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Environment Massachusetts Releases 'Roadmap' To 100 Percent Renewables
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
03:45AM / Wednesday, July 25, 2018
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Michael Canales, Ariel Moyal, Ben Hellerstein, James Kolesar, and Tory Hanna discussed future energy policies at Persip Park in Pittsfield on Tuesday.


State Director Ben Hellerstein is urging lawmakers to "go big" with policies to quickly roll out renewable energy technology. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Environment Massachusetts is pushing for Massachusetts to get 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources.
 
On Tuesday the organization joined with those heading local renewable energy projects to release its agenda, or roadmap, to do so
 
"We could produce 19 times as much electricity as the state consumes each year from offshore wind. From solar power, we can get 47 percent of the state's electricity just by putting solar panels on every rooftop in the state - to say nothing of larger, ground-mounted installations," State Director Ben Hellerstein said.
 
"The potential is there. We are seeing new technologies like electric vehicles, energy storage, heat pumps, that are more than ever making it possible for us to imagine a world where 100 percent of the energy for our electric grid, heating, transportation, is coming from renewable sources."
 
Examples of how to do it are taking place right here in Berkshire, Hellerstein said. He was joined by Michael Canales, North Adams administrative officer, James Koleslar, assistant to the president for community and government affairs at  Williams College, and Tory Hanna, who is heading a feasibility study to develop a downtown microgrid in Pittsfield.
 
"There is quite a bit that North Adams has been doing along with Pittsfield. The two cities have been really trying to lead the way in what solar, wind, and other renewable sources that are available and what we can do to promote," Canales said.
 
Canales highlighted the city's solar 3.5-megawatt solar project, purchasing power from other solar arrays, converting streetlights to LED, energy efficiency projects at City Hall and the skating rink. The city also joined with 11 other towns on a municipal aggregation project which provides electricity to homes from renewable sources at a lower cost than National Grid would on its own. The city is designated a Green Community and has weatherization projects lined up at the library and senior center.
 
Pittsfield has embarked on a number of similar energy projects and the most recent is that the city was chosen as one of 14 municipalities across the state to have a feasibility study done on an urban microgrid.
 
"Pittsfield is really a bastion for renewable energy projects. We have six solar farms online already. There are a number of green energy initiatives we've taken on - our Green Commission and Mayor [Linda] Tyer," Hanna said.
 
Hanna said just last week the study for a microgrid kicked off to develop a grid in downtown Pittsfield, providing and storing renewable power to key places such as the hospital, police and fire stations, and City Hall. The project is funded by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center at a cost of $75,000.
 
"We just received funds two months ago and the consultant we secured - the Microgrid Institute out of Minneapolis - began their kick-off meeting last week. In the end, the proposed findings or report is due in February of 2019," Hanna said.
 
In Williamstown, Williams College helped finance a solar project at the landfill. Kolesar said the college set a goal of having gas emissions 35 percent less than it had in the 1990s and be carbon neutral by 2020. The college spent $3.5 million on the solar project and a private investor chipping in $1.5 million. 
 
"It is one that everybody wins. The town gets a greatly reduced rate of electricity, gets to lock in that rate for a long time for budgetary purposes, gets the knowledge that is completely renewable, and moves the state towards its goals, the town toward its goals, and the college toward its gas emissions goals too," Kolesar said.
 
Those are the type of projects and collaborations Environment Massachusetts wants to see happen all across the state. It was just in March when the organization set the goal and held summit meetings with stakeholders about how to get there. The focus was on rolling out energy efficient technology, replacing fossible fuel plants with solar and wind, and developing ways to power heating and transportation.
 
"We've been working steadily to build consensus both on the grassroots level as well as from key civic leaders across Massachusetts that 100 percent renewable is the direction we need to go in. We took a huge step forward in June when the Massachusetts Senate passed a bill that would put us on a path for 100 percent renewable electricity by 2050," Hellerstein said.
 
Hellerstein said he'd like Massachusetts' electricity to be 100 percent by 2035 and transportation and heating to follow by 2050. 
 
"We think Massachusetts could be at 100 percent renewable energy as soon as 2035. We want to see by 2050, the entire state, not just electricity but heating, transportation, all the other ways we use energy are also being powered by renewables," Hellerstein said.
 
The advocacy group is calling on the state to "go big on clean energy," but that has been somewhat of a hold upon recent years, Hellerstein said. While Environment Massachusetts supports eliminating the cap on net metering, government officials have been incrementally raising the cap. That has led a number of towns to hit that cap, thus halting future solar projects. 
 
Hellerstein said the state Senate bill passed in June is a "big step" because it sets a goal of 100 percent renewable electricity by 2050. That bill eliminates the solar net metering cap and increases the renewable energy portfolio. That still hasn't been passed by the entire legislature and there is less than a week left in the session.
 
"We're hoping officials come to an agreement before the end of the session on July 31 because these issues are very urgent," Hellerstein said.
 
Beyond that, there is a gubernatorial election coming up and Hellerstein is urging whoever is elected to follow the blueprint Environment Massachusetts has laid out to adopt policies which support clean energy. 
 
"Whoever it is in the governor's office in January, our hope is they can take this list of recommendations and really run with it," Hellerstein said.
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