Report back: Climate Town Hall with Rep. Jeff Sánchez

Last Thursday, July 12 a crowd of constituents filled the First Church in JP for a “Climate Town Hall with Jeffrey Sánchez,” to urge Representative Sanchez as the House Ways and Means Chair to support passage of a strong climate action bill. The forum had been arranged by a coalition of local climate groups, including JP Forum, 350MA-Boston Node, Boston Climate Action Network, Mothers Out Front, Clean Water Action, Sierra Club Massachusetts, Our Climate, MA Interfaith Power & Light, and the Environmental League of Massachusetts.  

The assembled constituents were not in a happy mood to begin with. While the House had actually passed a climate bill, many were disappointed by its relatively weak language and the omission of important amendments in comparison to the Senate’s climate bill. Plus, Sánchez was busy with budget reconciliation and had to send his chief policy aide, Collin Fedor, to speak in his place.

Fedor did his best to defend Sánchez’ record on climate and his stand on various provisions of the bill. A particularly contentious point concerned the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). The Senate bill called for an increase from 1% to 3% in the rate of increase in renewable energy in our basic electricity mix, bringing the New England grid to 100% renewables by 2049. The House bill provision on the RPS, in contrast,  would only reach 100% renewables by 2095, according to an analysis by Better Future Project.

Sanchez 1

To voice their frustration many attendants held signs like “RPS WTF?” “Not Good Enough” and  “EJ FAIL”, the latter relating to the lack of action on environmental justice amendments. The fact that a low-income solar bill apparently was still sitting in Sanchez’ committee was called a “despicable situation.”

One of the highlights of the forum was when a sophomore from Brookline High handed Fedor a pile of petition signatures in support of carbon taxation. Eli from SunRise Boston put his finger right on one of the big problems of environmental legislation, nationally and locally: the political donations by the fossil fuel industry. He asked whether Sánchez will sign the no fossil fuel money pledge. In the same vein, a representative from the League of Women Voters asked whether Sánchez wanted to side with the energy industry or the renewable energy industry.

BCAN joined other organizations in asking Fedor questions. Dick Clapp from BCAN asked if the Rep. had supported the provision to more strictly regulate competitive electricity supplier, which often prey upon people who want either cheaper or greener electricity supply. Pastor Price from Second Church in Dorchester asked if the Rep. supported expanding solar net metering options. Price explained that the current restrictions on net metering resulted in his church being able to put up only one-third of the solar panels that it had hoped to install. The same restrictions similarly limited solar for Bethel AME and the Church of St. Augustine and St. Martin, both in Boston.

Fedor often deflected or went to some boilerplate statements about Sanchez’ past and his priorities. To his credit, when he encountered points he hadn’t heard before, he said he would look into the issues and pass the concerns and arguments along. He also gave out his business cards when requested.

For now, we’re keeping our fingers crossed that the Conference Committee can achieve a compromise. Committee members are Reps. Golden, Haddad, and Jones and Sens. Barrett, Pacheco and O’Connor. Contact these legislators through the State House switchboard at 617-722-2000. For detailed background on these bills, please read the Better Future Project analysis.  And join us in person for the Emergency Climate & Immigrant Justice Rally and Vigil this Thursday at the State House from noon till 1:30.

Report Back: Carbon Free Boston Briefing

The City of Boston has committed to become a carbon neutral city in a little over 30 years.  Getting there will require changes large and small across many sectors of the city.  Where to begin?  The City, Green Ribbon Commission (GRC) and Boston University’s Institute for Sustainable Energy (ISE) are currently producing a Carbon Free Boston (CFB) report to answer just this question.  On June 28th, over sixty people representing a broad array of stakeholder groups (including BCAN) were briefed on the status of that report.  Our takeaways:

  1. We expect the report to be of very good quality.  While we learned that the release date has been pushed back a little more to Nov 7th, we learned that local utilities have been providing very granular, extensive, and otherwise helpful use data.    The way questions were answered by Cutler Cleveland and Michael Walsh (CFB Principal Investigator and Lead Modeler respectively) gives us every indication that the report will include options sufficiently aggressive and thoughtful to address the issue.

