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This Week in Massachusetts – February 7

Posted on February 7, 2023

Economic Secretary Yvonne Hao Talks about Issues Facing the Berkshires

Boston Globe – The state’s new economic secretary, a Williams College graduate who owns a home in Williamstown, says that though the Massachusetts economy compares favorably to other states, “Now is not the time to be a caretaker.”

Yvonne Hao, who lives in Cambridge, said the economic secretary must plan as far as decades ahead. She says the state should take heed of worrisome trends, such as the declining population, an issue pertinent to the whole state but is particularly relevant for the Berkshires.

Gov. Maura Healey’s pick for economic secretary, Hao has had a successful business career, co-founding the Boston-based investment firm Cove Hill Partners, once working as an operating partner at Pillar Ventures, and serving as chief operating officer and chief financial officer for PillPack, an online pharmacy that Amazon purchased in 2018. She has also worked at Bain Capital and McKinsey & Company.

Despite her professional experience in corporate America, Hao points to a modest upbringing in a Chicago suburb, where she was raised by parents who had immigrated to the U.S. from China to attend graduate school, in saying she won’t forget the state’s poorer residents as she looks to drive economic development for big business

The Push and Pull of Boston Development, Shadows and All

Boston Globe (Opinion) – Re “Is a truce possible in Boston’s shadow wars?” (Opinion, Jan. 27): The image of New Yorkers unfurling umbrellas to protest shadow impacts is dramatic and theatrical. However, Renée Loth might have chosen a controversial example closer to home: the five-year battle in the early 1970s over the redevelopment of Park Plaza, when a major project threatened, as Henry Lee, the first chairman of the Friends of the Public Garden, noted, to cast the venerable park in shadow most of the year.

The battle, and it was a difficult one involving just about every political personality of the day, stretched through four different development schemes. Among the casualties was a principled state planner, Miles Mahoney, who was pushed out by Governor Frank Sargent for denying the first two schemes a critical state approval and insisting that the project conform to Massachusetts’ new environmental protection law. Nonetheless, the final proposal was greatly reduced in scale and height. The proposed high-rise towers were eliminated in favor of lower-scaled development, and the Public Garden was allowed to flourish.

How is it then, half a century later, and in a time of presumed environmental awareness and advocacy, that we are arguing over whether a development should conform to existing guidelines or a cherished park, the Back Bay Fens, warrants protection and an equal chance to flourish?

We are grateful for Renée Loth’s attention to this important issue. By highlighting “Boston’s one-off, ad hoc development process,” she points out the key to a better future for the parks. If Mayor Michelle Wu and her team are serious about systematic planning, a true citywide sunshine projection policy must be enacted to support and protect all of Boston’s parkland, environment, and communities. In her State of the City address, the mayor emphasized her desire for a city “more green than concrete.” The sunlight is what keeps our parks green.

Boston Commute Fifth Worst in US, Study Says

Boston Herald – The “unbearable” traffic seen at times in Boston places it fifth for worst commutes in the country, a new study found.

Boston drivers spend an average of 32.6 minutes on each leg of their commute, with 15.6% stuck in gridlock for more than an hour per trip, according to research conducted by Automoblog, using 2021 U.S. Census data.

The Bay State capital was only outranked by Riverside, Calif.; Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; and New York City, which took the top spot with the largest share of commuters, 22.7%, spending more than an hour in traffic per trip.

“Drivers in Boston have it rough, to say the least,” said David Straughan, who commissioned the study. “According to some, ‘rush hour’ can start as early as 6 a.m. and extend as late as 7 p.m. most days of the week.”

But it’s not just rush hour that drives the city’s congestion problem, according to Straughan, who said its successful professional sports teams can make traffic “unbearable at almost any time,” due to fans swarming the stadiums.

“Traffic on the Southeast Expressway portion of I-93 regularly grinds to a halt, but drivers heading north of the city towards Cambridge and Somerville via Route 28 consistently face Boston’s worst congestion,” Straughan said.

The study, which notably used 2021 data, comes weeks after INRIX, a global transportation data and analytics

Senate Eyes Keeping Pandemic-Era Remote Voting Rules

Boston Globe – There may be some grumbling on the House side of Beacon Hill this month.

In a break from that chamber, state Senate leaders want to keep a pandemic-era measure that allows members to keep voting and debating bills from their homes, offices, or wherever else they chose during formal sessions — even though the state’s COVID-19 emergency officially ended more than a year ago.

