Announcing the next phase of The New England Food System Resilience Fund. Learn More

July / 2017

NHSEA Works Across the Aisle to Strengthen New Hampshire’s Clean Tech Industry

The New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association is the oldest and largest member-based nonprofit dedicated to improving New Hampshire’s clean energy economy.

The John Merck Fund began supporting the New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association (NHSEA) in 2013, when its talented board chair, Kate Epsen, took the helm as executive director. Thanks in large part to Kate’s skills at coalition building and coordination, NHSEA is now seen as a hub for innovative energy initiatives across New Hampshire and boasts a diverse membership of hundreds of businesses and individuals. Its New Hampshire Clean Tech Council represents seventeen different economic sectors, and the council’s top priorities are strengthening the clean tech industry and promoting an innovative, stable, long-term clean tech policy that attracts new jobs, young professionals, and new investment.

In 2016, NHSEA focused on educating policymakers about the benefits of raising the state’s cap on net metering. Governor Hassan signed legislation raising the cap in August 2016. NHSEA was also a major stakeholder in the development of New Hampshire’s new Energy Efficiency Resource Standard, which sets statewide efficiency targets and will go into effect in 2018. In addition to this policy work, NHSEA also hosts many events and workshops and provides technical assistance to its members, and in October will host the ninth annual Local Energy Solutions Conference.

Executive Director Kate Epsen enjoys the variability of her job and relishes the challenge of building relationships with a diverse set of stakeholders that includes representatives from both sides of the political aisle, as well as both climate skeptics and fervent believers. As she puts it, “Working on energy in New Hampshire isn’t like working on it in Vermont, California, or Massachusetts. You need to be able to communicate with colleagues who at times have strongly divergent viewpoints, and to find creative ways to collectively move forward. It’s more challenging, but it’s also inspiring that headway can be made in ways you can’t always foresee.”

June / 2017

Over 360 Global Investors Urge G20 and G7 to Stand by Paris Agreement

Over 360 long-term institutional investors representing more than $19 trillion in assets have written to G7 heads of state urging governments to stand by their commitments to the Paris Agreement at their upcoming summit in Hamburg on July 7-8, 2017.

“Investors are sending a powerful signal today that climate change action must be an urgent priority in the G20 countries, especially the United States, whose commitment is in question,” said Mindy Lubber, CEO and President of the sustainability nonprofit and JMF grantee, Ceres, which directs the Ceres Investor Network on Climate Risk and Sustainability. “Global investors are eager to open their wallets to a low-carbon future, but it won’t happen without clear, stable policy signals from countries worldwide – in particular, the US government whose waffling on the Paris Climate Agreement is hugely troubling.”

Download the letter signed by investors and the briefing paper for G7 and G20 leaders here.

January / 2017

National Wildlife Federation and Special Initiative on Offshore Wind

“It is not every day you get to witness history. As someone who has spent over a decade trying to spur progress in transitioning to clean energy and advancing solutions to climate change, today was without a doubt the most exciting day of my career.”

– Catherine Bowes, Senior Manager at National Wildlife Federation, during a tour to the Block Island wind farm.  Bowes summarizes the landmark progress on offshore wind power achieved in 2016 in this year-end blog post.

On December 12, the United States’ first commercial offshore wind farm came online off of Block Island, Rhode Island, and began providing electricity to the grid.  In summer 2016, Massachusetts adopted the strongest offshore wind policy in the United States, requiring utilities to procure 1,600 megawatts of power over the next ten years.  The National Wildlife Federation and the University of Delaware’s Special Initiative on Offshore Wind contributed to both of these victories.

The United States has lagged behind Europe in the development of offshore wind power due to concerns about siting and costs, and because of a lack of financing and government support to help launch the industry.  In Europe there are currently 84 offshore wind farms either completed or under construction.  A total of 3,230 turbines are installed and connected to the grid, making a cumulative total of 11,027 megawatts of power.

