CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (April 19, 2022)—The need for resilient renewable energy is stronger than ever, as demand for clean electricity grows and worsening climate impacts challenge the aging power grid. Fortunately, Massachusetts can show climate leadership and meet 100% of its electricity needs with renewable energy by 2035, according to “On the Road to 100% Renewables for Massachusetts,” an analysis released today by GreenRoots and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
“Our study found that not only can Massachusetts meet its electricity needs solely with renewable energy by 2035, but also if the state enacted such a requirement, state residents would reap significant health and economic benefits,” said Paula García, senior bilingual energy analyst at UCS and lead author of the study.
The analysis focused on two main scenarios—a “No New Policy” scenario, where electricity policy and plans continue business as usual, and a “100% renewable electricity standard (RES)” scenario, where the state meets all of its electricity needs with renewable energy by 2035. In the “100% RES” scenario, Massachusetts would see 170 to 400 fewer premature deaths, 4,200 fewer asthma cases, and 22,400 fewer lost workdays by 2040, resulting in $1.7 billion in public health cost savings.
Additionally, Massachusetts would gain 45,000 jobs by 2040, mainly from the expansion of solar power, which would generate five times more electricity than current policies. The new jobs would yield $6.8 billion in net labor income from wages and salaries, benefits, payroll taxes, and income earned by local business owners.
With or without a 100% RES, the average residential energy burden—the percentage of income a household or individual spends on electricity and natural gas for heating—would increase, according to the study. Under the 100% RES it rises from 3.2% to 3.8%, compared with 3.5% in the No New Policy scenario in 2040. Those calculations, however, did not account for substantial potential cost savings from a reduction in gasoline, heating oil and propane use for residents switching to electric vehicles and heat pumps. The study also highlighted the importance of ensuring energy burden reductions for households that would most benefit from them.
“Low-income households spend a higher portion of their income on energy costs than the average household,” said John Rogers, senior energy analyst at UCS. “Lowering costs is especially needed in neighborhoods like Fall River, where a high proportion of renters and non-English speakers aren't able to reduce energy usage by replacing appliances with more efficient ones and insulating their homes. In the more affluent Acton, three times the number of households participate in energy efficiency services.”
The study also revealed that more is needed beyond an RES to cut heat-trapping emissions and air pollution from fossil-fueled generation.
“Most RESs don't require fossil fuel plants to close, which means utilities and other plant owners can keep them running and exporting their power to customers in other states, perpetuating the disproportionate harm low-income communities and communities of color suffer and hindering progress to reduce heat-trapping emissions,” said García. “A policy that prohibits the construction of new natural gas-fired power plants in addition to a 100% RES would reduce carbon dioxide emissions in Massachusetts more quickly and deeply.”
The analysis also provides a cautionary tale on states incentivizing widespread vehicle and building electrification without having a 100% RES on the books.
“We found that power sector carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide emissions are close to or even higher than in the No New Policy scenario, and much higher than in the 100% RES scenario,” said María Belén Power, associate executive director of GreenRoots. “Air pollution and its associated health risks disproportionately affect communities of color and low-income communities, sending a clear message that electrification must go hand in hand with a cleaner electricity grid, with priority given to reducing harm in overburdened environmental justice communities.”
The analysis recommends that states enact comprehensive clean energy transition policies, including policies that prioritize reducing pollution in already overburdened communities, avoid new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure, and prevent dangerous overreliance on gas. In addition, frontline communities most impacted by these decisions should have the decision-making power to ensure everyone benefits from clean energy, according to the report.
The Massachusetts analysis is part of a larger study looking at the effects that a 100% RES would have if adopted by each of the two dozen states in the contiguous U.S. that are part of the U.S. Climate Alliance, whose members have committed to reducing heat-trapping emissions consistent with the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. For this analysis, existing nuclear power plants would remain open throughout their lifetimes even though they don't count toward the 100% requirement. To see the national study, which found the USCA states together would experience benefits like those that would occur in Massachusetts, click here.