Environmentalists Hopeful Global Climate Pact Will Put New England On Renewable Energy Path

Dec 14, 2015

Global leaders in Paris over the weekend approved a historic international agreement to slow the warming of the planet. Here at home, the Rhode Island federal delegation is praising the climate accord, calling it a victory for the planet and future generations. Local environmental advocates and climate change experts say they are proud of programs New England has initiated to reduce acid rain and carbon emissions from power plants. Now they’re hopeful the Paris Climate Pact will steer the region away from natural gas.

New England states have made significant commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, especially from fossil fueled power plants. Carbon emissions have already gone down by more than 40 percent since 2005 through a multi-state emissions reduction program, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

But Conservation Law Foundation President Bradley Campbell says the region is at a crossroads when it comes to natural gas.

“In Rhode Island, there’s a new proposed Invenergy plant that in our view would lock us into natural gas energy platform for another generation,” said Campbell, pointing out that’s just one of a number of natural gas projects proposed all over New England. He notes the region will be coal-free in just four years, but could backslide if it overbuilds natural gas infrastructure.

Brown University professor Timmons Roberts is an expert on climate change, and he agrees with Campbell. Roberts said natural gas has played an important role in reducing carbon emissions in the southern New England.

“So it really has proven to be a bridge fuel as we are supposed to make this transition to a new future,” said Roberts. “But in some ways, we’re kind of across that bridge already, so to be continuing to build a bridge can be very dangerous. I think we have a great risk of building some plants and pipelines, based on natural gas, that could become stranded assets.”

Roberts said that’s not something New England can afford as the region tries to modernize and diversify its power grid and as the world tries to stay under a safe level of global warming temperatures.

“And natural gas plants – if we do switch on new power plants based on natural gas – are coming in at higher level of carbon emissions than the average of the grid in New England,” said Roberts. “So it actually is going in the wrong direction” to pursue natural gas-fired power plants.

Roberts and Campbell hope the Paris Climate Pact will steer New England toward renewable energy and away from natural gas. They say Rhode Island needs to rapidly decarbonize.

But Gov. Gina Raimondo has endorsed the proposed power plant, which would be fueled by natural gas. And she supports building other natural gas infrastructure in the region to control energy prices.

At the same time, Raimondo has indicated that she hears the call for renewable energy. She recently committed state agencies to get 100 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025.

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