Mass Business Blog

News and Perspectives on Massachusetts Business and Economy

Will Massachusetts Solar Net Metering Caps Continue?

Solar energy is thriving in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, but the clean energy trend has slowed considerably due to the current cap on solar net metering. Contributing to the decrease is the imminent expiration of Federal incentives for installation of solar energy. Solar net metering allows customers who generate their own electricity from solar power to feed their surplus into the grid, calculated as a percentage of peak electrical usage. Solar Net Metering Caps Create Backlog The current caps particularly affect the MetroWest service grid, which is already buying back the maximum amount of solar-produced electricity produced by commercial customers required by state law. This situation has created a waiting list of commercial customers who would like to install solar panel systems but are delaying installation until the caps are raised to make the projects economically viable. Local business leaders have expressed hope that the solar net metering caps will soon be raised. In late June, the Massachusetts Senate voted 37–0 to raise the caps to 1,600 megawatts, up from the current caps of 1,000 and accounting for approximately 4–5% of the total energy generated statewide. The decision was passed as a part of a larger climate change preparedness bill. Another positive indicator is Governor Charlie Baker’s recent announcement that he plans to file legislation regarding the caps. Solar Detractors Speak Up Not everyone is in favor of the solar initiative. Associated Industries of Massachusetts has spoken out against the Senate’s move, indicating it could add up to $600 million to the total electric bills of Massachusetts customers who do not have access to solar power. The group has indicated a lift in the solar net metering caps would only put money back into the pockets of the companies installing the solar arrays. Solar advocates say that AIM did not take into consideration the benefits associated with solar energy and...

Solar Debate Heats Up As Massachusetts Raises Net Metering Cap

The Massachusetts Senate convened last week and responded to on-going pressure by solar supporters with a vote to raise the solar power net metering cap. Net metering, part of the incentives offered to consumers to encourage clean energy development, allows utility users to sell their excess energy back to the grid. The cap represents a percentage of the peak energy usage and limits the amount of energy that solar power users can amass and sell back. Utility companies have argued against attempts to raise the limit, on the basis that consumers without solar power end up paying the difference. The decision to raise the cap was made to help facilitate the state’s goal of developing 1,600 megawatts of solar power by 2020. The solar energy stipulation was a component of an expansive climate change preparedness bill, sponsored by Senator Benjamin Downing, who believes that the passage of the bill would approximately double the cap. The current cap limits net metering to 4% of a utility’s peak load for private consumers and 5% for public consumers with no limit on residential. “There’s been a lot of discussion in the theoretical, but not enough in the actual, and the hope is that this is something concrete for people to react to, and I would hope that if the House or if the administration has a different way of going about this that they would put it on paper and we can get to what is our broadly shared goal,” Downing commented to reporters. The bill, which advocates the development of a plan for reacting to the potentially damaging effects of climate change and cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions, is headed to the House of Representatives. Its prospects remain unclear. Regional utility companies have proposed that Massachusetts legislators support the imposition of a minimum fee on all electrical bills to include...

US Oil Fracking: Friend or Foe?

At least two decades of market uncertainty have kept Americans worried about the future of production costs and world market dominance. Fracking in the American Plains and middle regions have influenced a huge transition from complete reliance on near-Asian production, to the re-emergence of US-based goods and services. The boom in the Dakotas and other fracking regions has reduced the gap between costs of production between the US and countries like China to a paltry 5%. This means, from the popularity of new domestic oil production, that it is absolutely viable for companies to stay in America rather than export production elsewhere. Fracking has been good for technical- and labor-intensive jobs in the field, but it has been meeting significant resistance from state officials concerned about the health of their lands and their constituents—New York has banned fracking in the state because of its potential health risks. US Oil Fracking Is Our Foe Fracking has been the source of some controversy. Its supporters champion its financial benefits, while its critics emphasize its environmental and economic hazards. For example, in early June, roughly 3 million gallons of the potentially toxic saltwater produced in fracking pipelines leaked into a North Dakota creek that flows into the Missouri River. Also, Kansas, Ohio, and Texas have all reported that they are experiencing many small earthquakes that rated approximately three on the Richter scale. There is substantial evidence that these quakes are in fact related to fracking. There are also economic costs to consider, in addition to the problem of the “bust” following the “boom,” which North Dakota is now learning. While North Dakota has experienced a population boom, the development of the infrastructure has not kept up and officials are looking into “surge funding” to help pay for the cost of the expanding infrastructure—in one case, up to $1 billion. That funding is already in jeopardy because...

