Joining many national and local governments, Massachusetts has embarked on a goal of reducing greenhouse (GhG) emissions. The plan is ambitious–25% below 1990 levels–and has attracted plenty of attention in the press. Supporters and detractors have had plenty to say about the initiative. Some tout the agenda as a necessary and ambitious project to roll back the effects of climate change; others roll their eyes and complain that it is another lofty numeric goal that sounds catchy, but is meaningless in practice if the goals are too difficult to achieve.
But what is compelling about the plan is the economic reasoning behind Massachusetts’ goal to set such reduction targets. Massachusetts, like much of the Northeastern U.S., requires much energy to keep those downtown Boston high rises warm, home heating oil tanks full, and cars running. All those fossil fuels, including natural gas, oil, and coal, must be hauled in from the Gulf Coast or the Western U.S., or from nations like Venezuela and Middle Eastern states that are either unfriendly or unreliable. Hence, all that money spent on fuel flows out of the state to the tune of US$22 billion, and little of it creates economic opportunity within Massachusetts. Therefore, the average US$5200 that a Massachusetts household spends on energy annually ends up leaving the state. Meanwhile, electricity bills have steadily increased while the price of gasoline and natural gas have been volatile.
Massachusetts’ clean energy sector is small but shows promise. The state benefits from a bevy of universities that churn out skilled and bright workers, and the legacy of the past high-tech boom provides plenty of talent. Currently at least 11,000 workers are employed at clean energy firms, up two-thirds from 2007. Energy efficiency technology companies and energy storage technology firms also provide jobs to several thousand employees.
The logic behind an ambitious GhG reduction plan is clear; whether the goal can be achieved in nine years remains to be seen. Since buildings consume over half of the energy consumed in Massachusetts, almost 10% of future GhG reductions are slated to come from this category. Energy efficient technologies, advanced building energy codes, and expanding incentives that allow commercial buildings to benefit from rebates currently only available to homes are just a few ways Massachusetts plans to slash energy use this decade.
Transportation is second only to buildings in the amount of energy used and GhG emissions into the atmosphere. Some initiatives are hardly new, such as smart-growth policies and consumer incentives to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles. Others have more gumption, like a Pay As You Drive (PAYD) pilot insurance policy that converts annual insurance premiums into a variable cost based on miles driven.
The devil is always in the details, but Massachusetts’ plan is an ambitious start. The emphasis on economic development could look genius if the price of fossil fuels spike sharply this decade, or it could look just like another bone thrown at environmental groups if few of the plans come to fruition. But for states and municipalities that are thirsty for energy but have few resources, the emphasis on energy independence, energy efficiency, cost containment, and economic development make the Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2020 a model for future energy policies.