Carbon Free Boston Review – Electricity

Carbon Free Boston (CFB) is the city’s initiative to reach carbon neutrality by the year 2050. For about a year, CFB researchers have been studying the pros and cons of different paths to that goal. Their report, due out later this fall, will estimate the amount of carbon reduction, the cost, and the environmental justice impacts of many potential ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The city will use this information to prioritize the best strategies.

In June, CFB posted a preliminary report listing some of the options under consideration. Using this document and other information sources, BostonCAN has been familiarizing itself with potential strategies in the energy, transportation, and buildings sectors. Our purpose has not been to draw conclusions ahead of the research results, but to understand the choices and related issues so that we are prepared to respond after the report is released. Three of our Action Team meetings this fall feature presentations on carbon policy. The first of these, on the energy sector, was delivered on September 27 and is summarized below.

By the “energy” sector, CFB means activities involved in the production of electricity. Options under study for this sector fall into four categories: district energy policy, gas policy, in-boundary renewable energy policy, and out-of-boundary renewable energy credit and purchase.

A district energy system provides power efficiently to a group of buildings. An example is the Medical Area Total Energy Plant (MATEP) in the Longwood Medical Area of Boston. Types of district energy systems include microgrids (small electric grids that can connect to the regional grid or operate independently), combined heat and power systems (where heat generated as a byproduct of electricity is captured to warm buildings), and trigeneration systems (which produce electricity, heating, and cooling). Potential policy options include building more district systems, forcing the retirement of ones that run on fossil fuel, and reducing related regulatory barriers.

CFB’s preliminary report raised only two gas policy options: renewable gas supply and natural gas leak mitigation. “Renewable” gas refers to hydrogen and biogas. They are “renewable” in the sense that we can produce more, but they still emit greenhouse gases. Natural gas leaks are problematic because they waste resources, release the greenhouse gas methane into the air, poison plants and animals, and increase the risk of explosions.

In-boundary renewable energy refers to “green” electricity that is generated within Boston. In an urban setting, the most practical source is solar panels. Two ways the city could bring more solar to Boston would be to mandate or incentivize building owners to install it or to put it on municipal buildings.

A related option is to address the net metering cap, a state policy that currently inhibits the development of large solar projects. Under net metering, solar owners receive credits on their electric bills whenever they are producing more power than they are using (picture a sunny day with few appliances turned on). Net metering helps shorten the payback period for solar. If an owner runs a negative balance, the excess credit can be applied to another electric account. However, Massachusetts limits (caps) the amount each electric company has to pay for net metering. While most residential installations are small enough to qualify for net metering despite the cap, new larger arrays are ineligible once the cap is reached. An example of how this discourages larger projects is the experience of Bethel AME Church in Jamaica Plain. They planned to put many solar panels on their church and assign the excess power to congregation members. However, they had to settle for a smaller system than they wanted because of the cap.

Out-of-boundary renewable energy is “green” power that is generated outside of Boston for the benefit of Boston users. There are several ways that people can get renewable energy without buying the generators that produce it (e.g., solar panels, wind turbines, or hydroelectric plants).

  • Community-owned renewable power means that a group of people own a “green” generator together. Community-owned renewable power can be located in- or out-of-boundary.
  • Power purchase agreements (PPAs) and Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) are two ways of having green energy without buying or chipping in for the equipment. PPAs and RECs differ because the price of renewable energy is split into two parts: the actual energy, and the fact it is renewable. In a PPA, people buy the electricity itself from a renewable source. RECs are documentation proving that the owner of a “green” generator has produced a certain amount of renewable energy. When people buy RECs, they get the right to say that they are using green energy even though their power really comes from the grid, because they are providing financial support for renewables.
  • Carbon offsets allow an entity (usually a business or government) to pay another entity for the right to claim an amount of carbon reduction actually achieved by the second party. For example, if Boston and another city both have carbon reduction targets, and Boston is falling behind while the other city is ahead, Boston can buy carbon offsets from the other city. Offsets are intended to allow for the fact that some entities have more barriers to carbon reduction than others.
  • Providing clean power purchasing options to consumers is another thing that a city can do. Boston’s forthcoming Community Choice Energy program is an example.
  • The city could also provide financial incentives for on-site and off-site renewable generation. This could take several forms, including lower property or sales taxes.

 

 

In the days to follow, we will publish summaries of BostonCAN’s presentations on CFB options in the transportation and buildings sectors. Stay tuned!

Top 5 Things to Know About Community Choice Energy

The City of Boston has begun the early stages of setting up community choice energy!  As this critical process gets started, there’s never been a better time to understand what this means for you and other Boston residents.

1. What’s in a name?

Community Choice Energy is a tool that’s been used in hundreds of communities across the country and goes by many names: municipal aggregation, municipal electricity aggregation, community choice aggregation, and a few others. The idea is the same: CCE enables the City of Boston to bulk-purchase electricity for City residents.  Buying in bulk comes with a lot of buying power, which allows us to stabilize rates and get more renewables without paying more.  It also means that we can make important energy decisions instead of for-profit utilities and their competitors.

