|Local Environmentalists Oppose Policies Supporting Natural Gas|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
03:00PM / Tuesday, March 21, 2017
|Dicken Crane says he gets most of his energy from a solar array and from forestry and he doesn't need any more natural gas.|
Christopher Kilfoyle of Berkshire Photovoltaic Services is pushing for 100 percent of the state's energy come from renewable sources.
DALTON, Mass. — Dicken Crane has a large solar array on his Holiday Brook Farm. He has a forest management program to harvest timber to burn in a wood furnaces.
He doesn't need more natural gas.
Crane is one of some 500 businesses that have signed onto a petition against Gov. Charlie Baker's push for access to more natural gas.
Baker has been supportive of new natural-gas infrastructure and had previously introduced a proposal to allow electric utilities to levy a tax on users to pay for infrastructure, particularly the price to build new pipelines, but that was rejected by the Supreme Judicial Court.
Proponents of natural gas have long said it is a bridge fuel to offset the decommissioning of coal and nuclear plants in New England and that more natural gas will keep rates down by controlling the peak times of production, such as in the high demand winter months.
Baker has supported efforts to boost the renewable energy portfolio of the state in what has been called an "all of the above" policy to shift from coal. Baker has called for more renewable energy while at the same time remained supportive of new natural gas pipelines.
Plans for new pipelines, however, have been largely opposed in the Berkshires because of the use of fracked gas, damage to the area's natural resources and potential dangers of the high-pressure lines.
Crane says the state doesn't need more gas, it just needs to focus more on renewable energies, and that includes proper forest management and solar. If rolled out more aggressively and properly, Crane doesn't believe any new gas pipelines are needed.
"The important thing, I think, to realize is that to really be both energy independent and using renewable energy is to look at all of the resources. As much as solar is important to us, the use of waste wood from forest management is equally, if not more, important to us and is equally renewable," Crane said. "It is important to see these things as a suite of options."
Crane joined environmental activists on Tuesday to share how he powers his farm and call for more renewable energy. The press conference was one of many throughout the state as Mass Power Forward, a collaborative of environmentalist groups, oppose Baker's stance. Locally, that includes the Berkshire Environmental Action Team and 350 Mass.
"We call on Gov. Baker to drop his call to place a pipeline tax on every electric ratepayer in the commonwealth. A recent study has shown that under existing laws and regulations that tax would end up costing ratepayers substantially more than any savings that might be produced in the first two years of operations," said BEAT Executive Director Jane Winn.
"In fact, BEAT sees the pipeline tax as a way to shift the cost and risk of building pipelines from big gas companies onto ratepayers, while all the potential profits from selling that fracked natural gas overseas will go to the heads of the big gas companies."
Crane simply says, "we don't need it so why are we going to pay for it?" The group oppose any pipeline project and say the state can absolutely move to 100 percent renewable energy through the development of solar, hydro, forest management, adding energy storage, implementing microgrids, and becoming more energy efficient and conserving more.
"We don't need any new gas infrastructure. It is dirty fossil fuels that are polluting our air and causing health problems. There are huge opportunities in the state to grow our green economy," said Cheryl Rose of 150 Berkshires.
Christopher Derby Kilfoyle, president of Berkshire Photovoltaic Services, said what Crane does for his farm is "today's energy" and he believes not only can the state become 100 percent renewable by following his lead but that the entire world can move that way.
"We can do this globally. This year China will have 1.5 gigawatts of new solar installed and many Third World countries are skipping the industrial coal and oil level of energy use and going straight to renewables," Kilfoyle said.
Mass Power Forward is crafting a petition which is signed by about 500 businesses opposing natural gas.
Kilfoyle says technology can be powered by small solar panels, and new micropower grids can allow for farms to put up solar arrays that will create additional energy for the entire grid.
"We are in transition to a new type of power grid. You've heard of microgrids, that is going to happen. That is happening in places like Haiti. Why are we wasting 30 percent of our energy power to send it from Mount Tom in Holyoke out to Dalton when you can make it on your own roof?" Kilfoyle said.
"We are going to get to the point where a microgrid can contribute to the whole network of the grid."
The opportunities are there and Kilfoyle is calling on residents and businesses to "stand up to the utilities" by fighting against pipelines. He said the electric and gas companies have tried to demonize solar when what really has hurt their business is the loss of population and large factories.
He cited Eversource's proposal to raise rates by some 10 percent as a move to continue to reliance on fossil fuels. He wants the utility to companies to turn the other way and look toward renewables.
"They are going to penalize solar," Kilfoyle said.
Secondly, he says the United States simply uses too much electricity. He is calling for significant efforts to increase energy conservation.
"We all are going to have to make sacrifices," Kilfoyle said.
Winn said the state already has requests for proposal out for more offshore wind, energy storage, and microgrids, all of which will help smooth out peak demands, when energy producers incur the most costs.
"It is important that we move quickly away from highly polluting fuels like fracked natural gas. To meet our greenhouse gas emission targets we will have to decrease our use of fracked natural gas so there is no advantage to the people to build more pipelines," Winn said.
Mass Power Forward has collected hundreds of signatures from business across the state present to the governor's office. The advocates say that while many businesses are supporting the natural gas push, a significant number of others are opposing it.