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THE ARGUMENT

Should Massachusetts commit itself to 100 percent renewable energy?

FILE - In this May 8, 2009 file photo, Len Bicknell walks from his house to his garage where his solar energy panels are mounted on the roof in Marshfield, Mass. The increasing popularity of home solar panels is prompting environmental groups in Massachusetts to press state lawmakers to lift what they say are the state's arbitrary solar energy "net-metering caps." (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File)

Stephan Savoia/AP/file

YES

Thomas J. Calter

State representative, Kingston Democrat

handout

Thomas J. Calter.

With more than 30 years in the environmental service industry, I’ve seen first-hand the catastrophic environmental damage caused by our reliance on nonrenewable energy sources like oil, gas, and coal. This negative effect I’ve seen pales in comparison with those that are less obvious and subject to much public debate -- the impact of global climate change.

Massachusetts has led the nation on many fronts, including being one of the first states to develop a program to clean up hazardous waste sites. Now, more than 50 Massachusetts legislators have co-sponsored legislation that sets a goal for the Commonwealth to use 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035 and 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 in all sectors, including housing and transportation.

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The Commonwealth is already leading the way. Solar energy use in Massachusetts is 200 times more than it was 10 years ago. Clean energy has become an economic driver in Massachusetts, with more than 100,000 clean-energy jobs created.

To avoid the irreversible impact of climate change, we need to repower our society with 100 percent renewable energy. It is our generational responsibility. Some argue that the cost of clean energy is too expensive. As the industry matures, the costs will come down, leaving us with only the benefit that comes with clean, renewable energy sources.

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Technology is advancing, providing us the tools to transition quickly to renewable energy. Last year, solar energy was the nation’s largest contributor of new energy sources. Wind led the way the year before. Advanced battery storage allows us the opportunity to capture and save energy generated during peak periods of sunshine to be used during periods of peak demand. The federal government has leased sufficient seabed offshore of Massachusetts and Rhode Island to supply electricity equivalent to about one third of current demand in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts is already the most energy-efficient state in the nation. The Massachusetts Legislature recognizes that the continued development of clean-energy sources is both an economic driver and a sound environmental policy. We need to continue in our efforts to minimize our reliance on fossil fuels. Our commitment to expand the development of clean-energy resources may prompt other states to do so as well.

NO

Christopher P. Geehern

Executive vice president, Associated Industries of Massachusetts

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Christopher Geehern.

The proposed legislation compelling Massachusetts consumers to buy 100 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2050 represent a triumph of politics over common sense. The “100 percent” proposal is unrealistic and unnecessary and will raise the electric bills of every business and homeowner in the Southeast region.

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Here’s the problem: Over the past nine years, we have spent billions of dollars subsidizing renewable energy. Yet just 12 percent of our electricity in Massachusetts comes from wind, solar, and other renewable generation sources.

We are clearly headed in the right direction on renewable energy. Over the next few years, new solar, wind, and even large hydro projects are on tap for Massachusetts. My organization calculates that the clean energy produced will take us to about 50 percent of total electricity used, near the highest in the country.

Already, Massachusetts has nearly the highest retail electricity prices in the country, at about 19 cents per kilowatt hour, even though our wholesale energy prices are at an historic low, or approximately four cents.

In comparison, the effective wholesale cost of renewables is much higher. Solar energy runs around 40 cents per kilowatt hour, according to utility filings. Offshore wind is roughly 16 cents per kilowatt hour, according to an industry report. The cost is lower for onshore wind, but finding land near population areas is getting difficult and there is little public appetite for large transmission lines -- even for green power.

To jump from 12 percent to 100 percent renewables is a leap of folly. Data analyzed by my group shows that Massachusetts would have to harness the average output of 10 Hoover dams to generate that amount of electricity.

Even assuming we met the major cost of moving close to 100 percent renewable, we would still need fossil fuel power plants to meet supply needs when the wind was not blowing or the sun shining. The costs of those plants would have a significant impact on your overall electricity bills.

We should continue on our current trajectory and see what it means for cost and feasibility. Then we can talk about where to put those 10 Hoover dams in Massachusetts.

Last week’s Argument: Should the state adopt legislation banning the use of Native American symbols for mascots?

Yes: 28 percent (10 votes)

No: 72 percent (26 votes)

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at laidler@globe.com.
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