Greenhouse Goal Should Avoid Poor Decisions

The cold weather over the last few weeks has resulted in a significant amount of electricity being generated by coal and oil in New England. But, on an annual basis, the amount of oil- and coal-generated electricity will still be about 1% or less of all of the generation in the region. It’s important to keep that fact in perspective, especially as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ clean energy solicitation is awarded.

The Boston Globe editorial last week implied that it would be worth the expense to select the winner of the solicitation based on its ability to deliver large-scale hydro sooner than a less expensive project—which would deliver the same energy significantly cheaper but, perhaps, a little later—simply to avoid the small amount of coal and oil we burn when it is exceptionally cold. This makes no sense.

This decision is bigger than the near-term environmental impacts and goals. This is a decision that we, as consumers and environmentalists, will have to live with for 20 years.

History has shown that, no matter how good an energy deal looks when it is signed, circumstances change over 20 years and, in New England, the economics have usually ended up not as good as predicted.

We should at least start with the best deal we can and take the long view on the environmental benefits. Opponents of new gas pipelines point to this longer view in accepting the short-term impacts of constrained gas capacity in the region (which is why we’re burning coal and oil). We need to take that same long-term view in the selection of the deal for clean energy.

Projects of this size require extensive permitting and construction time. No one can be certain of timing. Pick the one that’s lowest cost and capable of being built in a reasonable time horizon. Doing it right is more important than doing it quick.

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