ISO New England recently published a new state profile document about Massachusetts’ energy use and generation (Feb 2013). According to the document, Massachusetts makes up nearly half of the electricity use in New England (46%), and relies on power sources both in-state and in other locations throughout the region.

Currently natural gas is the primary fuel source in Massachusetts, with nearly 50% of the existing electricity generating capacity in the state relying on it. Nuclear generation accounts for 14% of the electricity generating capacity in the region and only 5% for the state (see graph below).

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Massachusetts’ only nuclear power plant is the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station located in Plymouth. Pilgrim went online in December 1972. The public safety risks associated with the plant have only increased as the plant has aged, with problems including extended outages (1986-89), inadequate emergency planning, and chronic issues with degrading and broken parts. The Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently placed Pilgrim among the nation’s top 9 worst performers based on problems and unplanned shutdowns.

Environmental damage caused during the plant’s 40+ year history of operations is of great concern – groundwater contamination includes spikes of radioactive tritium leaks, chronic surface water pollution with caustic chemicals and chlorines, periodic diluted radioactive discharges, thermal pollution of the bay, and direct destruction of millions of marine organisms each year with the facility’s outdated once-through cooling water system. The facility uses up to 510 million gallons per day for cooling, effectively pumping in the entire volume of Cape Cod Bay over 4 decades.

According to Entergy (the owner of Pilgrim), Pilgrim provides 10% of the actual electricity produced in Massachusetts (as opposed to its generating capacity), since the other sources are intermittent and Pilgrim runs constantly. However, we wonder about the accuracy of this considering the excessive number of unplanned shutdowns it has had over the past year. It seems that Pilgrim has become an intermittent source of energy lately as well.

One of the leading arguments presented by nuclear advocates is that we NEED Pilgrim’s power to meet our state’s electrical demand and to power our homes. However, given the costs and the inherent risk of such a dangerous technology, should we really prolong decommissioning Pilgrim? It seems we could curb our electricity demand by 5% relatively easily with additional efficiency efforts and increased use of renewable sources of energy. Technologically, economically, and environmentally – it seems that we are ready for it.

Energy Efficiency

We know that conservation efforts and energy efficiency improvements have had a great role in reducing demand for power and controlling carbon emissions.

Based on ISO’s state profile document, over the next 10 years Massachusetts’ overall electricity demand is expected to grow 1% annually and its peak demand (summer) is expected to grow 1.6% annually. However, energy efficiency efforts are helping to slow the growth of this demand. Compared to a traditional forecast, the state’s rate of overall energy use will be 13% less by 2021 due to energy efficiency improvements.

Massachusetts enacted legislation called the Green Communities Act in 2008, which promotes energy efficiency and encourages investment in renewables.  Since then, Massachusetts has sponsored a variety of energy efficiency programs for residents, organizations, businesses, municipalities, and state agencies. From 2011-2013, Massachusetts was ranked #1 in the nation for energy efficiency by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy’s (ACEEE’s) State Energy Efficiency Scorecard.

A new report by the Barr Foundation found that efficiency efforts have been an economic benefit to the state – albeit not large – from the enactment of the Green Communities Act.  Additionally, the Act has resulted in unquestionable environmental and health benefits (not included in the study).

Massachusetts continues to lead the nation in energy efficiency and clean energy policies and technology. The state recently developed a new three year plan (2013-2015) with goals to further save energy and provide incentives to businesses and homeowners willing to be more energy efficient.

Renewable sources

Renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and geothermal have also made an impact on the market in recent years and could be considerably increased.  According to a new report by the Solar Foundation, solar jobs rose nearly 25% in the U.S. in 2013. In southern New England – including Massachusetts – solar jobs grew even faster.

Last year, Massachusetts’ solar jobs increased by 42% (to 6,400 jobs). New solar projects are on the rise, with solar capacity doubling to 425 megawatts so far. This has surpassed the state’s goal of 250 megawatts of solar capacity by 2017. Solar companies increased to 283, and 51,618 homes now have solar-energy systems.

Summary

Only 5% of our state’s electricity generation capacity comes from nuclear. Given the strides Massachusetts has made with energy efficiency and renewable technology efforts, and the fact that available renewable sources are on the rise, it seems we could soon do without this 5%. It’s time we strive for the truly clean energy future we all need.