The Block Island project will provide 30 megawatts, but the Northeast Atlantic has tremendous wind power potential, estimated to be about 500 gigawatts–enough to power the entire region’s electricity needs.  Equally important, this resource is right near major population centers where electricity demand is highest.  Offshore wind power could help to move the Northeast Atlantic from being an importer of fuel to being much more self-reliant, while also supporting the creation of thousands of jobs.

The process of establishing the offshore wind site at Block Island began in 2008, when the State of Rhode Island embarked on an ocean planning process that ultimately designated an area off the coast for renewable energy development. Deepwater Wind proposed its project within that area and worked closely with stakeholders to design a project that could be successful.  National Wildlife Federation and its partners were very engaged in the project, including working with the company to adjust its construction schedule to protect critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whales. They then worked to secure broad public support for the project and championed its many permit applications in federal, state, and local forums.

In Massachusetts, advocates realized that the largest barrier to gaining support from policymakers for offshore wind was the belief that it was “just too expensive,” so the Special Initiative on Offshore Wind conducted a study that found that offshore wind costs could decrease by as much as half in the next decade if a strong state policy were enacted.  They also convened high-level forums, hosted a national conference, and took Massachusetts policymakers on a field trip to Europe to see how the industry is flourishing there.  At the same time, National Wildlife Federation coordinated an effort with environmental and energy advocates, labor, and industry experts to build awareness and support for offshore wind throughout the state through media outreach, grassroots mobilization, and policymaker education. These groups’ collaborative work paid off this summer when Massachusetts adopted an energy policy that includes the largest-ever state commitment to offshore wind power, at the scale necessary to create a viable US market.

The Northeast Atlantic is at an important turning point for offshore wind power. The US Department of Interior has designated large areas off the coast for potential wind development.  As of this writing, 520,000 acres have been leased off the coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island and 350,000 acres have been leased off the coast of New Jersey.  In late 2016, the Department of Interior created another offshore wind area off the coast of New York. The auction generated unprecedented investor interest, with energy giant Statoil winning the 33-round auction, paying $42 million for the exclusive right to design and propose an offshore wind farm on 80,000 acres there.

Going forward, both National Wildlife Federation and the University of Delaware will continue to work with advocates, wind developers, and state policymakers to amplify the success stories in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and to demonstrate the broad public support for offshore wind. They will also assist in the implementation of wind policies in Massachusetts and New York to ensure that the Northeast Atlantic fulfills the opportunity to become the launching point for the offshore wind industry in the United Sates.

August / 2016

Historic Decision in New Hampshire Could Bring End of Coal-Fired Power Plants in New England

The New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission recently reached an historic settlement that requires Eversource to sell all of its power plants in the state. This will force its old and inefficient coal-fired plants – including Merrimack Station in Bow – to compete on an open market against more economically and environmentally friendly sources of energy, like solar and wind. JMF grantee The Conservation Law Foundation is pushing to make New England coal-free by 2020 and this settlement is another significant step towards reaching our goal. Click here to watch CLF New Hampshire Director Tom Irwin talk about Merrimack Station and what this decision will mean for our climate and the people of New Hampshire.

August / 2016

Neighbor to Neighbor

Neighbor to Neighbor has brought community voices to the table to ensure one of the first “just” transitions from coal to solar in the nation at the Mount Tom power plant in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

Neighbor to Neighbor’s Action for Healthy Holyoke (AHH) campaign has been built on the leadership of the New American Majority – people of color, immigrants, and the working class – which has allowed it to move beyond shutting down a coal plant to organizing for a clean energy future that meets the needs of low-income communities of color.

While the environmental movement has at times been pitted against the labor movement, Neighbor to Neighbor organizes at the intersection of economic, racial, and environmental justice. The original leaders of the AHH campaign, Carmelo Diaz and Virgenmina Perez, were personally affected by asthma induced by poor air quality and lived near contaminated plants that leaked hazardous materials in their native Puerto Rico.  Both lost their jobs in Holyoke when their companies relocated abroad, and they knew that fighting for a just transition beyond coal included advocating for the coal plant’s workers and ensuring a bright future for the city – with a thorough cleanup and the creation of green jobs.

