presented the results of their research in November on achieving a net-zero future for New England. They found that large amounts of clean energy resources must be added to the system to cost-effectively achieve the region’s goals. The two bookend scenarios examined included a mix of 47 to 64 gigawatts (GW) of new renewable generation by 2050, consisting primarily of solar and wind technologies. The Brattle Group also released a study reviewing the possibility of New England states successfully meeting their goals, concluding that four to seven gigawatts in new clean energy resources must be added to the electricity system annually on average. Deployment of that scale is approximately four to eight times what New England has planned for 2020-2030.

These targets are lofty, especially considering the region’s energy portfolio still contains a large proportion of non-renewable resources and the pace of economy-wide change is slow. On-the-ground issues in the region that must be addressed include notorious difficulty in siting new infrastructure projects, a mounting need for grid modernization, and transmission and energy storage needs. Though research shows that New England is capable of achieving its climate goals, the region, to date, lacks the necessary coordinated efforts to reach those numbers. Changes and additions to the system must be rapid and intentional.

Ambitious Climate Goals Will Create Opportunity with State Commitment

The Northeast has no choice but to accelerate clean energy deployment or the region will fail to meet its targets. The clean energy industry’s critical role in decarbonizing the electric sector and transforming the system makes the Northeast prime for a variety of deployment opportunities. The fate of these opportunities, however, rests in state governments’ coordinated planning efforts.

On the one hand, for example, Rhode Island’s commitment to 100% renewable electricity by 2030 is sealed through a non-binding executive order, but the state’s Office of Energy Resources is undertaking a process to understand the policy pathways to meet that executive order. On the other hand, New Hampshire has not set a mandate for a GHG emissions reduction target, and its RPS is limited with no signs of expansion. While the Northeast is well positioned to be an active market for renewables, states must actively remove barriers to deployment to reinforce their goals.

The good news is that evaluations of specific pathways to decarbonization are underway in most states, and committees and working groups are planning for the policies and strategies needed to tackle the complex obstacles posed by the ambitious targets.  With the release last week of Massachusetts’ 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap and 2030 Clean Energy and Climate Plan and the news this week of the state’s compromise climate bill, taken with Connecticut’s release in December of a draft Integrated Resources Plan that calls on the state to codify the Governor’s target of a carbon-free electric sector by 2040, our region is on a path to make the 2020s a decade of action. But the exercise of planning for meeting climate commitments is not enough - we must take swift and decisive action to set ourselves on a path to a cleaner future.

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Meggie Quackenbush

Meggie Quackenbush is NECEC's Senior Communications Manager.