To Every Cloud a Silver Lining: Tackling Climate Change in 2016

Prevailing sentiment in progressive haunts is “2016, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” Between a stressful election season, acts of terror, and the crisis in Syria, many of us will be glad to see the calendar page turn on Sunday night. Still, to every cloud a silver lining, and at least when it comes to tackling climate change in Massachusetts there are some bright spots amidst the clouds of 2016.

• 100,000 jobs. The clean energy sector is growing here in the Bay State. That’s good for reducing our carbon footprint, and for creating jobs. Just last week the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center announced that, for the first time ever, there are more than 100,000 clean energy jobs in the state. Those jobs fuel an $11.8 billion industry that represents 2.5% of the Gross State Product and makes up 2.9% of the state’s workforce.

• We’re #1! Massachusetts retained its title as the most energy efficient state in the nation, and completed over 25,000 renewable energy projects in 2016, adding an additional 374 megawatts (MW) of electric capacity in the process, enough to power 56,040 homes.

• The state has also retained its title as #1 in innovation. Massachusetts has the brain power necessary to innovate around new, create approaches to mining, delivering, and storing clean energy.

• Welcome offshore wind and hydro. Two new areas of economic growth and carbon reduction got a big boost when an omnibus energy bill became law this past summer. The new law requires utilities to acquire 1,200MW of hydropower and 1,600MW of offshore wind. Hydropower and offshore wind have the potential to create jobs, while fueling our homes and businesses with renewable energy. Already there has been news of a major partnership between Eversource and DONG Energy to create Bay State Wind off of Martha’s Vineyard. This project alone is expected to generate 1000 jobs during the construction phase and 100 skilled jobs when the wind farm is operational. In Europe, 75,000 people were employed in the offshore wind industry in 2015. That’s up from 6,370 in 2007.

• Where do we put all of it? Energy storage is the next frontier when it comes to clean energy, with the potential to birth an entirely new industry in Massachusetts and make our energy grid more reliable. The capacity to store energy generated from renewable resources like wind and solar would allow consumers to tap into those sources during periods of peak demand, making the system more dependable, and creating jobs ad revenue along the way. Just yesterday the state announced that it will be setting energy storage targets in the new year — an encouraging initial step.

Of course, the picture from 2016 is not entirely rosy. In May, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the state has not met its obligations around greenhouse gas emissions under the Global Warming Solutions Act. This month the City of Boston released a report that detailed a grim future for the city if the impacts of climate change are not mitigated. And on the national front, a new administration that questions the reality of climate change and the value of the Paris Agreement is about to take power. 
 
Yet here at home 2016 has been a year of progress for tackling climate change in Massachusetts, and for recognizing that for the state to thrive — both environmentally and economically — we must commit to reducing our carbon footprint and to investing in the innovation behind climate change mitigation and adaptation. An upside to a tough year, and no small thing to celebrate as we ring in 2017.
 
 Sebastian Zapata
 Program Director
The Alliance for Business Leadership