Green Revolution Short-Circuited by 20th Century Delivery System

By Cynthia A. Arcate 17 March, 2012

It’s more than a bit ironic that, as a “green revolution” was being declared on Clean Energy Day at the State House Wednesday, NStar utility workers were scrambling to fix a major outage of the distribution system in Boston’s Back Bay. There is a growing disconnect between our focus in the state on green/clean energy and everything else we’re doing from a delivery system perspective – and that includes our public transportation system.

We are rapidly facing a time when we will all leave our highly efficient homes powered by clean energy and go to work at highly efficient businesses but travel there either in cars or on a decrepit public transportation system. Why is it that we willingly spend hundreds of millions of dollars on efficiency and green energy but balk at spending an additional $156 million to run a full service MBTA for a year or simply blame the utility for the catastrophic failure of an aging wires system?

It doesn’t make sense. As Seth Kaplan at the Conservation Law Foundation says, “A green building with a full parking lot is not a green building.” Similarly, green power that can’t get delivered to consumers or behind-the-meter, clean technology that can’t operate when there is an outage doesn’t make sense either. It’s time to take a holistic view of our energy usage – including the delivery system. And by that I also mean the nuts and bolts of delivering on the promise of this “revolution.”

The rules and implementation of the Green Communities Act are still not working particularly smoothly. Case in point is the net metering rules for implementing the renewables program. After 18 months of consideration, the Department of Public Utilities issued rules that raise almost as many questions as they answer. The utilities can’t keep up with the interconnections of these facilities, yet we have some of the most advanced thinking in the country on how to interconnect renewables.

We don’t need another revolution. We’re in one now and it’s time to settle down and make the one we started work properly. That includes spending money on infrastructure and new technologies that will make it all work together, not just spend more money on things that don’t work with the system we’ve got.

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