The Mount Tom coal plant in Holyoke has been contaminating the area’s air and water for over 50 years.  In 2014, Neighbor to Neighbor partnered with other groups such as Toxics Action Center and the Conservation Law Foundation to ensure the closure of the dirty plant, a process hastened by changes in the energy market that severely threatened its economic stability.  In 2015, Action for a Healthy Holyoke members oversaw a community re-use study process and secured commitments from owner GDF-Suez to convert the plant to solar energy and to demolish the current building, including its highly-contaminated smokestack.

Neighbor to Neighbor continues to build the movement for climate justice by knocking on doors in frontline communities in Holyoke, Springfield, and Lynn, and by conducting popular education on the connections between day-to-day challenges like the lack of good jobs and affordable housing and the urgent need for renewable energy and resilient communities in the face of climate change. Every step of the way, Neighbor to Neighbor seeks to make state and local environmental policy and energy institutions meet the needs of low-income communities of color.

July / 2016

Report on Offshore Wind in Massachusetts Finds Costs will Likely Decrease Over Next Decade


Wind Turbine

In March, a new study by John Merck Fund grantee the University of Delaware’s Special Initiative on Offshore Wind (SIOW) reported that if Massachusetts develops offshore wind energy at a scale of 2,000 MW, it is likely that with technology and industry advances, the costs of wind power to ratepayers will decrease by as much as 55% in the next decade.  That kind of cost reduction, driven by market forces, would put the Commonwealth on a clear path to deliver clean power at a competitive price for millions in the Boston area and beyond, and would make wind power a core contributor to the state’s clean energy future.

“The key,” stated lead author Dr. Willett Kempton in SIOW’s press release, “is making a firm commitment to scale so the market can do its work.  By providing market visibility – the State’s commitment to a pipeline of projects over a set period – the offshore wind industry in the US can deliver energy costs on the kind of downward [cost] trajectory seen in Europe. More than 10 GW of offshore wind energy has been built in Europe and powers nearly 7 million homes. The US has an opportunity to take advantage of this domestic clean energy resource which is in such abundant supply.”

The study’s release was featured in both CommonWealth magazine and Bloomberg Business.  For more information on the study and SIOW, click here.

January / 2016

Solar Power Proposed at Site of Shuttered Coal Plant

For the past five years, Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts, along with other JMF Clean Energy Program grantees Conservation Law Foundation and Toxics Action Center, have been working to close the Mount Tom Coal Plant in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and replace it with a clean energy alternative. In late 2014 GDF SUEZ, one of the world’s largest energy companies, announced it would be closing the plant. The plant owners recently agreed to requests from local advocates and the Holyoke community to replace the coal plant with a solar facility.

This tremendous success is a testament to the smart approach the coalition took from the start of their campaign. After witnessing the impacts of high asthma rates and other cardiovascular diseases in the Holyoke community – caused in part by the coal plant’s toxic emissions – Neighbor to Neighbor decided to embark on its first environmental campaign, but knew it would need help. Conservation Law Foundation helped Neighbor to Neighbor understand all of the legal tools at its disposal, while Toxics Action Center helped train the organization’s advocates. Together, this coalition understood that shutting the plant wasn’t enough – it needed to present a positive vision for the future of the site, help plant workers transition into new jobs and help fill the hole in local tax revenue that closing the plant would create.

That’s why from the beginning of the campaign, advocates pushed for a re-use study and just transition plan for plant workers. They coordinated with the labor union, the city and state politicians to build the political will at the right levels of government to close the plant and implement their alternative vision. Through this careful planning, Neighbor to Neighbor, Conservation Law Foundation, Toxics Action Center and their allies have put into place a textbook example of how to effectively run community-based environmental campaigns.

December / 2015

Toxics Action Center

Since 1987, the Toxics Action Center has organized over 800 communities across New England to reduce pollution and improve public health.

