Massachusetts Releases Its 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap — It’s Going to Be Quite a Trip

Yesterday, Massachusetts released its “2050 Decarbonization Roadmap.”  I’m tempted to call it a tour de force.  At the very least, it’s jam-packed with important issues.  One of the most valuable aspects of the Roadmap is its discussion of the potential tradeoffs among the different paths towards a decarbonized economy.  Acknowledging that the Roadmap contains much more good stuff than can be summarized in a single post, I’m going to focus in this post on some of the key choices that are going to have to be made among the various options discussed.

Here goes:

  • We’re going to have to choose a lot of offshore wind.  The Roadmap views the “Limited Offshore Wind” pathway as anything less than 30 gigawatts.  Importantly, the Roadmap concludes that, if we don’t build more than 30 GW of offshore wind, we’re going to need to construct new nuclear power plants to reach our decarbonization target.
  • We’re going to have to choose a lot of energy efficiency.  The Roadmap indicates that, if we fall short of our efficiency targets by even one-third, we’re going to need substantially more zero-carbon resources and costs will increase “significantly.”
  • We’re still going to need some fossil fuels.  “Reliance on zero-carbon fuels needs for grid balancing and end uses leads to dramatically higher costs in 2050.”
  • We’re going to need a lot of new transmission, which will require regional cooperation.  “Under all scenarios examined, several new, large transmission lines – each of which will take almost a decade to plan, site, and construct – are required for Massachusetts to have access to sufficient clean electricity and to maintain system reliability.”

If I have one criticism of the Roadmap, this last bullet crystallizes it.  The Roadmap is encouraging in that it notes that getting to a decarbonized economy does not require some miracle new technology that remains to be discovered.  It does give rather short shrift to the miracle new politics that we’re going to need to make these pathways a reality.  I understand that the politics of how we get this done was not the focus of the Roadmap; it is, however, going to have to be the focus of a lot of people working very hard over the next 30 years.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  And the length of the journey cannot discourage us from starting.

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