The House voted Wednesday to do just the opposite, opting unanimously to do away with the emergency rule that allowed its members to vote remotely, forcing lawmakers back to Beacon Hill for debates and votes.

The Senate’s idea to keep the policy came in the form of a 28-page rules package, which was put forward Thursday. The Senate is expected to vote on the package next week.

In a statement, state Senator Joan B. Lovely, who leads the Senate rules committee, said the proposal reflects the Senate’s “commitment to transparency, accessibility, diversity, and inclusion” and takes into account “the societal shift towards hybrid operations.”

“This rules package maintains the Senate’s ability to hold hybrid proceedings, both on the floor and in committee hearings,” the Salem Democrat said.

Speaker Ronald J. Mariano said he felt in-person voting was “important for the exchange of ideas and discussion.”

Cannabis Entrepreneurs Take on a Grassroots Fight for Equity

WGBH – In the kitchen of his Roxbury apartment, Oliver Prudent blends together chili peppers, cherries, spices and a generous helping of THC extract, the signature ingredient in his cannabis-infused hot sauce.

Prudent worked behind the soundtrack of a blaring television, his 3-month-old son Alnes cooing, and under the watch of Zoe, a small black cat and recipe-testing supervisor. His cramped kitchen serves as a recipe-testing lab for his cannabis-infused catering business, a venture Prudent hopes to someday turn into a brick-and-mortar establishment.

The 25-year-old entrepreneur says his little Cherry Trip hot sauce bottles — with their flaming chili pepper labels — mark a huge step in his yearslong fight to stay in the cannabis industry.

But the fact that he’s still working in his kitchen, he says, shows how far he needs to go. And he says a state program meant to help cannabis entrepreneurs like him — called the Social Equity Program — has done little to move him forward. Many of the people eligible for priority status under the program find themselves struggling to find a way in, challenged by layers of bureaucracy coupled with barriers to capital.

Prudent says the process of getting an application for a dispensary, securing funding and actually get a business off the ground has been an ongoing struggle.

With no Pay Raise in 17 Years, State’s Court Interpreters Threaten a Walkout

Boston Globe – Many of the state’s court interpreters who provide per diem translation services across Massachusetts plan to stage a weeklong walkout beginning Monday to protest a lack of pay raises since 2006, which could lead to a disruption of court hearings requiring their services.

“The point is to call attention to the disgrace that we’ve had no pay adjustment for 17 years, and that we need travel-time pay,” said Genevieve Howe, 65, of Dorchester, a certified Spanish interpreter who spearheaded the protest. “We’re tired of waiting. We’re not willing to continue working for rates established back in 2006. We offer a high level of skill to the courts every day, and we need to be compensated like the professionals we are. Our patience has been exhausted.”

An estimated 35 of the state’s 92 per diem interpreters plan on participating, Howe said.

Per diem interpreters are hired and paid on a daily basis and do not receive benefits. Separately, the Massachusetts Trial Court Office of Language Access employs 65 staff interpreters who do receive benefits; they are not part of the planned walkout.

Per diem interpreters are paid $200 for a half day, and $300 for a full day. Howe said 2023 per diem rates for certified interpreters should be more in the order of $500 or $530 for a full day.

In East Boston, a Dispute Between Old Industry and Affordable Housing

Boston Globe – The seven-acre parcel at 102 Border St. in East Boston, with its stunning views of the harbor and the Charlestown Navy Yard across the water, would seem like a great place to build some affordable housing in a neighborhood that sorely needs it.

There’s one hitch to this scenario, and it’s a big one: The property sits within a Designated Port Area, a state-regulated zone that essentially prevents anything but marine industrial uses from going there.

Now the East Boston Community Development Corp. has gone to Suffolk Superior Court to get that parcel, along with an adjacent building the CDC also owns, removed from the DPA, after the state Office of Coastal Zone Management opted against doing so after a thorough review of East Boston’s waterfront. The lawsuit that the CDC filed on Jan. 23 accuses the state agency of ignoring its own regulations and argues the site is better suited for housing than marine industrial work.

The fight in Suffolk Superior is the latest clash over the state’s four-decades-old port-area rules, which are designed to protect industrial waterfront properties from conversion to commercial or residential development — and to hold onto some of the blue-collar jobs that go with them. These zones have become an increasingly common battleground amid the pressures to build along Boston Harbor.

Health Care

Why You Can’t Get in to See Your Primary Care Doctor. ‘It’s Almost Frightening.’