Does Massachusetts Need a New Pipeline?

Last year, plans from a Houston energy company to introduce a new natural gas pipeline in New England sparked fierce debate, and the conversation is ongoing. Kinder Morgan, introduced The Northeast Energy Direct Project, which is a proposal to build a pipeline that would connect Massachusetts to abundant natural gas sources in Pennsylvania shale fields. However, the plan has met with significant resistance from local communities. The initial proposal had the pipeline entering Massachusetts in Richmond at the border with New York. The pipeline would then skirt the upper western edge of MA and end in Dracut. Local residents of the towns that would be affected were quick to fight the idea of subjecting their communities to the construction and potential danger for explosions. In the face of such intense opposition, Kinder Morgan has since replotted the course of the pipeline. It now veers north into New Hampshire before coming to an end in Dracut. Although the pipeline now bypasses many Massachusetts communities, it still faces avid disapproval from locals. Massachusetts uses natural gas to heat about half the homes in the state, with two-thirds of the state’s electricity also being fed by natural gas. The share is only expected to increase as dilapidated coal plants shut down. Last year, two of MA’s coal plants ceased to function with a third expected to die out in 2017. In a state where hard winters are a commonality, this is a disturbing trend. Gordon van Welie, head of ISO New England, the region’s power grid operator, said the region is already running out of available pipeline capacity to provide power during times of high demand. This has created issues such as shortages and spikes in wholesale prices of natural gas. The volatile fluctuation in heating costs can cause havoc for residents and businesses, not to mention chilly living conditions. Without a...

Quincy Officials See New Project Jumpstarting Downtown Redevelopment

In recent years, the city of Quincy has demonstrated an impressive commitment to its economic growth and revitalization. It was, in fact, the first city in the Commonwealth to receive District Improvement Financing (DIF), a state program that enabled the city to create a district improvement financing zone in Quincy Center. The plan is to use the newly generated tax revenues from businesses moving into the refurbished district to fund other important city infrastructure projects. A Master Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program has also been designated for the downtown area since 2005. This program awards those businesses who invest in Quincy Center and create new jobs a 5% local real estate tax exemption.  These businesses also become eligible for a state tax credit. The City’s downtown redevelopment plan has been in the works for some time and, in contrast to the huge downtown redevelopment plan announced at the start of 2014, the current plan seems financially sound and quite modest in scope. Quincy’s City Council established a new zoning district, increasing the height allowances, easing density and parking requirements, and instituting a streamlined permitting process. This zoning district encourages mixed-use development that should add to the vitality of the downtown. Quincy Mutual Fire Insurance and Gate Residential Properties are financing a 400-unit apartment building and $100 million retail project which will be the first portion of the redevelopment. Construction on a six-story apartment building containing 169 units will begin in early 2015 with completion targeted for 2016. This building will have 12,000 square feet of both retail and commercial space. A second building will follow which will have retail space and 220 apartments. The mayor of Quincy, Thomas Koch stated that “Quincy Mutual’s commitment to the city and its persistence in seeing this vision through to reality is nothing short of extraordinary. This plan confirms what we’ve known for some time — that Quincy Center’s potential is ready to be captured. The...

