Berkshire summit plots transition to 100 percent renewable energy

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By Tuesday, Mar 6 News  10 Comments
Terry Cowgill
State Sen. Adam Hinds addresses the Berkshires 100 Percent Renewable Energy Summit held at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield on Monday evening.

Pittsfield — State and local officials, business leaders and environmental advocates gathered at Berkshire Community College on Monday to discuss steps to transition to 100 percent renewable energy. The Berkshires 100 Percent Renewable Energy Summit is part of a collaborative statewide conversation focusing on achieving a swift, just and complete transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. According to Meghan Hassett, campaign organizer for Environment Massachusetts, this was the fifth 100 percent renewable summit held in communities across the state since last fall.

Panelists and audience at the renewal energy summit. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Having this conversation at the community level is essential to the strategy of overcoming the federal government’s inaction and hostility towards addressing climate change. “There’s a real sense of urgency, but also frustration on these issues,” said State Sen. Adam Hinds during his opening remarks at the summit. “We see the choices being made at the national level, and that just elevates the importance of what you’re doing [at the local and state level].”

Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer echoed this sentiment. “It’s right here where we are, in our cities and states, where we can make the most difference.”

Tyer explained how Pittsfield is forging ahead with renewable energy, particularly solar. Last spring, the city completed the conversion of a landfill into a 2.9-megawatt solar array, which is projected to save $140,000 annually in energy costs. Another solar array was installed on the city’s wastewater treatment plant. Additionally, a solar array proposal is in the works for the Pittsfield airport. Pittsfield was also recently awarded a $75,000 grant for a feasibility study on community microgrids.

Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer (center) explaining the renewable energy projects the city has undertaken. Photo: Terry Cowgill

“We are proud of our track record in developing renewable energy generation facilities in our city, and we look forward to assessing the feasibility of a local microgrid system that will improve our resiliency as a city,” said Tyer.

Other speakers talked about energy efficiency programs like MassSave, clean transportation initiatives, and renewable heating and cooling. Great Barrington is participating in the pilot round of the HeatSmart Mass program, modeled after the successful Solarize Mass initiative. HeatSmart uses the same community outreach and group purchasing model as Solarize but for clean heating/cooling technologies. Great Barrington has chosen to work with air-source heat pumps, which are highly efficient but relatively expensive. A key part the Great Barrington HeatSmart team’s focus is bridging the funding gap to enable low-income homeowners to participate. “Great Barrington is very committed to the environmental justice aspect of this in terms of making sure low-income residents have access,” said Judy Eddy, marketing consultant for HeatSmart GB. Eddy explains the HeatSmart initiative in the video below:

 

 

Regionally, western Massachusetts is making considerable progress in advancing clean energy. Amherst and Northampton have made commitments to achieve 100 percent renewable energy. Over three dozen towns are designated Green Communities, which means they receive state grants to fund municipal energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. And two of the region’s ski resorts, Jiminy Peak and Berkshire East, are both powered by 100 percent clean energy from solar and wind.

Berkshire East Director of Communications Bill Farrell addressed the summit, telling the story of why the mountain resort opted for renewable power. The bottom line is that it made sense for their bottom line. Facing prohibitive power costs, the Schaefer family that owns the resort made a commitment to switch to wind and solar energy in order for the business to survive. Berkshire East put in a 900 kW wind turbine in 2010, and the next year added a 500 kW solar field. It is now the only ski area in the world that generates 100 percent of its electricity from onsite renewable energy.

The summit also addressed the imperative for ambitious policy at the state level to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy. According to Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts, one of the main challenges is to move beyond the incremental approach to policymaking. The goal, he said, is for the state to make a commitment to achieve 100 percent renewable energy economy-wide by 2050.

In mid-February, the State Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change unanimously advanced an energy omnibus bill that includes a binding commitment to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. Legislation has also been filed that would mandate 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035 and 100 percent renewable heating and transportation by 2050. (See state Sen. Adam Hinds comments in video below.)

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“Massachusetts has come a long way, but we cannot rest on our laurels. There is so much at stake, but we also have so much to gain from going 100 percent renewable,” said Meghan Hassett, campaign organizer with Environment Massachusetts.

“Events like this showcase all the momentum we have at the local level,” she added. “Hearing from all the business and community leaders here it’s clear we can accelerate the progress we’ve already made to get to 100 percent renewable energy.”


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10 Comments   Add Comment

  1. dennis irvine says:

    From http://articulatingthefuture.weebly.com/ – “Renewables” are all sources of producing electricity. The problem is that most of the energy we use isn’t electric – electricity production is only 18% of total world energy demand. But make no mistake – a greater dependence on renewables is inevitable. The problems occur when you realize that these renewables are themselves dependent on oil, which is being funded by debt that won’t last and is ending in bankruptcies and has an ever-lower EROEI (Energy Return On Energy Invested).