Boston Globe – Across Massachusetts, people have been struggling to make appointments with primary care physicians, with doctors saying demand is higher than ever at a time when an increasing number of providers are leaving the field.

The problems are further straining the state’s health care system, potentially leaving patients sicker and in need of more intensive care down the road.

“The only way to provide high-quality, low-cost care is if you have a robust primary care system,” said Barbra Rabson, CEO of Massachusetts Health Quality Partners, a nonprofit that is working to improve patients’ experiences. “We know the primary care system is increasingly unstable. When you look at the combination of factors, it’s almost frightening.

The reasons for the primary care crunch include rising rates of retirement, not enough MDs entering the field, growing demand for care from a sicker population, and changes in the patterns of well visits since the start of the pandemic.

In response, the state has begun chronicling the health of the industry as it seeks to pinpoint policy decisions and further investment. Late last month, the Center for Health Information and Analysis, a state agency that studies the health care industry, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Health Quality Partners, released new data that highlight the challenges the system is facing.

Healey Calls Workforce Challenges ‘Devastating’ in Health Care

MassLive – In an increasingly familiar refrain, Gov. Maura Healey sounded the alarm about acute workforce shortages to hundreds of health care leaders and medical professionals.

Healey, whose family includes a long line of caregivers, praised members of the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association at their annual meeting in downtown Boston, particularly for their resiliency and life-saving efforts during the grueling COVID-19 pandemic.

The health care sector is “not easy,” Healey said, as she invoked workers on the frontlines at community hospitals and community health centers, among other settings.

“I think for me, my No. 1 commitment and concern is workforce. I know workforce is devastating,” Healey said. “But now, we have got to do all we can to recruit and train up as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. I know things are spiraling, and you’re paying the price for that every single day.”

Healey, a former basketball player who in her nascent administration repeatedly affirms the value of teamwork, called on health care leaders to “collectively convene” to tackle workforce woes and leverage some pandemic-era innovations, such as telehealth.

Healey’s brief remarks came the same week she appointed Kate Walsh, the president and CEO of Boston Medical Center, as her health and human services secretary. Healey lauded Walsh, who attended Friday’s meeting, for her creativity, innovation and resiliency.

Boston Biotech Internship Program Aims to Increase Diversity through Expansion

Boston Globe – When Betelihem Alemayehu moved with her parents from the countryside of Ethiopia to Boston nearly a decade ago, she didn’t know how to ride the T, she couldn’t speak English, and she could never have guessed that one day she’d be employed in one of the city’s cutting-edge industries.

Alemayehu, now 22, works in lab operations at Vedanta Biosciences, a Cambridge biotech startup that’s unraveling the mysteries of the human microbiome to create drugs from helpful bacteria to combat disease. And she credits a college student internship program for helping to kickstart her unanticipated career.

That program, Project Onramp, was launched in 2019 by the Boston nonprofit Life Science Cares to infuse diversity into the region’s largely white biotech sector. It has already helped nearly 300 college students land summer internships across 90 Massachusetts life science companies. The students identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color, are from low-income backgrounds, or are first-generation students. And Project Onramp is just getting started.

Over the next five years, the program will grow to include 1,000 interns each summer in Massachusetts and other biotech hubs around the country, including New York, Philadelphia, San Diego, and San Francisco. “But our expectation is that Boston will continue to have more than its share of those internships, just by virtue of how robust the industry is here,” said Sarah MacDonald, president of Life Science Cares Boston.

Budget and Taxation

Taxes Miss Benchmark for First Time in 30 Months

State House News – State revenue collections missed the mark by nearly 5 percent in January, with the $3.834 billion that the Department of Revenue reeled in landing $192 million or 4.8 percent shy of the previous January’s collections and $185 million or 4.6 percent below the monthly benchmark.

It is the first time since June 2020 that DOR has announced that tax collections have failed to live up to the administration’s monthly expectation. The $21.643 billion that DOR has collected through seven months of fiscal year 2023 is $229 million or 1 percent less than actual collections in the same period of fiscal 2022. Tax receipts are the primary source of funding for this year’s state budget, which grew by 10 percent.

“January collections decreased in withholding, non-withholding income tax, and ‘all other tax’ in comparison to January 2022,” Revenue Commissioner Geoffrey Snyder said.

“These decreases were partially offset by increases in sales and use tax and corporate and business tax. The decrease in withholding was mostly driven by corporate restructuring events that positively impacted January 2022 withholding collections. Although withholding declined in January, year-to-date withholding is 3.3% higher than the same period of FY2022.