Worcester Chamber to Host Debate of Boston Olympics Bid

The Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce is about to host a debate discussing the pros and cons of Boston winning its bid to host the 2024 Olympics Games. The debate will be held as two separate functions, and is intended to discuss the possible implications for Worcester should Boston become the host city. Representatives from the Boston 2024 Partnership, sponsors for the bid to bring the Olympics to Massachusetts, as well as their opponents, No Boston Olympics, will present their arguments to chamber members. This debate will address the potential impacts of Boston becoming the host city and Worcester’s potential level of involvement should that occur. The discussion will begin on Tuesday, March 10, with opening statements from Richard Davey, former state transportation secretary and CEO of the Boston 2024 Partnership group. He will be discussing the partnership’s plan to run a cost-effective event using private funds, existing facilities and temporary venues. He will also discuss the organization’s belief that hosting the Olympics will greatly contribute to the commonwealth’s long-term growth. On Friday, March 13, the debate will continue with statements from Chris Dempsey and Kelley Gossett, co-chairs of No Boston Olympics. The group believes that a pattern of overspending, years of construction, and few proven economic benefits for past host cities, make hosting an undesirable choice for Boston. They will discuss their view that the state should maintain its budgetary focus on schools and rebuilding transportation infrastructure. A first time bidder in the Olympics, Boston beat out other major cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington D.C. to become the official U.S. entrant. While its bid is heavily dependent on the use of existing facilities such as Gillette Stadium and the TD Garden, several venues would have to be constructed before Boston could host an international event on the scale of the Olympics.  This list would...

Massachusetts a Leader in LEED-certified Construction

For the third consecutive year, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts ranks among the U.S. Green Building Council‘s Top 10 in the US. The rankings consider sustainable building design, construction, restoration and rehabilitation and, in terms of square feet per capita, Massachusetts is fifth-best in the country for projects that adhere to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, adding 99 LEED-certified projects last year. The top four states, from bottom to top, are: Virginia, Maryland, Colorado, and Illinois. Matthew Beaton, the state’s Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary, said that the ranking was an endorsement of Massachusetts’s requirement that all new construction and major renovations meet the state’s LEED Plus green building standard. “Clean energy is yielding significant economic benefits with 10.5 percent job growth in the last year and 47 percent growth since 2010,” said Beaton. The standard demands that energy performance for the new or renovated building be at least 20 percent better than the state’s building energy code, that the outdoor water consumption must be reduced by at least 50 percent, and that the indoor water consumption be reduced by at least 20 percent. In addition, principles of smart growth and smart energy must be promoted. Presently, there are 37 LEED-certified buildings in the state, with 70 percent of them certified either gold or platinum. Beaton said in a statement, “This recognition is another example of Massachusetts’ commitment to strengthening our economy, shaping our energy future and protecting our environment through clean jobs and technology.” The numbers bear those comments out, with almost 6,000 clean energy-related businesses in Massachusetts, employing a total of over 88,000 workers. Beaton also pointed out that Massachusetts was again – for the fourth consecutive year – named by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy as the top state in the country in energy...

Snow Throws Wet Blanket on Economy

Starting in late January, Massachusetts has been battered by major snowstorms that have blocked roads, buried parking spaces, and caused widespread power outages. MBTA service has been limited, and even shut down in places. Snow and ice continues to block roads, keeping people away from shops and restaurants and impeding industrial and agricultural operations. According to Christopher Geehern of the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, employees are having trouble getting to work, and companies are having difficulties distributing their products. Industrial businesses are also spending a lot of time on snow removal. Here are some other ways the snow is impacting the economy. The Mystic Generating Station, an eight unit oil and natural gas power facility on the Mystic River across from Charlestown, lowered output to keep snow and ice in the river from making the plant malfunction. Workers also shoveled the flat roofs on the facility constantly. Kevin Thornton, a spokesman for the plant’s owner Exelon, said that the plant put workers in a hotel and provided food to make sure that they could get to work despite the snow. The plant has about 100 workers and the ability to power roughly two million homes. “The biggest costs have been snow removal,” Thornton said. Insurance broker Marsh & McLennan in Worcester is seeing more claims for ice dams on roofs that have caused leaking and collapses. Jerry Alderman, president of property and casualty in New England, expects an increase in auto claims from snow and ice as well. Snow removal services are stretched very thin. Economist Michael Goodman said that all the bad weather in January and February could cost the state billions of dollars while, according to a study by IHS Global Insight, a one day shutdown due to snow in Massachusetts would cost the state’s economy about $265...