 

  1. Social Equity will be “woven through.”  A Social Equity Advisory Group led by Dr. S. Atyia Martin has hit the ground running!  They’re meeting regularly and working to ensure that the interests of disadvantaged populations are represented.  In their words:

Disadvantaged populations …often have greater exposure to air pollution, environmental hazards and dangerous conditions, and they often face reduced access to basic energy services. Equitable access to affordable, safe, renewable energy must be a central theme in the City’s plan to reach carbon neutrality.

 

  1. Our voices will be needed soon to ensure action.  After the CFB report is released this fall, the City will begin the process of deciding which options are worthy of inclusion in the Climate Action Plan (CAP).  The report will not include recommendations, only options.  All ideas, all policy comes with costs, some financial and some political.  Regardless of the benefits to come, these costs may result in some of the best ideas not being adopted, funded or implemented.  We must be ready to demonstrate political demand for climate action in November on the broad range of issues that the CFB report will address.  We’re not sure what the process for updating Boston’s CAP will look like but we know that it  will be during this period that community input will be most important.

 

*Boston has reduced GHG’s 12% over 10 years. data.boston.gov/dataset/greenhouse-gas-emissions .

Massachusetts Green Energy Bill is Down to the Wire

With a 35–0 vote, the Massachusetts Senate passed a comprehensive bill on June 14 that would “promote a clean energy future” across the state. Here are some of the bill’s most important provisions:

  • Raising Massachusetts’ Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) by three percentage points a year. The RPS is the minimum percent of the electricity sold by utilities and competitive suppliers that is required to come from local renewable sources. Currently, the annual increase is one percentage point. Raising the RPS faster would stimulate the development of new renewable energy projects in our region.
  • Eliminating the net metering cap. Net metering means that when solar panels produce more energy than the owner uses immediately, the extra goes into the grid and the owner gets a credit on his or her bill. Not limiting the amount of electricity that can be credited makes “going solar” affordable for more people.
  • Getting more specific about reducing statewide carbon emissions. The Global Warming Solutions Act had already mandated 80% reduction below 1990 levels by 2050. The new bill sets interim targets for 2030 and 2040, and it instructs the state administration to produce specific plans for meeting all the goals.
  • Encouraging further development and use of offshore wind, energy storage, and electric vehicles. All of these technologies would reduce fossil fuel use.
  • Regulating competitive electricity suppliers more strictly. Allowing independent suppliers to compete for the business of individual residents was intended to help people save money. However, a study by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office shows that it does the opposite, and that vulnerable populations are hurt the most.

The next stop for the energy bill, now numbered S. 2545, is the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, time is tight: the current legislative session ends on July 31, and any bills that are still pending by then must start all over again next session.

Please contact your state representative now and ask him or her to pass the energy bill. If you can’t recall your rep’s name, here are three options:

  • Call (617) 722-2000, dial 2 for the House of Representatives, and speak with the operator.
  • Go to the Action Network website and compose an e-mail.
  • Go to the Massachusetts Legislature’s “Find My Legislator” page. Enter your address, then click on your rep’s picture to get contact info.

And while you’re at it, consider contacting your state senator, too, and thanking him or her for passing this important bill.

Questions about Boston’s New Large Scale Renewable Buying Plan

Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh announced a new plan on Thursday, June 7, to potentially join forces with other large cities around the country to buy into large-scale renewable energy projects together. The initiative will start with an information-gathering phase, to be conducted by Boston and six other cities. Mayor Walsh claimed that the plan will “help power our cities and create more clean energy jobs.”

BostonCAN is excited to see the administration taking this active new step toward carbon reduction. We’re interested in the details of how this large-scale purchasing plan is going to be set up, and what effects it will have, both on our own city and on the country as a whole. Below are some questions that we hope the city will answer as more information becomes available.

Would this project meet the environmental principle of additionality?

