Panel: 100 Percent Renewable Energy Possible Now

By ecoRI News staff

BOSTON — The nation can move quickly to generate 100 percent of its energy from renewable resources such as solar and wind, according to a panel of researchers and experts who spoke Nov. 14 at Old South Church to an audience of about 200 people.

“America needs to shift to 100 percent renewable energy to address our largest environmental challenges,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director for the Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center. “At a time of great uncertainty over our national climate and energy policy, it’s more important than ever before for Massachusetts to lead the way towards 100 percent renewable energy. Now is the time for bold action, not half steps.”

Experts in the fields of public health, urban sustainability, renewable-energy technology and the electric utility sector spoke at “The Road to 100 Percent: Opportunities and Challenges in the Transition to a Fully Renewable Energy Society” — a town hall event organized by the Environment Massachusetts and co-sponsored by several other environmental and health organizations.

The discussion is one of more than 50 events held across the country during the week of Nov. 14 for the “100% Committed, 100% Renewable Week of Action.” The week of action is sponsored by Environment America, the national partner of Environment Massachusetts.

“The road to 100 percent renewable is finally achievable because of a confluence of lower prices for solar and wind and increasingly greater access to all electric transportation,” said Sanjeev Mukerjee, Ph.D., professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Northeastern University and faculty director of the Northeastern University Center for Renewable Energy Technology. “Massachusetts has to make proper policy decisions which incentivize decentralized power, higher subsidies for hybrid and electric vehicles and higher spending on public transportation. In all of these, energy storage is the key. Massachusetts can set the national clean-energy agenda by providing the proper basis for success in this arena.”

Jonathan Buonocore, Ph.D., program lead for Climate, Energy and Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said, “While we often think about averting climate change when we think about renewable energy, getting energy from fossil fuels has many other social costs. Air pollution from fossil-fueled electricity is responsible for around 21,000 deaths each year, and there are other impacts, including water pollution, land disruption, and accidents, to name a few.”

Earlier this year, Environment Massachusetts released We Have the Power, a report that reviewed seven studies from academics, government agencies and nonprofits showing that there are no insurmountable technological or economic barriers to achieving 100 percent renewable energy.

“We need to fuel the nation with renewable energy. The technology exists, and the benefits go far beyond just reducing carbon,” said Robert Dostis, vice president of Green Mountain Power. “Energy transformation is an economic driver, creating jobs and fueling a new green economy. Utilities are especially positioned to achieve an energy transformation that reduces costs and carbon while increasing reliability and resilience — a critical focus in light of a changing climate.”

Advocates argued that one of the ways Massachusetts can accelerate the transition to 100 percent renewable energy is by strengthening the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a program that limits carbon pollution from power plants in Massachusetts and eight other northeastern states, including Rhode Island. Environment Massachusetts is urging Gov. Charlie Baker to double the pace of renewable-energy progress under the regional initiative.

San Diego, Calif., Aspen, Colo., and Greensburg, Kan., are among the cities that have pledged to achieve 100 percent renewable energy. Hampshire College in Amherst will soon become the first residential college in the United States to obtain 100 percent of its electricity from on-campus solar installations.

This past summer Environment Massachusetts profiled 17 cities and towns in Massachusetts, including New Bedford and Worcester, that are leading the way toward 100 percent renewable energy.