Beaton Plans to Lower Energy Costs By Implementing Solar

With his focus on “energy justice,” the new state Energy Environmental Affairs secretary, Matthew Beaton’s main objective is reducing energy bills with a plan for installing solar power on city apartment buildings. At a roundtable meeting, Beaton said, “We need to look at the fiscal realities. A lot of folks are being really pinched right now by the cost of electricity, and we need to look at identifying any and every opportunity to address that price element, but at the same time make sure we’re staying on our path to a cleaner and greener energy source along the way.” In response to Gov. Baker’s identification of a midyear budget gap of $765 million, Beaton noted that his budget team is working toward reducing that deficit as environmentalists applauded his team’s efforts “to restore environmental programs to 1 percent of the state budget through his [Baker’s] term.” Beaton describes himself as both an avid fly fisherman and a rower. As a man who has hiked Mount Greylock and “read ‘Walden‘ on the shores of Walden” Pond, he hopes to build on the urban parks program. Save the Harbor/Save the Bay’s Bruce Berman praised Beaton’s approach toward the advocates, saying Beaton set “a really great tone.” In response to several environmental advocates recommending that the state adopt efforts to adapt to the issue of climate change as well as efficient green energy, Beaton stated that he and Baker understand that “climate change preparedness” needs to be implemented in “coastal and inland areas.” Although Baker stated that he would not raise fees or taxes, he did not restrict new fees recently implemented by the Patrick administration that raised the cost of visiting a state beach or park. Elizabeth Saunders, the State Director of Clean Water Action Massachusetts, said that the fees associated with the state’s toxic chemical program would be worth “looking...

Worcester Groups Pitch Transportation Solutions – Seek Backers

In an effort to provide much-needed transportation solutions in Worcester, seven groups provided ideas for a National Science Foundation program. This program, which was also shared with the cities of San Diego and Chicago, seeks to provide solutions to the cities’ transportation issues that arose out of growing populations. Some of the innovative ideas included skyline transportation and environment scanning apps. The groups present labored over their proposals for ten months. Though there was a grant program, the groups involved share the creative credit. Participants in the program suggested that the groups might benefit from partnering with businesses. The Art of Science Learning as well as Worcester’s Incubator for Innovation sponsored the event. Worcester’s focus was on transportation while San Diego handled water resources and Chicago handled urban nutrition. Professionals, students and a healthy cross-section of people from around Worcester were represented. One of the interesting things about the program is that each of the represented groups presented a unique approach. One idea was to make the bus system more demand-driven than it is presently. One of the groups crafted a middle school curriculum about transportation. Another came up with the idea of converting volunteer service hours into usable bus passes. One proposed program uses predictions about walking patterns to determine which sidewalks and walkways to repair. Another proposes helping patients coordinate bus trips according to their appointments. One of the things that participants took away from the experience was that, if the desire actually existed, the community could adopt these options immediately, with experts predicting better momentum for the work will make a...

Stars Disappear in Massachusetts Without Legislation

In 2001, even with Boston only 40 miles to the north, the southeastern Massachusetts towns of Plympton, Plymouth, and Middleborough were dark and remote compared to surrounding towns. Carolyn and Barry DeCristofano moved to the area primarily for this reason. According to the Boston Globe, when it started getting brighter, they wanted to do something about the light pollution. Their efforts started with educating their neighbors and they led the charge to get a dark skies ordinance adopted in their town. Light pollution occurs when humans introduce an excessive amount of artificial light into the environment. Areas that were once dark in Massachusetts are now being replaced with brightly-lit parking lots and street lights. This can cause a disastrous effect for both humans and other animals. For humans, it obscures the view of stars, disrupts sleep, and can cause safety hazards for drivers. This past August, NPR even discussed light pollution in Light Pollution and ‘The End Of Night.’ Kelly Beaty, member of the board of directors of the International Dark-Sky Association, and chairman of the New England Light Pollution Advisory Group, says that light directed at the ground does not waste energy since it is only directed where it is needed. When half the light is above the horizon, it hits people directly in the eye as well as contributes to light pollution. Beaty has been active in a 20-year effort to pass a state law regulating outdoor lighting. In 2003, Plympton residents voted to pass a lighting bylaw that requires commercial and municipal lighting to have full cut-off fixtures and shields that direct light towards the ground. Regulations similar to this were already in place in nearby Plymouth and Norwell. The New England Light Pollution Advisory Group says that more than 40 communities in the commonwealth have instituted dark skies bylaws since 2000, while many others are...