The term “additionality” means the extent to which an investment creates more greenhouse gas reduction than would have occurred without it. In particular, we want to know if Boston’s investment would create additional reduction that would not have occurred anyway.

An example of a project that would not meet the additionality criterion would be a wind farm sited in the Midwest. Wind power is already commercially competitive in states with strong natural wind resources and large rural areas with low real estate costs. In these states, market forces are already yielding many wind power projects, which are profitable without government or environmentalists needing to invest in them. Another decision that would limit the additionality of a project would be to put it in a state with a weak regulatory mandate for renewable energy.

Would the city’s investment yield other public benefits to Boston residents besides low-cost renewable energy?

Would our air be cleaner, or our public health improved? Would local innovative energy businesses be stimulated? Would Boston residents gain employment opportunities? In particular, Boston should not try to cut costs by locating clean energy projects in “Right to Work” states with poor worker protections.

How soon could such a plan be implemented?

Climate change is already damaging our cities, and the more slowly we reduce greenhouse gases, the more problems we will have. The potential effectiveness of a project is a combination of how much it will reduce annual emissions and how soon it will start.

A final note: We hope that this new project will not distract from the effort to implement Community Choice Energy (CCE). Multiple industry experts have said that CCE is relatively straightforward. BostonCAN recommends that EEOS follow through with the directive from City Council to set up an advisory group and issue a Request for Proposals to get the ball really rolling on CCE. By implementing it as soon as possible, the city will score a win on carbon reduction even as it explores other promising proposals.

 

CCE is not Rocket Science!

At a hearing on May 30, Boston City Councilors, energy experts, and community members all pressed Alison Brizius, Boston’s Director of Climate and Environmental Planning, for answers she often could not supply. Asked by Councilor Matt O’Malley to project a timeline for implementation of Community Choice Energy (CCE)—the climate mitigation measure passed unanimously by the City Council and signed by the Mayor seven months ago—Brizius indicated that her department, Environment, Energy, and Open Space (EEOS), was still studying its options.

Significance of CCE to Climate Mitigation

The five City Councilors in attendance: O’Malley, Michelle Wu, Ed Flynn, Josh Zakim, and Michael Flaherty, and the two that sent letters of support: Tim McCarthy and Lydia Edwards, all urged EEOS to move more quickly to implement what they see as a significant step to reducing the City’s collective carbon footprint. Invited panelist Ann Berwick, formerly the Undersecretary for Energy for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Chair of the Department of Public Utilities, described CCE as the most significant GHG reduction tool at a municipality’s disposalWinston Vaughn, Senior Manager for Renewable Energy at Ceres invoked Boston’s commitment to the Paris Accord and asked administrators to make good on that pledge to urgently reduce emissions. Liz Stanton, Director and Principal Economist at Applied Economics Clinic, reported on the significant environmental benefits reported by other municipal aggregations.

may 30 hearing

Historical Pricing

Brizius repeatedly spoke of the department’s need for historical pricing data from other municipal aggregations as a way to project what rates Boston might attain through CCE. The panelists urged Brizius and EEOS to stop trying to gather this historical data. Stanton declared, “Historical energy prices are in no way indicative of future pricing.” Vaughn noted that energy pricing is “extremely dynamic,” and Berwick noted that “Trying to get pricing information now will not be fruitful. No one can tell you what prices will be a year from now.”

Boston’s Size

Brizius also referred to Boston’s relatively large size in comparison to other Massachusetts municipal aggregations as an explanation for why the department has not made more progress.  Stanton offered that Boston’s size would put it at an advantage when negotiating the consultant’s fee, as well as the wholesale price of electricity. Berwick also emphasized that virtually all municipalities simply hire an energy consultant to guide the process of implementation. “This isn’t rocket science. Hire an energy consultant to get the ball rolling.”