2. Choice is the key word.

Think of CCE like a ‘public option’.  CCE will be the new default, but you can switch to Eversource or a competitive supplier at any time with no penalties. As always, stay informed about competitive suppliers marketing.

3. CCE is for everyone.
CCE allows everyone to be part of the solution to the global climate crisis. While only some people can afford to install solar panels on their roofs, CCE means everyone is able to increase their clean energy.  It makes it a little bit easier to think globally and act locally.

4. CCE is climate-smart.

In 2018, Massachusetts utilities are required to buy at least 12% of their energy from Class I renewables. While this minimum percentage inches up a little each year, climate change impacts are already here and our current goals for renewables are much too slow. With CCE, we can decrease our reliance on fossil fuels and work towards our climate goals

5. CCE means more green, less stress

Monthly energy bills can be a source of financial stress for many Boston families. When it comes to negotiating electricity prices, no one can perfectly predict what the City will be able to get. That said, researchers at Tufts University looked at eight nearby towns that implemented similar CCE programs with 5% additional local renewable energy. In the first half of 2018, these towns averaged 16% lower supply costs than Eversource basic.

 

Here’s more on how it works!

Consumers Don’t Have to Fear CCE

Jon Chesto, one of the Boston Globe’s business writers, has been covering the news about Boston’s process of deciding to implement a municipal electricity aggregation program, what we call Community Choice Energy or CCE. Chesto’s most recent article, published on Sept. 3, failed to mention the reason that Boston is moving forward with CCE: this is the most cost-effective and equitable way to reduce our residential contribution to global climate change.

Extreme heat is one of the ways that Bostonians are most impacted by climate change. We’ve had 21 days of extreme heat — 90 degrees or greater — this summer, and it’s not over yet. Climate Ready Boston’s 2016 Climate Projections Consensus report notes that that average between 1971 and 2000 was 11 days. The pace of climate change keeps speeding up, such that we may have 90 days of extreme heat by 2070.

The people who suffer most from extreme heat are those who can’t afford air conditioning, those who work or live outside, and those who are medically vulnerable. As a matter of climate justice, we must switch to renewable electricity as soon as possible. Making that switch as a whole city makes the transition to renewable energy affordable. This is why CCE is so important.

Chesto’s article also included a statement of concern by a consumer advocate cautioning, “Boston ratepayers should make sure they read the fine print when they receive mailings regarding the city’s electricity-buying program. If they don’t do anything, they would automatically be enrolled in the new program.”This warning makes it sound as if consumers should be wary about Community Choice Energy, and it ignores the fact that Eversource basic supply is also an opt-out program. When you move into a new apartment and want to have electricity, you automatically receive an Eversource account. You may opt out of basic supply by choosing a competitive supplier, but if you don’t, you will be automatically enrolled as an Eversource customer.

Boston’s program will be equally simple: you may opt out if you want, but if you don’t actively chose a different supplier, then the Boston program will be your default. Also, just as with Eversource basic supply, consumers will be able to leave the Boston program at any time — without any cancellation fee. Switching back to Eversource basic supply will be very simple, unlike canceling a contract with a competitive supplier.

Boston’s electricity supply program will not change how Eversource bills us. We’ll still get our bills from Eversource; only the name of the supplier and the rate will be different. Boston’s size should make it able to negotiate rates that are comparable to Eversource’s. According to researchers at Tufts University, eight other towns in eastern Mass. have already implemented programs like the one Boston plans to implement, with 5% additional regionally sourced renewable energy. In the first half of 2018, these towns averaged 16% lower supply costs than Eversource basic.

No one can predict accurately what electricity rates Boston will be able to negotiate when it gets permission from the Department of Public Utilities to request bids on an electricity supply contract. Likely in some six-month periods Eversource will be able to underbid Boston, and in other periods Boston will underbid Eversource. But over the life of that contract, we are very likely to be able to buy at least 5% more green electricity at a comparable rate to Eversource’s dirtier mix. Other towns have succeeded and so can Boston!

CCE savings chart
Source: Woods, Comings, and Stanton, “Boston Community Choice Energy Aggregation and Electric Costs,” Applied Economics Clinic, March 2018.

Boston Takes Next Step on CCE!

Mayor Walsh announced today that the City of Boston will issue a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for a consultant to design and set up a Community Choice Energy (CCE) program. With this action, the Walsh administration embarks on the actual implementation of CCE.

Readers who remember BostonCAN’s disappointment when the city issued an RFI (Request for Information), and our insistence on a timely RFP (Request for Proposals), may wonder what an RFQ is. Unlike the RFI, which collected data without promising further action, the RFQ announces the city’s intent to issue a contract and invites companies to apply. An RFQ differs from an RFP in that it does not require a proposal (in this case, a program design) as part of the application. An RFQ is more appropriate for CCE because the intent is for the consultant, once hired, to work with Boston’s Office of Environment, Energy, and Open Space (EEOS) and community representatives to design the program.