As a John Merck Fund grantee, the Toxics Action Center is a major force behind our ongoing effort to make New England the first coal-free region in the country. Closing coal plants across the region cannot succeed with a cookie-cutter approach. Campaigns must recognize the importance of local leadership and unique community conditions. That’s why the Toxics Action Center empowers and trains local advocates and helps them develop plans that rely on state and local laws and regulations.

Their strategy has been enormously successful – four of the region’s seven coal plants have been shut down. Three more coal plants show signs of yielding to pressure from changing clean energy markets and engaged citizens.

But it’s not enough to simply shut down coal plants. The Toxics Action Center campaigns put community redevelopment front and center as plants are decommissioned. They also push for clean energy alternatives, particularly as natural gas and other fossil fuel infrastructure rushes to fill the void left by closing coal plants. Toxics Action Center is not only directly supporting groups that oppose new gas plants and pipelines, but they are also continuing to train community groups to become more active and informed as clean energy advocates.

The Toxics Action Center is led by Executive Director Sylvia Broude and the coal and energy work is supported by Lead Community Organizer Claire Miller. Together, their decades of grassroots organizing experience helps activists all over the region take a driving role in a clean energy future.

The John Merck Fund would not be able to pursue its goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, retiring coal-fired plants, and increasing use of clean energy in New England without the dedicated leadership of Sylvia, Claire and the team at  Toxics Action Center.

November / 2015

Study: New England Gas Pipelines Not Needed

A recent study commissioned by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and supported by The John Merck Fund demonstrates that building new natural gas pipelines is not the most effective way of reducing energy costs for the state. Instead, the study suggested that building the pipelines would cost $13 million more than simply investing in energy efficiency and rewarding customers for conserving energy during periods of high demand.

The four natural pipelines proposed in New England, including the controversial Kinder Morgan and Algonquin extension will increase the use of natural gas and contribute to worsening climate change. This study clearly presents a better route forward – one that both saves money and reduces the region’s carbon footprint.

Read more of the Boston Globe’s coverage of this study here.

October / 2015

Pilgrim Nuclear Plant Will Shut Down

In March 2011, a devastating earthquake and tsunami caused a power outage at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan. As a result, four reactors exploded, melting down three nuclear cores and releasing radiation from a fourth.

This disaster prompted former John Merck Fund Program Officer Anna Baker to investigate the Pilgrim Nuclear Station in Plymouth, Massachusetts. She discovered that the reactors were the same model – and had the same flaws – as those in Japan. During the Fukushima disaster, Japanese authorities evacuated a 50-mile radius around the plant. That same radius around the Pilgrim Plant is home to nearly 5 million people.

Anna, her neighbors and local advocacy organizations quickly banded together to highlight safety issues plaguing the Pilgrim plant, hoping to prevent a similar disaster in their backyards. This week, Pilgrim’s parent company, Entergy Corp, announced it would close the plant, citing in part the costs of complying with safety, public health and environmental regulations.

The nuclear reactors in question – manufactured by General Electric in the 1970s – have had safety issues since they were first produced. Three engineers even quit the company in protest of safety shortcomings on this specific model. The Pilgrim plant also has had numerous safety issues, including power outages and problems with a safety valve that prompted the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to downgrade the safety rating of the reactor, naming it one of the three least safe reactors in the country.

Anna and her neighbors created a coalition of 27 groups and more than 600 members to respond to these safety concerns. They gave cover to whistleblowers within the plant, organized opposition in local government, and monitored activities at the facility to ensure elected officials and regulators knew of ongoing violations at the plant. Without these dedicated individuals, it is hard to say if or when regulators would have confronted Pilgrim’s ongoing problems.

The coalition’s work isn’t over. The plant could potentially operate through June 2019, and decommissioning the plant and handling nuclear waste will present ongoing challenges to the community. Still, The John Merck Fund applauds the coalition for its role in decommissioning the Pilgrim plant, and we have confidence it will be an effective watchdog as this process continues.