Is the CMLP Strategic Plan bold enough?

The CMLP strategic plan V2.0 would achieve significant greenhouse gas reduction in the 8 year period through 2025, primarily through a 4 year process of purchasing enough Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to cover Concord’s entire electricity supply.  This step is indeed bold, and would put CMLP in a leadership position in this regard among New England’s municipal utilities.  However, I am concerned that its targets in two other areas – specifically electric vehicle adoption and heating system electrification – are not bold enough, and may make it difficult to reach the longer-term goal (80% GHG reduction by 2050).  Here I present an alternate scenario in a simple model, which, while challenging, may have better chance of success and I think improve CMLP’s business by increasing revenue more aggressively.

CSEC has done an ad-hoc analysis of Concord’s energy use and GHG emissions.  Energy consumption within the town uses 4 main fuels, each with its different GHG impact:

  • Electricity, assumed in 2015 to have GHG impact of 0.76 lbs CO2/KWh (the average for the ISO New England grid was assumed), but which would fall to zero as enough RECs purchased to cover the entire supply;
  • Gasoline consumed by the approximately 13,000 vehicles in town, with GHG impact of 19 lbs CO2 per gallon;
  • Fuel oil consumed primarily for space and water heating (but including perhaps 20% from diesel fuel in trucks and buses), with GHG impact of 22 lbs/gallon;
  • Natural gas consumed primarily for space and water heating (but also cooking), with a GHG impact from combustion of 12 lbs/therm (ignoring methane leakage which is uncertain but could double this number).

The analysis doesn’t include propane, which we think is not significant, and is expected to decrease over time due to its expense.

We estimate the combined use of these fuels produced a GHG emission total of 250,000 Tons of CO2 in the baseline year 2008, amounting to 6.4 Tons CO2 equivalent per capita, with the largest uncertainties due to the amount of fuel oil used and the natural gas GHG impact.  Looking towards 2050, we seek an 80% emissions reduction, through lowering the GHG impact of electricity and reducing the amount of fossil fuels used, to a level of 3.3 Tons per capita.

The figure below illustrates the goal over time.  The two red points are the assessment values in 2008 and 2015, and the black dotted line a smooth trajectory to reach the Global Warming Solutions Act target of 50 % reduction by 2030 and 80% reduction by 2050.  The yellow points are a simple estimate of GHG from the CMLP strategic plan, and the green are an alternate scenario that will be discussed below.

Following the CMLP strategic plan, the utility does the heavy lifting through 2025 with the REC purchases and gradual conversion of the supply purchases to renewable as new contracts are made.  According to the plan, this is 95% of the GHG reduction, the remainder coming from 5% gasoline use reduction through conversion to EVs, and 7.5% each reduction of fuel oil and natural gas reduction through heat pump adoption.  The latter numbers come from examples of what other communities have achieved in programs similar to what Concord might undertake.

Electric vehicle adoption and heating system conversion involve significant investments by residents and businesses, aided by CMLP through the Energy Efficiency surcharge or reinvested net income, or possibly another funding source in the Town.  But this is largely Concord’s residents ‘stepping up to the plate’, which is a good thing to encourage since residents supported the Article 51 adoption at Town meeting.

For examining an alternative scenario, we ask whether residents and businesses could more quickly do a larger reduction sooner, by stronger promotion of heat pumps and EVs.  Ultimately, by 2050, the reductions sought are:

  • 100% non-carbon emitting electric power (which Article 51 urges by 2030);
  • 80% reduction of gasoline use, by conversion of most vehicles to EVs;
  • 90% reduction of fuel oil use, by converting almost all such homes to electric heat;
  • 30% reduction of natural gas use, by converting many such homes to electric heat.

Items 2 and 3 are drastic reductions, but some combination of reductions of these magnitudes are what is required by 2050 if we remain true to the goal.

Table 1 shows the alternate scenario targets compared with the CMLP strategic plan goals, as we understand them.  Several assumptions are made, which are somewhat optimistic:

  1. Automobiles are replaced every 5-10 years. Product offerings are improving rapidly, and will become more affordable as battery prices fall.  With the right incentives, the majority of car purchase could be electric, once the charging infrastructure is mature.  Electric automobiles should be charged at home with off-peak power to lower the power cost to the extent possible;
  2. Heating systems are replaced every 20 years on average. Costs for high efficiency heat pumps may come down, such that with the right incentives the equipment costs are competitive with fossil fuel systems – at least over time due to lower operating costs.
  3. Fuel oil is not something consumers like, so they would be willing to convert if the economics makes sense and the functionality + comfort are good. The cost of fuel oil is likely to rise a bit over time, hopefully improving the economics.
  4. Converting from natural gas is a harder sell, because it is less expensive, which isn’t likely to change very quickly. Natural gas use is probably still increasing, and most new homes are being built with natural gas.

Because of the infrequent replacement interval of heating systems, we think it is important to start right away with a strong promotion, to not miss opportunities in the early years, and to accelerate the adoption in the community.

Table 1.

  Alternate scenario CMLP strategic plan V2.0
  Electricity Supply EV Adoption Heating system conversions   Electricity Supply EV Adoption Heating system conversions  
Year % non-emitting Gasoline reduction Fuel Oil reduction Nat Gas reduction CO2/ cap % non-emitting Gasoline reduction Fuel Oil reduction Nat Gas reduction CO2/ cap
2020 50% 5% 5% 2% 11.8T 75% 2% 3% 3% 10.9T
2025 80% 20% 20% 5% 9.5T 100% 5% 7.5% 7.5% 9.4T
2030 100% 50% 40% 10% 6.7T 100%        
2040 100% 70% 70% 20% 4.9T 100%        
2050 100% 80% 90% 40% 3.3T 100%        

Note that in the alternative scenario presented, the rate of conversion of power supply to non-emitting is somewhat slower than CMLPs plan, which suggests that some of the additional funds that would be used for purchasing RECs might instead be used for promoting the other reductions; this is not meant to suggest that CMLP not pursue the planned greening of the power supply, just that it is may be possible for similar GHG reductions by front-loading the electrification parts.  Comparing the two approaches in the figure, one sees that while the initial GHG reduction in the CMLP plan are greater, the trajectory extrapolated beyond 2025 is not as favorable.  Further, if the alternate scenario were a reality, the additional electricity demand would be very significant. While the CMLP strategic plan would grow KWh sold by of order 1% by 2025, the alternate scenario would grow KWh sales by 3-4% over that period, which we assume would improve CMLPs business position.

In summary, we would like the Town and CMLP to consider accelerating the adoption of EVs and heat pumps through a strong promotion effort.  This could have the benefit of improving the chance of reaching the deep GHG reductions in the next few decades.  While the CMLP strategic plan assumes a certain uptake of these new technologies based on previous programs, we suggest that a strong promotional effort through the Town could do significantly better, especially with sustained effort by the Sustainability Director, CMLP, CSEC, the schools and other organizations.  Indeed, to meet Article 51 goals, we will need to do better, and the question should be how to do it sooner rather than later.

Posted in environment.