The RFQ will be issued on August 27, and the deadline for responses is October 10, 2018. EEOS will also form an advisory group of community stakeholders, and we will share more details about that process when we have them.

BostonCAN couldn’t be more thrilled that Boston has decided to move forward with CCE. Not only will CCE reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it will do so in a way that is inclusive of all Boston’s residents and small businesses. This is truly a win for the entire city.

Legislature Misses Opportunity for Climate Justice & Equity

Thanks to guest blogger Andrea Nyamekye, of Neighbor to Neighbor, for co-authoring this post.

The Massachusetts legislature just concluded its 2-year law-making cycle. While it did succeed in making some progress on climate change policy, the state legislature severely missed the mark on justice and equity legislation. The climate change policy that passed was full of contradictions. And the bills that carried our hopes for climate justice — for addressing the ways communities of color and low-income communities have been considered sacrifice zones for pollution from landfills, gas compressor stations, pipelines, toxins in our homes, schools, and playgrounds — those bills were abandoned by legislative leaders in the process of finalizing energy and climate policy change.

BostonCAN is a member of the Green Justice Coalition (GJC), which has worked tirelessly over the past two years to promote equity in our state’s energy and environmental policies. This legislative session, GJC has prioritized environmental justice and access to solar energy as critical issues facing our communities, right now. The Environmental Justice bill would have addressed the fact that Massachusetts scored on the failing end of a scale created by the Center for Effective Government in 2016 to rate states based on the exposure of people of color and residents below the poverty line to hazardous facilities. Ours was one of just two states with an “F” grade.

The Solar Access bill would have encouraged developers to build solar energy in low-to-middle income communities, and environmental justice communities, and provide meaningful savings for these customers. We’ve already seen how current statutes limit the potential for community solar to benefits our Boston neighbors. Three churches in Boston — Bethel AME in Jamaica Plain, Second Church in Dorchester, and St. Augustine and St. Martin in Roxbury — all planned to use their roofs to generate affordable electricity for their congregants, but had to curtail their projects due to restrictions on the amount of electricity they could put into the grid at fair prices.

The State legislature has fallen short in its ability to push for effective climate and environmental legislation, leaving our black and brown communities left out, once again, in not only clean energy legislation, but in immigrant rights legislation, and wage theft as well. As Khalida Smalls of Community Labor United noted after the session closed, “This country, this state, and this city have a history steeped in racism and discrimination, and it continues to be true today. Moving these two legislative bills could have been major stepping stones in ensuring that all communities in our Commonwealth have the right to breathe deeply and live sustainably.”

While legislators boosted the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) annual increase to 2 percent (doubling its effectiveness), that change only continues through 2030, when it drops back to 1 percent. We had been pushing for an indefinitely increase to 3 percent. The law also set the goals for 1,000 megawatt hours of energy storage and 1,600 additional megawatts of offshore wind, and expanded energy efficiency, but it also created a new precedent that allows energy production from the burning of trash and biomass to be deemed “renewable.”

In an article published in Commonwealth Magazine, Khalida Smalls wrote, “inaction has consequences.” We will not rest as we seek to build a strong enough base to demand urgent and just climate change policy in the 2019-2010 legislature. And speaking of which, the deadline for registering to vote in time for the Sept. 4 primary is today, August 15. Voting may be far from sufficient, but it sure is necessary!

Net Zero Webinar

The City of Boston is considering a proposal to require all new buildings to produce as much energy as they consume. With thick insulation, controlled ventilation, and solar panels, these types of buildings are called “Net Zero” since they have zero greenhouse gas emissions from their operations. The Distillery North, an apartment building in South Boston, is one  example of a Net Zero building that’s so efficient it even meets the rigorous standards of Passive House. Boston even has some that make more energy than they consume, termed “Energy Positive or E+,” such as these in the Fort Hill neighborhood of Roxbury.

If you want to know more about how we can build better buildings that make as much energy as they use while being light-filled, comfortable, and affordable to heat and cool, please join Mass Climate Action Network for a webinar this Wednesday.

This webinar discussion,  which is a continuation of earlier Net Zero Roundtable discussions hosted by MCAN, will provide in-depth answers to questions you might have about Net Zero buildings, Passive House buildings, maximizing energy efficiency for buildings and finding new ways to make sure that our built environment is a source of clean and renewable energy.

What: Net Zero Webinar

When: Wednesday, August 15th from 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Where: RSVP here for information about the sign-in and log-on information.

The panel of speakers includes:

  • Michael Davis—Senior Program Officer for Lending and the Green Retrofit Initiative at Local Initiatives Support Corporation
  • Meredith Elbaum—Executive Director, US Green Building Council MA
  • Aaron Gunderson—Executive Director, Passive House Massachusetts
  • Nicole Sanches, Clean Energy Coordinator from Metropolitan Area Planning Council
  • Puja Vohra— Principal Consultant/Owner, Green Elements, LLC

We hope you can join us to learn more about the countless opportunities to make our buildings and built environment a source of renewable energy.

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.