Amazon Announces 100 Percent Renewable Energy Initiative

In recent years, big corporations such as Facebook, Google, and Apple have all made the push toward renewable energy. Despite these companies’ moves to more green sources for energy, Amazon failed to follow suit. On Wednesday, November 19, 2014, they finally changed their tune. Amazon Web Services was updated on Wednesday with information pertaining to the company’s vision of making a complete transition to renewable energy. Because Amazon is a massive entity and key player in cloud computing, supplying services to companies such as Pinterest, Spotify, and Netflix, there’s no doubt that the global environment will benefit from this move. At this point, however, there isn’t much cause for celebration. Because Amazon is an intricate entity, it will likely take several years for its transition to 100% renewable energy to complete. Gary Cook, a Greenpeace IT analyst, was one of the first to notice that Amazon has still failed to publish a timeline or roadmap that indicates a plan for its renewable energy transition. This has caused heavy speculation about whether or not Amazon is serious about the move. There’s no doubt that the company’s decision to move towards green processes is a good one. For years, Greenpeace criticized Amazon for not following suit in making a transition to healthier practices. As a result, in their “Clicking Clean” report released last April, Amazon was regarded as one of the worst companies on the map. At this point, Amazon’s data centers are located primarily in Virginia and are powered by coal, natural gas, and nuclear power. However, certain data centers built since 2011 claim to run off of 100% renewable energy sources. Cook was quick to note that one of Amazon’s biggest pitfalls is its failure to be honest and outspoken about the energy sources it uses. Cook believes that if Amazon is sincere about taking a significant step towards green energy sources, the company will become much more...

Final Weeks for Governor Patrick to be Marked by Wind Energy Auction

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is not resting on his laurels for his final weeks in the corner office. On the contrary, he is advocating for a large auction for offshore wind development. Patrick has reportedly told public relations executive Helene Solomon that the federal government would be auctioning off a substantial area south of Martha’s Vineyard. Once developed, this location could potentially provide power to as much as 60 percent of Massachusetts homes. Along with federal officials Sally Jewell and Walter Cruickshank, Secretary of the Interor and Acting Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, respectively, Patrick announced in June that there will be approximately 742,000 acres off the shore of Massachusetts that could be up for lease for commercial wind energy use. This is expected to be one of the largest offshore wind projects in federal waters. Massachusetts Environmental Affairs Secretary Maeve Vallely Bartlett has recommended that the federal agency lower the minimum bid from $2.00 per acre of the tract to just $1.00 because these areas are quite large and quite deep, which could be a deterrent to developers. She has also recommended other cost savings, such as lowered rent and fees for operating the site. Support of wind energy projects such as this one is not new for Patrick, who also supported the Cape Wind energy project that was planned for an area in the waters of Nantucket Sound. Unfortunately, that project, while still ongoing, still faces opposition and has not gained much...

Clark University Receives $542K in NASA Grants

Clark University will receive $542,098 in grants from the National Atmospheric and Space Administration (NASA) to explore the carbon uptake and release in forests across the United States. The recipient is Christopher A. Williams, an associate professor in Clark’s Graduate School of Geography. Williams is the head of a research team that received a previous grant from NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System (CSM) to study how much carbon U.S. forests release and absorb.  The team will use new remote-sensing products to document these carbon exchanges. Williams is working with another research team that received a previous NASA grant to study forests in the Southeast U.S. Clark reported that this team is studying forest dynamics and will issue the information from the study to be used along with data collected from agricultural, transportation and energy sectors. The CSM study will use the new remote-sensing products to study forest carbon absorption and release across the U.S. on regional and national levels. This study will use a reporting framework to forecast the carbon balance in forests after experiencing destructive scenarios, like forest fires and logging. These studies help to determine how much carbon a forest releases into the atmosphere. Williams explained that when harvested or burned, the carbon a forest releases oxidizes with air and turns into carbon dioxide, a contributor to global warming. According to Clark, the clearing of forests has released about one-third of the carbon emissions caused by humans, with two-thirds resulting from the combustion of fossil...

