Intern Update: Writing a Master's Thesis

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Steve Griffith - March 26, 2014
As a final stepping-stone to the achievement of my master's degree in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, I am currently working to finalize my thesis, tentatively entitled “The Natural Gas Dilemma in New England’s Electricity Sector”.
Currently, more than 50 percent of  New England’s electricity is generated by natural gas. Although 'cleaner' than coal or oil generation, natural gas is a fossil fuel that contributes to climate change-inducing greenhouse gas emissions. My thesis explores experts' perspectives on state and regional policy opportunities available to reconcile this natural gas reliance with the region's ambitious long-term greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. To inform the thesis, I conducted fifteen interviews with regional energy and climate experts from non-profit advocacy and association groups, private sector energy consultancies, environmental protection agencies, state utility commissions, and regional energy authorities.  
While interviewees widely expressed concern about the emissions profile, price volatility, and infrastructural constraints of an electric system reliant on natural gas, the prevailing sensibility was that the prevalence of natural gas should and will continue in order to maintain reliability and cost standards. Similarly, interviewees generally perceived greenhouse gas emission reductions goals as aspirational, and not the foremost priority for the sector.  
Renewable portfolio standards, net metering and interconnection policies, and feed-in tariffs received the most support from interviewees as effective state and regional policy opportunities to reduce emissions from the electric sector. While each has been enacted in New England in varying capacities, interviewees noted immense potential to intensify and expand the reach of these policies.  
The overarching response from interviewed experts, however, was that a single policy would not enable a significant shift toward a cleaner electricity sector. Due to the convoluted and pervasive nature of the energy world, experts overwhelmingly noted that an array of complementary policy mechanisms are required to inspire participation from all customer classes and the development of a range of low-carbon generation technologies. 

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