“The decrease in non-withholding income tax is most likely the result of pass-through entity members utilizing credits to reduce income tax payments and weakness in financial markets in calendar year 2022. The increase in sales and use tax reflects, in part, continued strength in retail sales and the increase in corporate and business tax is primarily due to an increase in estimated payments and a favorable decrease in refunds.”

Fiscal 2023 tax collections are still ahead of the year-to-date benchmark, but that gap is closing. Heading into January, tax collections were $1.087 billion or 6.5 percent more than what had been expected to that point. After January, state revenue is now $922 million or 4.4 percent ahead of year-to-date expectations.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

No Central Massachusetts Public Company has a Female CEO

Worcester Business Journal – The landscape for women’s business leadership at the highest level in Central Massachusetts took a hit this past spring when Shacey Petrovic resigned as president and CEO of Acton medical-device company Insulet and left the region without a single female CEO at any of its publicly traded companies listed on the NASDAQ or New York Stock Exchange

For women pursuing leadership roles in the region, this climate for women at the top level is not shocking, but instead it is yet another motivator to seek out ways to empower one another in traditional and non-traditional ways.

Recognizing the sample of public companies in Central Massachusetts does not paint the whole picture, but rather offers a snapshot of the environment, working women are not hopeless about leadership prospects. Rather, they are seeking out ways to circumvent traditional leadership roles for entrepreneurial pursuits and doubling down on initiatives to move themselves and female colleagues beyond middle management to the C-suite.

For Central Massachusetts to be in line with the national averages, only one or two women would need to be in the role at one of the 15 companies, said Jean Beaupre, dean of the School of Business at Nichols College in Dudley.

Vocational-Schools Policy Violates Student Civil Rights, Complaint Says

Boston Globe – Massachusetts vocational schools and technical programs are systematically denying admission to students of color, those from low-income families, and other at-risk populations, closing off career pathways to some of the very people they were designed to help, two legal aid organizations said in a lawsuit filed against the state Thursday.

The complaint, filed in federal court in Boston by Lawyers for Civil Rights and the Center of Law and Education, argues the state’s use of “exclusionary criteria,” which includes using grades, attendance, and disciplinary records to determine admission, is discriminatory. The result, they argued, is that students, of color, from low-income homes, those with disabilities, and those still learning English are admitted to career vocational schools and programs at disproportionately lower rates than their peers.

The practice, they added, continues even though in 2021 the state eliminated a requirement that vocational programs weigh applicants’ academic records. Despite the rule change, 27 of the state’s 28 regional vocational programs still use criteria-based point systems to cherry pick top-ranked applicants, the complaint said.

Admitting just the top students is “antithetical” to the purpose of vocational education, said Andrea Sheppherd Lomba of the Vocational Education Justice Coalition, which is made up of 20 community, civil rights, and union groups and is a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which oversees the vocational-ed system in Massachusetts, declined to comment, saying only that it is reviewing the complaint.

Advocates say there’s an easy solution: Students should be admitted by a random-draw lottery.

Senator John Cronin and Representative Antonio Cabral have filed legislation to ingrain such a system in state law.

Sustainability and Climate

As Healey Ramps Up Environmental Focus, Some Advocates Demand More

WGBH – Maura Healey has been governor for less than a month, but she’s already made it clear that she plans to make environmental issues a top priority. Among other things, she’s called for Massachusetts to “lead the world” in its response to climate change, created a first-in-the nation cabinet-level climate chief position to tackle the problem, and promised to make climate innovation a linchpin of the state’s economy.

According to some of Massachusetts’ more aggressive environmental advocates, though, Healey still needs to do much more — and to do it quickly. They want her to intervene to stop several projects that advanced under her predecessor, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, and cast her willingness to do so as a test of how deep her commitment to environmental transformation really is.

In one of those projects — known as the Western Massachusetts Natural Gas Reliability Project — the energy provider Eversource plans to build a new, five-mile pipeline linking an existing station in Springfield to a yet-to-be-constructed facility in Longmeadow. That proposal, which has already elicited strong local opposition, has yet to receive a final go-ahead from state regulators. But two other controversial projects in Eastern Massachusetts are much further along.

On a recent weekday morning, about three dozen activists gathered across the street from a new electrical substation under construction on Condor Street in East Boston — across the street from the American Legion playground, next door to a Boston Police station and a literal stone’s throw from Chelsea Creek. The facility, which will distribute electricity for residential and business use in East Boston, is being built by Eversource, which says it’s needed to accommodate growing demand and ensure reliable service.