New Massachusetts Energy Chief Says State Can’t Rest in Push for Renewable Energy

Bespectacled Maeve Bartlett stood behind a glossy black podium at the DCU Center and made a bold claim: The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is, she said, the national leader in meeting the challenges of climate change and adopting renewable energy technologies. Numero uno. The criteria: megawatts. In 2007, Massachusetts had 3 megawatts of solar capacity and 3 megawatts of wind capacity. Operating at full power, these renewable energy plants could power 3,000-5,000 modern homes – small peanuts in a state with 6.7 million people. But then Governor Deval Patrick and his administration passed three clean energy laws: the Green Jobs Act, the Green Communities Act, and the Global Warming Solutions Act. Businesses came a-dashing. Today, the state boasts 643 megawatts of solar capacity and 103 megawatts of wind capacity, and in 2014, Clean Edge ranked Massachusetts the leading state for clean energy policy and eco-energy investments per capita. Barlett, formerly the agency undersecretary, was recently appointed to lead the final seven-month charge as head of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. She hopes to implement such plans like the Cape Wind project, secure hydroelectric contracts and construct more than 300 urban parks. During her speech at the DCU Center as part of the eighth annual Massachusetts Energy Summit, Barlett said that the state could not rest in its push for renewable energy. The state hopes to eventually secure 30 percent of its power from clean energy sources. Such grandiose plans represent big bucks. The Massachusetts clean energy sector is a $10 billion industry, with employment expected to surpass 100,000 jobs in early 2015. The sector has seen double-digit job growth for three consecutive years. At the recent Clean Energy Annual Jobs Report, Governor Patrick reported, “We have long believed that a strong commitment to investing in clean energy would not only provide significant environmental benefits, but would also serve as an...

ACEEE: Massachusetts Tops California as Most Energy-Efficient State

Recently, the American Council of Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) released the eighth edition of the State Energy Efficiency Scorecard. The scorecard ranks the states based on various energy-efficient metrics such as how much electricity and fuel they use and their overall carbon footprint. In 2014, Massachusetts achieved the highest score for the fourth year in a row. Today, states are implementing many different energy efficient tactics and programs. In fact, the number of state energy efficiency programs has tripled since the first ACEEE scorecard was introduced eight years ago, with many states using new energy-efficient initiatives to promote in-state jobs. According the scorecard, the top states for energy efficiency are Massachusetts (42/50), California  (40.5/50), and with three states – Vermont, Oregon, and Rhode Island – tied for third place at 37.5 out of 50 possible points. The top two states are certainly no surprise.  In recent years, Massachusetts has been earning the top slot on the scorecard for years and California is consistently found close to the top. Looking a bit deeper, Rhode Island, which tied for third, joined the top five for the first time. This is a testament to the improvements the state has been making in its own initiatives to improve its score. States at the top of the list have each invested in energy efficiency programs that help spread awareness and implement utility, transportation, building, and government policies that encourage energy efficiency. In turn, these policies work to reduce energy costs and greenhouse gases that scientists say contribute to global warming. Just this past summer, the town of Newton replaced 8,406 high-pressure sodium street lights with LEDs, a project made possible by a $250,000 grant from the Green Communities Act and $500,000 in rebates from NSTAR.  Massachusetts-based businesses are also leading the way, fostering our nation’s energy-efficient habits. Access Fixtures, a lighting company based in Worcester is...

