Sunday, August 18, 2013

Planning for a 'clean energy' future

The electrical grid is a complicated maze that we all rely on, but few of us understand. When you flip on a light switch, turn up the air conditioner or turn on the TV or computer, it’s hard to imagine just how many pieces go into generating that power.
Electricity comes from a wide array of resources these days — running the gambit from traditional “dirty” fossil fuels to newer, cleaner, “green” energy. With a variety of electric suppliers consumers can choose from, some folks are willing to pay a premium for clean energy. Most of us probably fall somewhere in the middle, ideally favoring cleaner energy, but ultimately settling for sources that can provide power at a reasonable price.
The standard-issue power portfolio the main utility companies purchase generally represents a balance of consumer preference and cost. Electric utilities like National Grid, NStar and Taunton’s municipal power company, TMLP, all purchase the energy they transmit to local homes and businesses from a variety of resources — coal, nuclear, natural gas, wind, solar, hydro, landfill gas and other new technologies — all delivered through a complicated power grid.
As technology improves and makes renewable energy more reliable and cost-effective — and as government policies encourage the development of such sources — the balance will inevitably shift more toward renewable energy sources. Already, our region is beginning to see a wide variety of both small-scale and large-scale power generation projects, using renewable resources like wind and solar, even capturing landfill gases and other organic waste to be converted into electricity. This will be a gradual shift that will require a great deal of planning and patience, but will also provide economic benefits to the region.
For years, Bristol County has been a big generator of that electricity in New England with traditional oil-, natural gas- and coal-fired power plants. Somerset’s Montaup Power Generating Station, decommissioned after being unable to comply with stricter environmental regulations, Brayton Point Power Station, New England’s largest coal-fired plant and in the process of being sold, have generated significant amounts of power for the grid and generated a great deal of tax revenue for the town.
There is a bigger appetite for renewable energy. But until renewable energy technology, cost and reliability improves, there’s still a need for coal-generated power sources in order to provide reliable and affordable electricity to the grid.