Hey Massachusetts Residents, Your Monthly Gas Bill is about to go Down

WBUR – The state has some good news for people who heat their homes with gas.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities has ordered utilities to reduce the price of natural gas they provide to customers. As that rate drops, so will your monthly utility bill.

The department estimates that the average household in the state could see a 4-5% decrease in monthly bills for the period beginning Feb. 1, though the amount you pay depends in part on how much gas you use.

The savings aren’t huge — National Grid estimates that the average household will save about $11 per month, while Eversource predicts a $33 reduction — but the Healey administration says it’s still welcome news during a winter season when residents have seen natural gas, electric and oil prices spike dramatically.

“This reduction in energy costs comes not a moment too soon for Massachusetts residents struggling to get by,” said Rebecca Tepper, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary.

But, she added, this moment is “also an important reminder that we need to urgently and equitably transition away from volatile fossil fuels, which continue to threaten the financial security of our communities.”

Massachusetts Installing more Reliable EV Chargers on Highways

Boston Globe – There was no unveiling ceremony with state officials, no ribbon cutting, not even a press release. But the recent installation of two high-speed electric vehicle charging terminals at an I-95 rest stop in Lexington merits some celebration.

Installed by California charging company ChargePoint, the terminals are designed with easily replaceable modular parts in case of malfunction. That should help avoid what has plagued some of the state’s earliest highway installations, such as the chargers on the Mass. Pike that were broken for more than a year. And the additions will help fill a critical need for fast charging as the state seeks to convince hundreds of thousands of drivers to shift to electric vehicles by 2030 to curb carbon emissions.

On a brisk and cloudy day this week, the Lexington terminals were in good working order, charging a reporter’s EV at the maximum speed accepted by the car. Inside, the rest stop offered pizza, Honeydew doughnuts, bathrooms, and a convenience store. Adding 50 percent capacity at the charging session cost $12.55.

EV drivers have yet to report an outage in Lexington since the terminals went online in December, according to the widely used PlugShare app. And four similar terminals MassDOT installed at rest stops on Route 24 in Bridgewater a year ago have almost no reported outages.

That’s somewhat unusual in the charging industry, where reliability has become a major concern for all but Tesla drivers. (Tesla owns and operates a proprietary charger network only for its customers.) A study of chargers in California last year found more than one-quarter not functioning.

While many early fast-charger installations were placed behind big-box stores or at the edges of mall parking lots, new stations will increasingly resemble the well-lit Lexington and Bridgewater stations next to restaurants and other facilities.

Electric Vehicle Fires are Rare, but When they Occur, They Can be a Nightmare

When a 38-year-old man crashed his Tesla on I-95 in Wakefield late one night last month, the car burst into a fire that took hours and 20,000 gallons of water to put out.

As Massachusetts and the United States push to get more electric vehicles on the road to meet climate goals, how worried should we be about incidents like this? Not too worried, experts say — as long as we get prepared.

Though they often grab headlines, electric vehicle fires are less common than gas-powered car fires, said Andrew Klock, senior manager of education and development at the National Fire Protection Association, a nonprofit that offers free EV training for firefighters across the country.

“There’s a gasoline fire in this country every three minutes in a gas vehicle,” he said.

Overall, EVs are about 0.3 percent likely to ignite, versus a 1.05 percent likelihood for gas cars, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics and the National Transportation Safety Board compiled by Auto Insurance EZ last year.

“It’s not like electric vehicles are more dangerous,” said Klock. “They’re just different.”

But the differences are important, he said, and they can make the fires hard for firefighters who are unfamiliar with EVs to manage.

The risk of EV fires comes from their lithium ion batteries. Similar batteries power many household devices, but in cars, the batteries are far larger.

“The bigger the battery, the bigger the fire caused is going to be,” said K.M. Abraham, a pioneer of the lithium-ion battery and a retired professor at Northeastern University.

When these batteries get damaged, it can kick off a chemical reaction leading to a state of “thermal runaway,” or uncontrollable self-heating. In the case of last month’s Wakefield fire, the damage occurred when the battery got punctured by a guardrail as first responders tried to pull it off the road. In some other cases the cause is less clear. Near Sacramento last week, a Tesla Model S burst into flames, seemingly spontaneously.