2018-5-30 CCE Hearing

Cost of a Consultant

Brizius countered that the payment for the consultant might be exorbitant given Boston’s size. Stanton and Berwick both reassured her that all aggregation consultants work on spec—that no city funds would be paid to the consultant, whose fee is generated instead through a small “adder” to the wholesale price per kilowatt that city residents would purchase, and then only if they successfully delivered a favorable bid. Councilor Wu summed up this practice common to all other aggregations in the state: There is no risk, either to the City budget or to ratepayers, of engaging a consultant.

Moving Forward – An Advisory Committee

Councilor Michelle Wu implored Brizius to understand the importance of appointing the CCE advisory committee called for in the Council’s authorization. This committee of Councilors, EEOS staff, energy experts, and community members would resolve the remaining questions about what Boston would want a consultant to be responsible for and what parts of the implementation Boston would perform through dedicated staff. Then, “in quick order” as Wu put it, a request for proposals (RFP) from experienced aggregation consultants could be finalized.

BostonCAN agrees wholeheartedly with Wu’s priorities: Mayor Walsh needs to appoint a CCE advisory committee with the goal of EEOS choosing an aggregation consultant this summer.

Refuting Common Objections to Community Choice Energy for Boston

In advance of the City Council hearing today at City Hall, BostonCAN has compiled a list of responses to the common objections we hear from the Office of Energy Environment and Open Spaces (EEOS) about why they should delay implementing Community Choice Energy.

Community Choice Energy (CCE) could cost more than basic supply, which would put an unacceptable burden on ratepayers.

The cost of renewable energy is steadily dropping and will continue to drop as economies of scale are achieved. Already many community choice aggregations (CCAs) have been successful in getting better rates. In a study by the Applied Economics Clinic in Nov. 2017, the residential rates procured by local aggregations saved 19% on average below the Eversource rate. By delaying the implementation of CCE, the Office of Environment, Energy, and Open Space (EEOS) is costing ratepayers by not getting residents and businesses a better option.

There will be fluctuations in the market, but if the City finds that all the bids it receives for CCE are higher than Basic Service it can delay entry into the market until a better opportunity arises. Over the course of a contract the price will likely stay below Basic Service since many forces mitigate against significant declines in Basic Service rates. If at the time of contract renewal the bids would be significantly above Basic Service, the city can choose not to renew. In addition, individual ratepayers can always opt out.

But it happened in Chicago. In fact, Chicago’s aggregation had to be stopped when basic service prices became cheaper than their aggregation’s. What if that happens here?

In Illinois, rates for basic service had been kept high by a temporary state regulation for several years. Then that regulation expired, so basic service became much cheaper and was able to underbid aggregation contracts. In Massachusetts, there are no temporary regulations on basic service rates that are set to expire.

What about Melrose, MA? When their first contract was up, none of the new bids was competitive with basic supply.

Melrose had to pause its aggregation due to a spike in capacity charges in National Grid territory. Boston’s default electricity supplier is Eversource, who has not had the problem with capacity charges that National Grid has. Melrose plans to petition DPU to re-start its aggregation once the capacity charge issue has abated.

The Request for Information (RFI) invited vendors to share historical pricing data for municipal aggregations. Since none of the respondents did so, the cost of CCE to Boston ratepayers cannot be estimated.

Vendors were probably the wrong people to ask for historical pricing information. It is understandable that they might consider this information proprietary. Typically, vendors provide prospective pricing information in response to a Request for Proposals (RFP).

CCE will cost too much to administer. Between start-up activities and on-going maintenance, EEOS simply does not have enough staff.

Most municipalities with CCE programs hire a consultant who handles most administrative details of the program. The best way to ascertain administrative cost is to issue an RFP and see what competing consultants would charge.

Additionally, however, the city needs to weigh the cost of providing a CCE program with the cost of not providing one. The slower we reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the more the city will have to spend on adaptation and on responding to emergencies.

Boston is so big it has to move cautiously when considering CCE and can’t follow the same template that smaller towns followed.

Boston has more than 600,000 residents. It can follow the example of the Southeast Regional Planning and Economic Development District (SRPEDD), which also has a population of more than 600,000, and has had a joint municipal aggregation since early 2015. SRPEDD followed the standard aggregation pattern of using a consultant to create an aggregation plan and administer the program.

