Stories of our connected and rapidly changing region.

cpb-logo

1500px header

High prices, infrastructure bottlenecks and climate change fears have all prompted New England to make a big switch to renewable energy sources. But what happens when our old-fashioned power grid has to make room for wind and solar? What are the consequences when this new clean energy system relies on fossil fuels to fill the gaps?

The Big Switch is a project of the New England News Collaborative, where we explore our energy system at a moment of big change. We'll look at energy storage and production, efforts at efficiency and conservation, current demands on the grid, and the battle over where to put the wind turbines, solar panels, and yes, the fossil fuel plants that keep our lights on.

Massachusetts energy officials have announced they're going with Plan B to bring Canadian hydroelectric power to the Bay State. They've selected a back-up project that runs transmission lines through Maine, after New Hampshire state regulators refused to allow Plan A – the controversial Northern Pass project.

Electric vehicles, or EVs, make up a tiny fraction of the cars sold in New England. But new state policies — and a big cash infusion from the settlement of Volkswagen’s pollution scandal — could speed the building of electric vehicle charging stations and help push the regional market for EVs to new levels.

Mary Hollis lives in a single-family home in Hartford. There’s a draft by the door where she eats breakfast. And during the winter, chills seep around pipes and through the front foyer.

In the small town of Warren, Vermont a so-called “net zero” house is being built that will not use any fossil fuel. The house has solar panels on the roof to generate electricity and pipes in the ground to capture geothermal energy for heating. It won’t be using power from the grid that was generated with fossil fuel.

Massachusetts opted last week for one large power line to cover a big chunk of its energy needs for the next 20-plus years. The Northern Pass proposal beat out other big transmission projects and dozens of smaller options for the right to supply all renewable power the Commonwealth wants.

Eversource’s Northern Pass transmission line is the sole project picked for long-term energy contract negotiations with Massachusetts.

Connecticut's new budget will move tens of millions of dollars out of energy efficiency programs, sweeping that money, instead into the state's general fund.

For the past eight years, New Bedford has been advocating for offshore wind and preparing their port to service offshore wind projects. But why is the city betting on this industry?

For the last 10 years, scientists all over the world have been racing to figure out how to convert massive quantities of seaweed into biofuel. UConn Professor Charles Yarish is one of them.

Massachusetts will select bidders to supply thousands of megawatts of renewable, carbon-free electricity.

New research from the University of New Hampshire says the greenest way to heat your home this winter is a wood pellet stove.

New Jersey's Governor-elect Phil Murphy has vowed to "immediately" bring his state back into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI.

Maine is home to hundreds of dams that have fallen out of use, a legacy of the heyday of its mills.

New England electricity consumers paid billions of dollars more than necessary over a three-year period.

As Kevin Sullivan slowly rumbles his pickup truck across his 60 acres of property near the Connecticut-Massachusetts border, he leans in and asks a question: What’s farmland?

As my tour guide, Bill Eccleston, and I walked through the dirt, twigs and puddles of the George Washington Wildlife Management Area in Burrillville, we heard a bird call above us.

After years of encouraging solar development, Vermont seems to be attracting the attention of national solar companies.

A new type of energy-efficient construction is drawing attention in the U.S. It’s called “passive housing” -- residences built to achieve ultra-low energy use. It’s so efficient that developers can eliminate central heating systems altogether. Imported from Germany, it's been a boutique building style until recently, with eco-minded home owners making costly upfront investments to downsize their carbon footprints. But now, New England is joining a surge in large-scale passive housing development.

For more than half a century, a massive, oil-fired plant has been churning out electricity from an island in the heart of Maine’s Casco Bay, where sailors use its towering smokestack for navigation. The old generator is expensive to run and dirtier than new technologies, so these days it comes on only a few times a year. Nonetheless, since December, the wires on the island have been humming pretty much nonstop.

New England gets about half its energy from natural gas, a huge jump from a few years ago. But many environmentalists are pushing back on big investments in gas-fired plants, just as renewables like wind and solar are taking off. In Rhode Island, we look at the controversy over whether to build another gas-fired plant in a small town.

A play by Massachusetts to inject more renewable power into its electricity mix could reshape the entire region's energy landscape. Dozens of developers are competing to offer Massachusetts the best price for long-term contracts to supply clean energy to hundreds of thousands of homes.

powerlines-vpr-masterson-20160819-no-logo

We can't control when the sun shines and the wind blows. That means sometimes extra renewable energy gets dumped, or a wind plant is told to power down. One Vermont startup is hoping it can use a humble appliance in your basement -- your water heater -- as a storage device for extra electricity.

Credit: Ryan Caron King

There are wind projects throughout New England, but Connecticut hasn’t joined the movement. The state doesn’t have a lot of wind or a lot of available space, and only recently lifted a ban on wind turbine projects. In Colebrook, Connecticut, we find out why it's such a challenge.

New England gets nearly 10 percent of its energy from renewable sources, with more on the way. But that change is posing challenges for the region’s electric grid -- like in Vermont, where solar power is booming, changing the landscape and transforming the way we buy, sell, and transmit electricity.

A grid-scale diesel generator near Mike Elkins' furniture-making company can quickly deliver 500 kilowatts of electricity to the Boothbay area.
Credit: Fred Bever, MPBN

A major transformation in the way energy is made, delivered, and used is happening, and it’s disrupting the traditional business model of electric utility companies. That model includes building big infrastructure projects to transmit electricity. One startup company in Maine is averting the need to build a costly new transmission line.

The Big Switch is powered by our founding supporters