When a battery fire starts, it can quickly spread between battery cells, keeping the fire ablaze. So, when EV fires do occur, they burn hotter than gas fires and are more prone to re-igniting. And unlike gas fires, lithium-ion battery fires don’t require outside oxygen to burn, making them harder to extinguish.

Rich MacKinnon, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, which represents some 12,000 firefighters and EMTs, said workers statewide are currently ill-prepared to manage EV fires. The MBTA provides workers with training to extinguish electric bus and train fires, but he said he hasn’t seen Tesla or other electric car manufacturers provide anything comparable through the state’s Department of Fire Services, though some makers offer guides and private classes.

“I don’t think we’re getting enough information from the industry and carmakers that make and manufacture these cars, and that’s the big issue,” he said. “It’s absolutely concerning.”

Also missing from most fire departments: EV-specific fire suppressants. Powders made of graphite or sodium chloride can more effectively quell lithium-ion battery fires than water, said Abraham, but right now, firehouses generally don’t have those materials on hand.

In the absence of appropriate training and materials, fighting EV fires is a highly resource- and labor-intensive process. Extinguishing the fire in Wakefield last month required an amount of water used by an average four-person household in two months. Wakefield firefighters were forced to call upon fire departments in Melrose, Stoneham, Reading, Lynnfield, and Middleton.

“This is the kind of thing we’ve never seen before now,” said MacKinnon.

A gas car fire, by contrast, said MacKinnon, can often be quelled by just a few workers using one-20th that amount of water, or even less. If EVs catch fire more frequently as more people begin to drive them, he said, relying on workers and resources from other jurisdictions could impede fire departments’ abilities to respond to fires elsewhere.

Trends in the EV market could pose new dangers to drivers and exacerbate fire risk, said Paris Marx, author of the 2022 book “Road to Nowhere: What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong About the Future of Transportation” and advocate for reducing dependency on cars.

The adoption of electronically activated doors, for instance, could trap people in cars that are on fire. In 2021, a man briefly got stuck in his blazing Tesla, because his doors would not open from the outside, his attorneys told the Washington Post. After a man died in a Tesla fire in Florida in 2019, his family filed a suit saying police officers couldn’t open a door to rescue him.

Another concern: EVs — and their batteries — are getting larger.

“Trucks and SUVs keep getting larger with every redesign,” Marx said.

It’s a trend that’s expected to continue, and that could increase fire risk.

MacKinnon said he “absolutely” supports moves to decarbonize transportation, but that if we don’t address fire concerns, workers and drivers alike will be put in danger.

“Typically, industry comes out with a great idea and then we’re forced to deal with the negatives of it without any type of funding, training, or specialized equipment we may need,” he said. “That’s really the issue.”

Can the Power Grid Handle a Wave of New Electric Vehicles?

New York Times – A wave of electric cars, SUVs and pickups is headed toward America’s highways, driven by the auto industry’s aggressive rollout, the vehicles’ growing driving range, environmental regulations and government incentives.

Experts believe EVs will make up a third or even half of all light vehicles sold annually in the U.S. by 2030, up from about 7% in 2022.

If those predictions are correct, that leaves a big question: Will the power grid be capable of charging the batteries in those tens of millions of vehicles?

Some grid operators already are struggling to keep up with demand in certain areas and at certain times—California power authorities, for example, asked residents to avoid charging electric cars in the evening during a heat wave last September to help avoid overloading the grid, while utility officials in other areas have warned at times of possible rolling blackouts to prevent system collapses.

First, the good news: Many experts think the utility industry will be ready to generate enough power for the coming EV wave, thanks to planned capacity increases costing hundreds of billions of dollars.

But that isn’t the whole story. The potential for much more serious bottlenecks looms in the local legs of the grid that transmit electricity to individual homes and businesses. Expensive upgrades could be needed for these neighborhood power-distribution systems. Additional spending will be needed to bolster the wires and transformers serving commercial sites as electric trucks and delivery vans become common.

Combined, all these investments likely would result in higher electric rates, many industry analysts say.

“The more they invest in the grid, the more those costs go back to consumers,” says Brad Stansberry, U.S. energy advisory leader at audit and consulting firm KPMG.

Something that could help all parts of the grid deal with higher demand is controlling when EVs are charged, such as curbing charging in late afternoon and evening, when electricity use peaks. There are several ways to accomplish this, such as varying the cost of electricity by time of day and offering incentives to car owners to charge overnight.

Here’s a look at how mass EV adoption could affect the three major components of the electrical system—power generation, long-distance electric transmission and local distribution—and what needs to be done to prepare.