Improvements to South Station Could Boost Framingham/Worcester Rail

According to Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Richard Davey, Boston’s South Station is “becoming a choke point in the system and an obstacle to expanded service.” Davey placed a request with lawmakers on October 9 asking them for help with negotiating a deal that has the potential to allow the expansion of South Station. Before the MBTA can add an additional seven tracks to the existing 13, it must first purchase property owned by the U.S. Postal Service. This piece of land has been the topic of discussions for years. The property is critical for the expansion of the station in its efforts to provide prompt service to commuters traveling through South Station. The U.S. Postal Service and South Station “have yet to strike a deal,” said Davey, who will be leaving his post as transportation secretary at the end of October. He has asked Transportation Committee chairmen Sen. Thomas McGee (D-Lynn) and Rep. William Straus (D-Mattapoisett) for assistance with coming to an agreement. Davey also mentioned that the office is interested in purchasing property that once belonged to the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. This purchase would enable the expansion of the North Station rail lines with two new tracks and a center platform. Following the signing of a transportation bond bill in April, the Patrick administration re-engaged with the Postal Service, offering to build a $350 million mailing facility in the Boston Seaport District. “Frankly, we’re a little stuck,” Davey admits. “We’ve made a number of different proposals that we thought were compelling, that made the Post Office whole.” The Postal Service has expressed concerns that the new Seaport land would depreciate, resulting in a lower price if it should attempt to sell the property in the...

Ebola and the Economy

Unless you’ve been under quarantine for the past few weeks, you know that Ebola has once again reared its ugly head, causing widespread concern – bordering on panic in some quarters – about the possibility of a global pandemic. How realistic a possibility is this?  Could it actually happen? Frankly, it’s still too early to say one way or the other. However, it’s not too soon to make some basic predictions about how some businesses will be affected should matters get much worse. Dr. Bruce Aylward is the Assistant Director General for the World Health Organization (WHO). He recently announced that organization’s prediction that the number of cases is expected to top 9000 by the end of this week, and the fatality rate of the current outbreak has risen from just under 50% to over 70%. When asked how the situation might evolve over the next 60 days, he warned: “We anticipate the number of cases occurring per week by that time to be somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 per week.” As in previous instances of global health scares, airlines, theaters, sports arenas, and other locations where large “fraternities of strangers” gather are sure to be the first to suffer the economic consequences of a population frightened into isolation. Participating in purely recreational activities will be weighed against the fear of contagion, and attendance is sure to plummet.  Schools, churches, and other venues where attendance is “less voluntary” will follow suit in very short order if the outbreak is not quickly reigned in. The WHO announced yesterday that the Ebola epidemic had officially been halted in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.  Sadly, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and other nations in the region remain mired in the misery of a highly-contagious, incurable, deadly viral outbreak, and new cases are popping up around the globe on a daily basis.  Should this situation...

TGP Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline – Will it Help or Harm?

There’s a proposal in place to build a high-pressure natural gas pipeline to run from Pennsylvania through New York state into Massachusetts, where it would join with existing pipelines that connect to the Massachusetts and Canadian coasts. This controversial pipeline is intended to carry natural gas from the Marcellus (and perhaps Utica) Shale field. The voices on both sides of the issue are getting louder – and more contentious – every day. While no one disputes the need for inexpensive energy, proponents tout job creation and lower energy prices as reasons to approve the pipeline’s construction, while opponents cite both the source of the natural gas itself and the anticipated disruption the construction will cause as reason enough to stop the project. They also dispute the number of jobs the project will create in the long term, some saying the number will actually be in the single digits. Proponents say that the gas is needed to supply a region where energy prices are already at a premium, thereby substantially lowering consumer costs. Detractors say that an equivalent savings in efficiency could be realized by simply fixing the many leaks in the existing pipeline network. They also say that the pipeline will deliver far more gas than can be used in the region for the foreseeable future, requiring further shipment of overflow supply to other locations. Proponents say that the pipeline will be built safely, ensuring the environment is protected. Detractors point out that the project has already been made exempt from its legal obligations to follow either state or local environmental laws or restrictions and can simply take whatever land they want – including protected and environmentally-sensitive areas – by eminent domain, and that the company’s past performance does nothing to instill confidence that laws will be respected. What is the best course? Do we build a pipeline or...

Should Cape Wind Receive $150 million Federal Loan Guarantee?

