Report: Mass. public power utilities emit less CO2, are lower cost

A new report highlights the contributions public power utilities in Massachusetts are making toward meeting the state’s goals to reduce electric power sector carbon dioxide emissions.

Massachusetts public power utilities, either through ownership or contracts, have a generation supply that is 94% non-emitting, according to the report, Fuel Mix and Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Municipal Electric Light Plants in Massachusetts. The report also found that, even when accounting for short-term purchases of energy from the wholesale market, the public power resource mix includes 75% non-emitting resources, compared with 47% for the state.

The public power owned and contracted generation mix in the state comprises about 50% nuclear resources, 25% hydroelectric resources, 10% wind and a little over 4% solar power. The authors cite ownership in the Berkshire Wind 1 and 2 projects and the Seabrook and Millstone nuclear power plants as a primary factor in helping the state and region transition to a lower-emission resource mix.

Given this mix, the report estimated that the carbon dioxide emission rate, measured in pounds of CO2 per MWh, for public power is about 60% lower than the CO2 emissions rate of Massachusetts investor-owned utilities and about 40% lower than the CO2 rate for New England as a whole.

Massachusetts public power utilities, also called municipal light plants (MLPs) in the state, serve more than 400,000 customers, about 14% of the state’s electric load, and generate annual revenues of almost $1 billion. In addition to the cleaner resource mix, the report says customers of these utilities pay rates 42% lower than the Massachusetts average. This difference equates to savings of more than $50 a month, or $640 per year, for a typical customer using 500 kilowatt-hours per month.

“This report documents how municipal light plants have been leading the way in fulfilling the Commonwealth’s mission of 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050,” John Tzimorangas, president and CEO of Energy New England, a provider of energy services and wholesale power sales, said in a statement.

The report argues that investment in renewable resources is facilitated by the utilities’ community ownership structure, citizen input into investment and policy decisions, and ability to tap low cost funding and move quickly in approving new projects.

The report was commissioned by the Municipal Electric Association of Massachusetts and conducted by Analysis Group. The data in the report was collected with the assistance of the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co., Energy New England, and the state’s 41 public power utilities. Additional data were reviewed or obtained from publicly available data sources including ISO New England, Massachusetts agencies, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“Municipal utilities have had the foresight to invest in cleaner technologies for decades and are steadfast in their commitment to helping the state and the region reach their carbon emissions targets,” said Ronald C. DeCurzio, CEO of MMWEC in a release about the report.

The report also noted that the fact that MLPs have historically sold renewable energy credits (RECs) associated with renewable resources they have funded “does not negate the positive impact of MLP investments on renewable development in the region, nor does it imply that MLPs will necessarily sell owned RECs on a going-forward basis.”

The authors make the point that MLPs balance their “aggressive participation” in renewable energy development with ratepayer interests by selling RECs to retail suppliers that need them to meet Massachusetts’ renewable portfolio standard.

When an MLP sells a REC, it loses the ability to claim credit for the REC’s attributes that contribute toward meeting state emission reduction goals.

Nevertheless, the authors argue that REC sales by MLPs “should not be viewed as diminishing the positive role MLPs have played and will going forward continue to play in the development of eligible renewable resources and helping the Commonwealth meet its goals.”

MLPs have been a “highly constructive driver of the development and construction of qualified renewable resources in New England and have contributed to the development of actual steel in the ground” and potentially reducing the overall costs of meeting the state’s renewable portfolio standard, the authors said.