The Baker administration recently claimed that Massachusetts is on target to meet the state’s emissions reduction targets. This may seem like good news except Governor Baker’s proposed energy plan could be harmful to our state’s economy. An updated report released last week by the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs asserted that the state expects to cut emissions 26.4 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, meeting the 25 percent reduction required by the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act. The report assumes, however, that investing in large-scale hydroelectric power from Canada could be a one-fix solution. While buying large amounts of hydro could reduce our state emissions, it is not a viable solution to meet all of our state’s energy needs.
Large hydro projects are one of the most controversial low-carbon energy sources due to the numerous environmental and social repercussions. Projects would require construction of reservoirs, transmission lines, and dams. The resulting deforestation would release harmful carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, reducing the carbon sinking properties of surrounding forests.
Not only will expansion of large hydro cause environmental degradation, furthering global climate change, outsourcing energy will come at the expense of our growing local clean energy industries such as wind and solar. Incentives to develop local energy sources will vanish, especially if the energy from Canadian hydro is allowed to count toward our state’s renewable energy requirements. In addition relying on foreign energy imports would take jobs away from workers in the local renewable energy industry. The clean energy sector is important to our state’s economy, providing nearly 99,000 jobs. Thus outsourcing our energy, as well as relying on one major source, would hurt our local economy and renewable energy markets.
There are also major concerns about whether the hydropower plans are even viable. Construction of transmission lines requires approval in neighboring states and faces considerable opposition from New Hampshire. Even if this issue were resolved and the project approved tomorrow, the logistics make it highly unlikely that it would be successfully completed by 2020.
We should not put all of our eggs into one basket for something that may not even help us reach our goals on time. The truth is that none of these energy sources can solve our energy needs alone. State officials must recognize that reducing emissions while meeting energy demand cannot be done using a one-fix solution. Realistically we can meet our targets by using an array of solutions, without sacrificing the local economy. The Commonwealth would be better served if we instead invested in offshore wind, community solar and small-scale, low-impact local hydro projects. Investing in local energy sources would circulate more money back into our state’s economy, resulting in a stronger Commonwealth.
Kate Galbo is the policy coordinator for the Climate Action Business Association.