The nation’s approximately 12,000 utility-scale power plants generate electricity by burning natural gas, coal or oil, splitting atoms or tapping the energy in sunshine, wind or water. So far, EV charging uses a minute fraction of this power production.

A recent study by the Argonne National Laboratory found that the 2.1 million EVs on U.S. roads in 2021 used less than 0.2% of the 3,930 trillion watt hours of power consumed overall that year.

Projections of how much electricity EVs will consume in coming years vary widely. The Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit that gives guidance to the power industry, estimates that EVs of all sorts, including buses and commercial trucks, will boost the nation’s overall use of electricity between 8% and 13% by 2030 from 2021. These vehicles will consume 7% to 11% of all U.S. electricity generation by that year, the group estimates.

More transmission is needed, in part to connect new power sources such as solar and wind. EPRI says a 10% expansion in high-voltage transmission capacity will be needed by 2030. The cost: $30 billion to $40 billion.

Neighborhood networks are where EV charging bottlenecks are most likely. Boston Consulting Group says utilities may need to spend $1,700 to $5,800 on grid upgrades for each EV sold through 2030.

New power demand also will result from mandates by some governments to curb installation of gas stoves in favor of electric ones and gas furnaces in favor of electric heat pumps.

Power companies have dealt with big increases in demand before, such as from the widespread installation of air conditioning 50 or so years ago and, more recently, the construction of massive data centers for cloud storage.

But EVs present a different challenge. The rate of EV adoption can’t be reliably predicted. It involves many variables, including gasoline prices, the price and availability of EVs, the build-out of public charging stations and the continuation of government incentives.

In contrast, power companies generally know years in advance about the arrival of other new energy-hungry customers, such as big housing developments, shopping centers and factories, giving them time to upgrade, says Kellen Schefter, senior director of electric transportation at the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group for investor-owned electric companies.

The electric industry also is facing pressure from regulators, environmental groups and some investors to shut coal- and gas-fired plants. That means new generating capacity and utility-scale battery storage for renewable power will be needed to make up for closed fossil-fuel plants, as well as the rising demand from EVs.

Still, most experts are confident that the industry can keep up.

EPRI projects utility companies overall will spend $1.5 trillion to $1.8 trillion on infrastructure and operations by 2030. Of that, about 22% to 30% will go toward adding generating and electrical-storage capacity, the group says.

A 2019 study overseen by the Energy Department concluded that “based on historical [electric generation] growth rates, sufficient energy generation and generation capacity is expected to be available to support a growing EV fleet as it evolves over time.”

Moreover, the power system already has excess capacity during certain periods of the day. An analysis by KPMG says the U.S. currently has enough generating capability to charge 80 million EVs during overnight hours—hence the need to control when cars are charged. The Edison Electric Institute estimates there could be 26 million EVs on the road by 2030, up from about 3.2 million today.

Once electricity leaves its generating site, it is stepped up in voltage to enable it to travel along the long-distance, high-power transmission lines that crisscross the country on tall towers.

EPRI projects the need for a 10% expansion in high-voltage transmission capacity by 2030, in part to connect new solar and wind-power installations to the grid but to a lesser extent contend with the power needs of EV charging. The research group estimates these upgrades will cost $30 billion to $40 billion, though it says such forecasts are subject to variables such as inflation and labor costs.

Government money could help. The 2022 federal Inflation Reduction Act offers nearly $3 billion for transmission networks, while the 2021 infrastructure act provides $10.5 billion to upgrade the power grid overall.

Yet these enhancements face challenges. One is obtaining the rights of way and government permits—new or expanded power lines often prompt not-in-my-backyard pushback from people and communities. Sourcing the required materials also could be a challenge. Currently there are supply-chain backlogs for power poles, transmission lines and other components, says Jeff Smith, EPRI’s director of grid operations and planning research.

When electricity reaches the local level, its voltage must be reduced at substations to be safely sent through the local grid. From there, wires take it to neighborhoods, stores and office parks, where transformers further reduce it to the voltage used by homes and businesses, generally 120 or 240 volts.

This part of the grid is where the biggest concerns lurk.

Charging an EV can require a major boost to the electricity-transmitting capacity of the wires and transformers serving an EV-owning household—a 70% to 130% increase, depending on the power of the charger—according to an analysis by Boston Consulting Group.

The consulting firm projects that utility companies may need to invest between $1,700 and $5,800 in grid improvements for each light-duty electric vehicle sold through 2030.