    The outcome of all this is that, yes, we will become more and more heavily reliant on intermittently-available renewables. But (and this is the point that many miss) as we become more reliant on renewables on a small scale (personal use, business use, town use), we will be living with increasingly less and less overall energy on a large scale (geographically, nationally, globally). All the systems that are geographic (grid systems), national (the economy), and global (trade, imported goods, etc), will inevitably fail and we will have to make due with local solutions. Renewables will power a fraction of our current way of life at best – and they will not be sufficient to continue business as usual as we have known it.”

  2. James M says:

    The conceit that we can power suburbia, the interstate highway system, truck based distribution networks, commercial aviation, the U.S. military, and Walt Disney World on anything other than fossil fuels is going to leave an awful lot of people disappointed.

    1. James M says:

      I would also include to the list of my previous post the exurban campuses of regional schools.

    2. Joseph Method says:

      Nah, you can power everything on renewables as long as you solve the battery problem. One of the cool things about hydrogen fuel cells is that you can use renewable energy to make liquid hydrogen, which is in effect a battery. Some things will take longer than others, but we’ll get there.

      1. James M says:

        You are promulgating Techno-narcissism. Some might describe it as the “Jiminey Cricket” that if you believe hard enough it will come true.

  3. Joseph Method says:

    James M, I see it as techno-realism. I would compare your position to the idea that horses will never be replaced by automobiles, or the prediction that the world would only need 5 computers total. As for Jiminey Cricket I agree it’s not about believing hard but the will to do something is important. The US transformed its economy to fight World War 2. If we had the will we could do the same to respond to another existential threat.

    1. James M says:

      What’s astonishing in your fealty to techno-triumphalism, is you do not contest the untenability of our current living arraignments. You appear to endorse the list of unsustainable energy consumptive land uses I have listed in place just substituting one energy source with another never questioning the underlying mis-allocation of resources.

    2. dennis irvine says:

      We will not be able to continue business as usual, growth based, extractive economics. Finite is real. Your example of hydrogen as storage perfectly illustrates the point of EROEI( Energy Return on Energy Invested). The energy required to produce the hydrogen to store and use later is greater than the energy the hydrogen yields. It is a net energy sink. Even if you power the electrolysis to make hydrogen using so called renewable sources the EROEI is still to low and/or negative. Renewable energy devices require fossil fuels in their construction, materials sourcing and maintenance. Mining materials alone is one of the single most energy intense industries- giant dump trucks that burn a gallon of diesel a minute! will not run on batteries and still carry their cargo. And because a PV panel does not produce more energy in its effective lifetime than it requires to build and maintain, it cannot self-replicate, it has an extremely low EROEI. We cannot build solar power factories that build solar panels without an additional energy input from carbon based sources. It is a fantasy, or as some call it, “Techno-Hopium.” Like using energy in August to can tomatoes for use in March, renewables will help us transition to a much lower carbon, or zero carbon, slower, smaller, hyper-local lifestyle- if we are lucky and prudent. But they will not power a future just like the past, happy motoring to WalMart, flying for fun and sun, and spending as therapy. The ‘achievements’ of the last century have been fueled by an abundant, ultra cheap, ultra dense energy source that is quickly running out and its continued use is ruining the planet anyways. Below are some links that you might find worth reading. You are correct that our attitude about change and challenges will make all the difference- Community is our only genuinely renewable resource.

      https://ourfiniteworld.com/2016/12/21/eroei-calculations-for-solar-pv-are-misleading/

      https://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/11/21/renewable_energy_simply_wont_work_google_renewables_engineers/

  4. Joseph Method says:

    James M, I didn’t understand the point you were making. I thought you were arguing that we couldn’t power everything with renewable energy so we should just give up and resign ourselves to using fossil fuels. I see now you share a similar position to Dennis Irvine. This position seems reasonable to me. We should reduce our energy use as we transition to renewables.

    I am more optimistic about the future of renewable energy though. The calculations about energy cost to produce renewable energy seem too static to me. The first autonomous trucks are battery powered so I don’t see a technical barrier to having battery powered dump trucks. There are many ways to break up a design challenge like that. If the problem is EROEI then we’ll just have to attack every part of the equation to bring it down.

  5. dennis irvine says:

    Hi Joseph;

    I admire your optimism. Transportation requires high level of energy density- a gallon of gas is packed full of energy. The energy density of battery storage is quite low in comparison. battery technology does not evolve and progress like computers do, according to Moore’s law. We have had slow progress with battery storage, the next break through has been just around the corner now, for 20 years. And, regardless, we run up against limits to growth either way- we have nearly used half the planet’s lithium already. Were tesla ever to reach its stated production goals they would consume all the lithium; all of it. Autonomous truck transport is unlikely to ever reach application at scale. And mining trucks, the cargo weight would be offset by the battery size needed. I don’t know how to post a photo here, or if it can be done, but here belowis a link to another good article about what our options really are, check out that truck picture! The very best thing we can do is learn to grow food and share it and meet the challenges of reduced resources with compassion.

    http://articulatingthefuture.weebly.com/home/the-significance-of-renewables

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