Power Source

Where People and Energy Connect

New England is facing serious questions about the future of its energy supply. Electricity rate hikes are underway, and there is heightened discussion about the region's reliance on natural gas and what that could mean in the future. In our series, "Power Source: Where People and Energy Connect," we look at the issues surrounding natural gas, while exploring the innovative ways people are reducing their energy consumption and their impact on the environment.

The 10-part series airs November 17-21, November 25, and December 1, 8, and 15, 2014

Daniel X. O'Neil / flickr

New England’s energy system is at a crossroads. Economics and climate concerns are driving a shift away from coal and oil, but experts remain divided on where to go from here.

If you want to get a sense of New England’s energy systems – past, present, and future – Sandwich is a good place to go. It’s the oldest town on Cape Cod, founded in 1639.

“It’s very nice, and I think it’s very historical,” says Takayuki Terai, a visitor from Japan. “I like this kind of New England atmosphere very much.”

Rupa Shenoy

On a cold but sunny day last month, about a hundred people rallied in front of the Massachusetts State House, hoisting signs that read “Green the grid,” “Clean energy now” and “No future with fossil fuels.”

“We’re talking about our children’s future,” shouted Kelsey Wirth into a megaphone. Wirth is founder of the group Mothers Out Front, which has one goal:  “To ensure that Massachusetts is making the right energy choices for the sake of our children’s future,” she said, “and that means choosing clean and renewable energy every time there’s a choice to be made.”

NOAA/Alecia Orsini

Many homeowners install renewable energy technologies like solar panels in an effort to become less dependent on conventional energy sources. But could an entire island eventually achieve that goal? Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard is taking the first steps to harness the strong tides that flow just off its eastern shore. It’s new technology, and there are many financial and regulatory hurdles still in the way. But the hope is that one day the ocean will supply a significant portion of the Vineyard’s energy needs.  

Courtesy photo

When it comes to energy hogs and inefficiency, ice rinks rank among the worst. But not the new one in Falmouth. Not only is this eco-friendly ice arena making its own electricity, it's using that electricity as efficiently as any building of its kind in the world.

"You don't see a lot of rinks like this, obviously," said Paul Moore of Falmouth Youth Hockey. "And rinks are utility monsters, they eat up a lot, a lot of electricity."

Rob Benchley

Keeping an island 30 miles off the mainland supplied with fuel and electricity is hard enough, and on Nantucket, there’s also the need to account for the seasonal population that creates a short but significant surge in the demand for energy. It's a complex energy system that is constantly evolving with advances in technology and transportation.

Brian Morris/WCAI

There are a lot of upsides to plug-in electric vehicles, which is why state and federal officials are pushing hard to bring them into the mainstream. The technology promises to help reduce our reliance on imported petroleum products; the cars can be charged overnight or at times when the electric grid is less taxed; and they produce zero tailpipe emissions.

Utility company officials don't usually make house calls. But NStar spokesperson Michael Durand agreed to sit down with an NStar customer and talk about her electric bill. So we introduced Durand to 72-year-old Barbara Meehan of Wareham.

UGArdener / flickr

Boothbay, Maine has a message for end-of-the-line towns around New England: you could make the whole grid stronger.

jenny downing / flickr

I am not someone who is usually obsessed with my energy consumption. Our house is pretty tight and well-insulated, and we use a relatively modest amount of electricity and fossil fuels to meet our energy needs. 

Steve Junker / WCAI

Here’s a question for you: how much electricity did you use last month? That’s not how much did you pay on your electric bill – but how much electric power did you use?

If you're serious about using less, a good place to start is to understand how much you already consume.

In Falmouth I sat at the kitchen table with Ben and Kellie Porter and their two young children, as Ben opened his laptop to examine the family electric bill.

“It was 600 last month, 700 in July," he said. "Middle of the winter it was down to 400.  So between 600 and 400. Then July - big month.”   

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