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced that it will grant a $150 million loan to advance the Cape Wind energy project in Massachusetts, provided backers can secure an additional $2.6 billion in financing. If successfully built, Cape Wind will consist of 130 wind turbines capable of producing 360 megawatts of electrical power. The project has been controversial since its inception. Cape Wind has been praised by supporters as having the potential to transform Eastern Massachusetts into a national hub for wind power production. Backers say that Cape Wind is a model for wind projects being considered in other parts of the country. Wind power is often cited as a key component of “clean energy” alternatives to fossil fuels, and is praised for producing very little pollution while being endlessly renewable. Greater use of wind power would reduce reliance on fossil fuels, while construction of the wind turbines is estimated to create about 400 jobs. An additional 50 permanent operational jobs will be created once construction is completed. Not everyone is impressed. Critics point out that the number of jobs divided by the money spent means that each job will be created at a cost of over $300,000 apiece. Some suggest that is too much money for too few jobs. Critics also point out that even with government subsidies, wind energy is more expensive to produce than more traditional energy sources. Fisherman have complained that the wind turbines will upset their fishing opportunities by restricting access to areas that are now available for fishing. Meanwhile, free market conservatives argue that the project represents a potentially disruptive intrusion into the energy market that will have unintended consequences. Despite the offer of the Energy Department money, it remains to be seen whether the rest of the $2.6 billion in financing will come together in order to trigger the $150 million loan,...

Massachusetts Named in Top 3 Lowest CO2 Emitters per Unit of Economic Output

Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York were named the three lowest emitters of CO2 per unit of economic output this month by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The announcement was made in conjunction with the release by the Environmental Protection Agency of new rules designed to encourage states nationwide to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions related to energy production. Two other eastern states, New Hampshire and Vermont, were also cited for their clean energy policies. The unusually low emissions by the Northeastern states were credited to a voluntary regional system of cap and trade that eight Northeast and mid-Atlantic states have been experimenting with for several years. Such voluntary compacts are being considered as a model for plans being formulated to lower emissions from power plants nationwide by one third between now and...

Ivy Corset Building in Worcester Increases Energy Efficiency

With lighting costs being a significant percentage of energy costs, it’s important for buildings to update outdated and energy-wasting luminaires. Access Fixtures achieved energy savings for the historical Ivy Corset building in Worcester, Mass by retrofitting six wall packs on the front of the building.  The renovated brick factory building once housed the Ivy Corset Company. The wall packs on the front of the building were part decorate, part functional—but produced an unattractive yellow light. Previously, the wall packs used 35 watt high pressure sodium lamps and ballasts that totaled 43 watts per pack. By replacing the lamps with energy-efficient A21 style LED lamps, the building was able to maintain the historical elements while reducing energy by 75% and improving visibility.  According to the press release, the retrofit will save $14.08 per wall pack for a total savings of $84.48 per year. Payback for the initial cost of the LED retrofit is less than 1.5 years including labor. Because the LEDs won’t have to be replaced for 17 years, the LED wall pack retrofit will provide a total energy savings of $1,436 over the lifetime of the LED lamps. Additionally, the longevity of the LEDs reduce maintenance cost needed to frequently replace the lamps.  It’s important for property managers to understand the value of updating lighting systems. Updated luminaires can cut energy use, save money, and ensure that all areas are safely illuminated. And, lastly, no more ghostly yellow or orange...

220% Revenue Increase of Access Fixtures LED Products

LED lighting is continuing to grow. Access Fixtures reports LED products sales are up 220% year over year compared to the first half of 2013. While the price of LED lighting is decreasing, LEDs are simultaneously advancing in energy efficiency, light output, module life, and versatility. The rapid progression of LED lighting is known as Haitz’s Law. Every decade, the cost per lumen (lumens are the unit of useful light emitted) falls by a factor of ten while the amount of light generated per LED package increases by a factor of twenty. Therefore, LEDs are becoming a reasonable and cost-effective option when considering alternatives to incandescent, HID, and fluorescent light sources. LED lighting provides a significant return on investment, but its biggest draw is arguably its energy efficiency. For example, today’s ten-watt LED bollard lights can outperform a seventy-watt, high-pressure sodium bollard light. LED wall packs can exceed the performance of 100-watt metal halide wall packs using less than half the energy. Increased sales are found in products such as LED bollard lights, LED area lights, and LED wall packs. Future sales are expected to maintain the rapid growth in sales of Access Fixtures LED...

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