For the power industry overall, this work could cost $10 billion nationwide through 2030, says Thomas Baker, a Boston Consulting Group managing director and partner.

Utilities will get new revenue from EV customers, but not enough to cover the needed upgrades, Mr. Baker says. The upshot, he says, is that utilities will seek rate increases, possibly up to 12%, assuming regulators approve.

Charging commercial vehicles at industrial parks, package depots and warehouses will pose another challenge. Such vehicles can use substantially more electricity than a car.

Local grids also will have to supply public charging stations. Their number and power need is another wild card.

As with transmission-network upgrades, bulking up the local distribution grid could face backlogs in equipment and shortages of workers to install it.

“Unfortunately, this new infrastructure could take months to years to put in place,” says EPRI’s Mr. Smith.

Some utilities are looking at novel solutions in the interim, such as mobile battery power storage or mobile power generation setups that they could deploy temporarily at local sites to contend with the new demand, Mr. Smith says.

To make it easier for all parts of the grid to deal with higher demand, some utility companies are working with car makers and technology providers on so-called deferrable, managed or smart charging.

In California, a pilot project involving Sacramento Municipal Utility District, General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and BMW AG asks vehicle owners the best time to charge based on their travel schedules. The technology coordinates that with off-peak power periods to determine the optimum charging time.

The customers receive $150 to sign up and quarterly payments of $20 and may change their charging schedule as needed.

In Michigan, DTE Energy is testing a program with GM, Ford and BMW that allows the power company to pause EV charging during periods of peak electricity demand. Participating customers, who will receive up to $100 in gift cards, will be texted before a pause and can opt out of it.

“A little bit of deferrable charging can go a long way [toward easing peak demand strains]. You don’t need everyone participating,” says John Bistline, program manager in EPRI’S Energy Systems and Climate Analysis Group.

Some utilities, including Duke Energy and Pacific Gas & Electric Co., are experimenting with a more advanced setup called bidirectional charging, which lets EVs aid the grid during peak demand by sending power back to it from their batteries—making them part of the solution to the problem. The batteries are refilled by the utility when demand eases.

Most of these setups will require upgrades to power networks and wiring inside of homes, and specific charging technology inside EVs.


Healey Opposes Legalizing Teacher Strikes: ‘Kids have been through Enough’

CBS News – Teacher strikes are illegal in Massachusetts and 37 other states but the Massachusetts Teachers Association plans to file legislation soon that would allow strikes. WBZ-TV’s Jon Keller asked Gov. Maura Healey if she thought that was a good idea.

“I don’t. I’ve come to this Jon as the proud daughter of educators, I think we should be doing everything we can to support our educators, particularly in this time and what so many have been through with COVID. A lot of strain on our educators, also a lot of strain on our kids and families. Every day when I see kids out of school because of a strike, my heart just breaks because kids have been through enough in terms of learning loss and the like,” Healey said.

She wants workers to get the compensation they deserve but “it’s still paramount that our kids be in school.”

Healey also said she supported taking a “hard look” at the current MCAS as a statewide graduation requirement. “I think it’s important that we have assessment tools in place and that we are assessing the right things, a lot has changed in education.”

“We talk a lot about social, emotional learning, we talk a lot these days about what it is that our young students actually need to excel in today’s world,” Healey said.

Bill Seeks to Eliminate School Takeovers by Massachusetts Education Department

Boston Globe – A new legislative proposal would strip the Massachusetts education department of its power to take over underperforming school districts — a development partly fueled by last year’s power struggle over Boston Public Schools.

The “Thrive Act” takes aim at the most extreme intervention in the state’s school accountability system: school and district receiverships.

Under a receivership, a locally elected school board loses its decision-making power to an individual or board appointed by the state. Thrive Act supporters call the process punitive and undemocratic, arguing receiverships come largely at the expense of marginalized students and families.

“It’s always some of the poorest communities with the greatest number of students of color,” said Max Page, Massachusetts Teachers Association president.

Critics of the bill, though, say it would obliterate valuable leverage in ensuring the state’s most vulnerable students aren’t left to languish in struggling schools. BPS, for example, wouldn’t be reckoning with systemic changes to its transportation and special education systems had the district not been threatened with a takeover, they said.

“If you’re a parent of a BPS student and you have limited options, wouldn’t you want your superintendent or commissioner to take action to fix your son or daughter’s failing school?” said Ed Lambert, Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education executive director.