EEOS needs time to study the trade-offs of making CCE an opt-in vs. an opt-out program.

This is not the way the law works—the path to set up a municipal aggregation is a clear and well- understood process. Setting up an “opt-in,” and entering the market as an individual competitive supplier muddies the waters and is not what the city council authorized the mayor’s office to do.

According to a city report showing GHG emissions through 2015, Boston is on track with its GHG reductions, based on a per capita decrease.

Boston’s commitment to reduce GHG emissions from 2005 levels was never based on per capita emissions, nor are the commitments in the Paris Accord. Global warming depends on CO2 levels in the atmosphere and not on how many people live on the planet. So tying GHG reductions to population doesn’t make sense. Moreover, in 2017 Mayor Walsh pledged to reduce GHG emissions to zero by 2050, changed from the previous goal of an 80% reduction and zero emissions can’t be adjusted per capita. In order to get to the new 2050 goal, the 2020 goal not only has to be met, but exceeded.

CCE – Quantifying The Cost of Delay

Almost half the world’s population lives in cities, which are bearing the brunt of climate change impacts: sea level rise, extreme weather, and declining air quality and public health. Thankfully, a growing global alliance of cities is committing to mitigate these climate change impacts by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Boston is actively involved in these efforts. In fact, Mayor Marty Walsh is hosting an International Climate Summit on June 7, as a prelude to the U.S. Conference of Mayors from June 8 to 11.

For these developments to be truly hopeful, however, city departments must meet the commitments made by city leaders. This is not the case with Community Choice Energy (CCE) in Boston. Although the Boston City Council passed an order authorizing CCE in October, 2017, the Office of Environment, Energy, and Open Space has tabled implementation. Such a delay comes at a cost. CCE would cut Boston’s GHG emissions by 33,000 metric tons annually, as shown by an analysis from the Applied Economics Clinic (AEC) at Tufts University. The city cannot afford to postpone this significant tool to reduce emissions.

Boston’s goals are in line with those of many other cities: a 25% cut in emissions from 2005 levels by 2020, and 100% carbon neutrality by 2050. With regard to reducing emissions from city government operations, Boston has exceeded its 2020 target. What is troubling is that community-wide emissions reduction is falling short of the goal. Boston tracks its GHG emissions rates annually in the GHG Emissions Inventory, a publicly accessible database. The data show that GHG emissions declined from 2005 through 2012, to almost 20% of 2005 levels. However, between 2012 and 2015, emissions have shown a continued upward trend, with the 2015 rate only 12% lower than in 2005. While the GHG Emissions Inventory is only up to date through 2015, the EEOS budget (p.225) mentions that GHG reductions for 2017 were unchanged from 2015. Thus, with only two years left to go, the achievement of Boston’s 2020 goal cannot be taken for granted. This strongly suggests that more urgent measures are needed.

CCE - Cost of Delay Figure 1 v2

The data we’ve presented so far have been community-wide (that is, for Boston as a whole). The GHG Emissions Inventory divides these community-wide GHG emissions into three segments: small residential buildings, commercial/industrial/large residential, and transportation. CCE would mostly affect small residential buildings. Electricity supply to most large organizations is covered by pre-existing contracts and would not become part of the CCE program.

GHG emissions by small residential buildings show the same concerning trend as the community-wide data: they steadily increased from 1.20 million metric tons in 2012 to 1.33 million metric tons in 2015  (No more recent public data are available.) In order to meet the 2020 goal, GHG levels in the small residential buildings segment would need to be cut by 150,000 tons from the 2015 levels. CCE would immediately cut 33,000 tons, or 22% of that goal, and may be able to reverse the upward trend.

cce-cost-of-delay-figure-2-v2.jpg

In order to have a chance to limit the global average temperature increase, it is imperative that cities meet their pledged GHG emissions targets. Therefore, cities simply cannot afford to ignore or slow down any measures available to help meet their climate targets. Boston needs to implement CCE now!