Massachusetts’ renewable energy progress must continue, despite COVID-19 challenges

Though the public health crisis brought on by COVID-19 has required the full attention of many of our state and national leaders for the past several months, the environmental crises we face persist. 

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Ben Hellerstein
State Director

Author: Ben Hellerstein

State Director

(617) 747-4368

Started on staff: 2012
B.A., magna cum laude, Carleton College

Ben directs Environment Massachusetts’ efforts to promote clean air, clean water, clean energy and open spaces in Massachusetts. In 2016, he launched a campaign to repower Massachusetts with 100 percent renewable energy. Prior to assuming his current role, Ben led the organization’s effort to get Massachusetts to 20 percent renewable electricity by 2025. His areas of expertise lie in renewable energy and the impacts of fossil fuel pollution, and he has authored reports on clean energy policies at the local, state and federal levels, earning media coverage statewide. Ben lives in Boston, where he enjoys exploring the city on foot, by bike and by public transit.

Though the public health crisis brought on by COVID-19 has required the full attention of many of our state and national leaders for the past several months, the environmental crises we face persist. 

Our energy system continues to pollute our air and water while contributing to the global warming pollution that threatens our present and future. Ensuring a cleaner, healthier world for the long-haul requires that we transition swiftly to using renewable energy sources like the sun and wind to power every aspect of our lives. That transition remains critical as we work to reorganize our lives in light of the many impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. 

While we are still a long way from 100 percent renewable in the Bay State, we’ve seen remarkable progress over the past decade. Massachusetts was one of the top ten U.S. states for solar electricity growth from 2009 to 2018, and dozens of towns and cities across the state are accelerating clean energy progress through innovative programs. That progress must continue and accelerate in the months and years to come, and we can take steps today to ensure that it does. 

Despite all of the challenges of the moment, some Massachusetts renewable energy projects are continuing to move forward. Despite delays from the Trump administration, Massachusetts’ first utility-scale offshore wind energy project, Vineyard Wind 1, is currently on track to receive final permits by the end of this year and start construction in early 2021. Once complete, the project will provide enough renewable energy to power over 400,000 homes and businesses across the Commonwealth. Some Massachusetts communities have also been able to move forward with new solar projects -- the town of Falmouth is moving forward with the second phase of its landfill solar project for example, and just selected a developer in April. These renewable energy projects will deliver countless benefits to the communities they will power, and the sooner they can be built and brought online safely, the better.

But not every renewable project has been so lucky. The fallout of COVID-19 threatens the ability of many installers and developers to keep up the pace, as the renewable energy sector has been impacted by supply chain disruptions, lockdowns and other delays. Making sure that the renewable energy industry can get back to the crucial work of building a cleaner, healthier future should be a priority in our recovery efforts. There are steps our leaders at the state and national level can take now to help ensure that progress continues:

  1. Regulators should stick to timely review and permitting processes - The permitting process is often the source of significant delays for new wind and solar projects, and local and state regulators should ensure timely review for these projects to get back on track, while also ensuring that wildlife and ecosystems are protected. Previous delays in the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM’s) review process for Vineyard Wind, for example, had already pushed back the project’s operational date to 2023. BOEM has indicated that it intends to stick to its new timeline despite the pandemic and reach a final decision on the offshore wind farm by the end of the year, and the agency should be diligent about staying on schedule.  

  2. State officials should commit to  100 percent renewable energy - A statewide commitment to transition to clean, renewable energy to meet all of our needs will help drive the build-out of wind, solar and storage that we need in order to get off dirty fossil fuels. The 100% Renewable Energy Act (H.2836), filed by Representative Marjorie Decker and Representative Sean Garballey, will repower the Bay State with 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035 and 100 percent renewable energy economy-wide (including heating and transportation) by 2045. State legislators should join the seven other states that have passed legislative 100 percent clean or renewable targets and pass it into law this year.

  3. The federal government should prioritize clean energy in stimulus efforts - Providing critical support for the clean energy sector through the pandemic and incentivising the broad deployment of clean energy technologies at the federal level will ensure that the industry is poised to continue advancing toward a cleaner future. Federal clean energy tax incentives are one of our best tools toward that end, and extending and expanding those programs while allowing for direct payment of existing incentives will be a key tool for continuing and reinvigorating progress. 

While this is far from an exhaustive list of all that state and federal leaders could do to spur continued renewable energy adoption, these three steps would lay the foundation needed right now to get back to building a cleaner, healthier future in Massachusetts and beyond. As we address the impacts of the novel coronavirus, let’s make sure that more and more of our state can be powered by clean energy from the sun and wind.

Ben Hellerstein
State Director

Author: Ben Hellerstein

State Director

(617) 747-4368

Started on staff: 2012
B.A., magna cum laude, Carleton College

Ben directs Environment Massachusetts’ efforts to promote clean air, clean water, clean energy and open spaces in Massachusetts. In 2016, he launched a campaign to repower Massachusetts with 100 percent renewable energy. Prior to assuming his current role, Ben led the organization’s effort to get Massachusetts to 20 percent renewable electricity by 2025. His areas of expertise lie in renewable energy and the impacts of fossil fuel pollution, and he has authored reports on clean energy policies at the local, state and federal levels, earning media coverage statewide. Ben lives in Boston, where he enjoys exploring the city on foot, by bike and by public transit.