Carbon Reduction: The Cost of Delay

Last fall, the Boston City Council passed, and the mayor signed, an order authorizing the implementation of a Community Choice Energy (CCE) program. The Office of Environment, Energy, and Open Space (EEOS) said that this process would take two years—longer than the norm for surrounding cities and towns with CCE programs—and involve a formal feasibility study. The order recommended soliciting bids from suppliers and establishing a stakeholder advisory group, but EEOS has as yet done neither. Instead, it issued, in March, a Request for Information (RFI) soliciting pages of advice from electricity suppliers, consultants, and other organizations. After reviewing the results, EEOS announced that the failure of any respondent to provide pricing information still leaves questions about the advisability of CCE. EEOS has now added CCE to the mix of alternatives being studied as part of the Carbon Free Boston initiative, whose report is due out at the end of the summer.

BostonCAN is deeply concerned about this series of decisions, which have added months to an already lengthy process. In principle, we agree that CCE should be thought of as one part of Boston’s carbon reduction plan. CCE is not a magic bullet: it will take multiple strategies, implemented soon, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in time to make a difference. The operative word, however, is “soon.” There is world-wide consensus that we have a limited window of opportunity to reduce carbon emissions before climate change reaches a point of no return. In its concern over the costs and risks of implementing the “wrong” solution, we wonder whether EEOS feels this urgency; whether it is sufficiently in touch with the costs and risks of waiting too long. Rather than deferring all new carbon reduction options until the end of an exhaustive study, we would like to see the city fast-track the most “shovel-ready” approaches even as it explores others.

The RFI findings themselves support simplifying the investigation of CCE. Of the seven respondents who replied about whether the city should conduct a feasibility study, five said no. “The feasibility, risks, costs, and benefits of aggregation are well known as a result of the experience of the over 125 Massachusetts communities with active aggregation programs,” explained one writer. Another warned that “offering no real benefit to launch planning, feasibility studies needlessly cause launch delays.” The two organizations who did suggest some form of preliminary research on CCE agreed that it “would not have to be elaborate.”  

Several sayings come to mind: “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” “Not to decide is to decide”—and the one we must never allow to describe Boston’s carbon reduction outcome, “Too little and too late.”

East Boston meme

 

Competitive Electric Supply: A Choice Best Made by the Community

A research report released in March by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office says that the competitive electricity supply market has been harmful to consumers who signed up as individual customers. The study found that residents who contracted directly with competitive suppliers paid a total of $178.6 million more for electricity than they would have paid the utility, over a two-year period. Low income neighborhoods were harmed the most. For these reasons, as well as the high number of complaints against competitive suppliers received by the Attorney General’s office, the report recommends eliminating the competitive supply market for individual customers.

This report reinforces concerns that BostonCAN has long expressed about the way that many competitive suppliers do business with individuals. Some suppliers offer low introductory rates that increase dramatically later, or even engage in deceitful practices like calling and claiming to be the utility company. While some offer extra renewable energy, they may source it from other regions of the country, which does not help shift the New England grid away from fossil fuels or create “green” jobs here.

But what about Community Choice Energy? Doesn’t it use a competitive supplier?

Yes, but with CCE, the city chooses one supplier for all of its businesses and residents, using a formal evaluation process conducted by energy and financial experts. Unlike a competitive supplier, the city has an incentive to keep rates low. CCE can specify extra renewables that are locally sourced. The attorney general’s report specifically states that its recommendations do not apply to CCE.

BostonCAN strongly supports the speedy establishment of a CCE program in Boston. Tell Mayor Walsh you want your city to choose your competitive supplier.

City Issues CCE Request for Information

The City of Boston’s Department of Environment, Energy, and Open Space (EEOS) has initiated a formal process of information gathering to help it understand the implications of providing a Community Choice Energy program. EEOS Chief Austin Blackmon has released a document called “Request for Information Relating to Community Choice Aggregation Program” (the RFI), which invites electricity consultants, suppliers, and brokers, as well as non-profits, residents, and business owners, to respond to a series of detailed questions by March 20, 2018. The questions cover issues such as potential costs to customers and to city administration, methods of communicating effectively with approximately 673,000 residents, the optimal timing and length of contracts with suppliers, and the experiences of electricity aggregation programs in other municipalities, including opt-out rates and cases where programs have been terminated.

The order passed last October by the Boston City Council did not specifically mandate an RFI, but more generally authorized Mayor Walsh to “direct appropriate departments to research, develop, and participate in a contract or contracts” regarding CCE. The text of the RFI specifies that it is for information only. The decision whether or not to respond will not affect a company’s chances of getting a CCE contract in the future, and the RFI does not obligate the city to issue an RFP.

You can see the announcement of the RFI on page 13 of the City Record newsletter, including instructions on how to get a copy of the RFI itself.

Carbon Free Boston, mostly Content Free

Last Wednesday, 2/8, many of us attended the City’s “Let’s Talk Carbon Neutral” program. Presenters included Environment, Energy and Open Space Chief, Austin Blackmon; Director of Climate and Environmental Planning, Alison Brizius;  Professor of Earth and Environment at Boston University and lead researcher on the Carbon Free Boston project, Cutler Cleveland; and Boston University Sustainability Director, Dennis Carlberg.

This was the first time the public was welcomed to hear presentations about Carbon Free Boston, a research initiative designed to quantify the choices that Boston must make in its efforts to reduce our collective contribution to global climate change. The data will be used to shape the 2018 iteration of the City’s Climate Action Plan. We were told that our opinions would be important in helping City officials make “tough choices.” Unfortunately we weren’t offered anything concrete about what options the City is considering, or even an overview of where we stand now on achieving the goals identified in Boston’s 2014 Climate Action Plan.

Climate action advocates we spoke with after the event generally shared our sense that the program conveyed very little information about how the City is defining “carbon free” or “carbon neutral,” what metrics Carbon Free Boston researchers are using, and what the process will be for community engagement in shaping the plan. This is especially disappointing given the extensive outreach and community education that influenced the writing of the City’s 2011 and 2014 Climate Action Plans.

Boston has set a goal of being “carbon free” by 2050.  Tough choices demand more detailed understanding of the assumptions underlying the options.

Tell Harvard to Stop Profiting from Climate Change

Should anyone invest in a company that profits twice from a disaster it helped cause? Social justice activists say NO!

Community Labor United (CLU), with its partners Hedge Clippers, Harvard Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM), and Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, will demonstrate on the Harvard campus this Wednesday, January 24, to demand that the university divest from the financial firm Baupost Group. Baupost holds over $900 million in the debt of Puerto Rico, the island recently devastated by Hurricane Maria, one of 2017’s dramatic manifestations of climate change. Baupost is demanding that Puerto Rico, financially strapped and in desperate need of infrastructure repairs, adopt austerity measures to be able to pay its debt. At the same time, Baupost also owns $1.8 billion in oil and natural gas stock, and its CEO, Seth Klarman, is on the board of American Enterprise Institute, a think tank that denies climate change.

Local citizens are urged to join the event, which is titled “Harvard, Stand with Puerto Rico! Divest from Hate!” Meet at 1:00 PM in Harvard Yard. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/2078067229147222/ , or call Khalida Smalls, CLU’s Organizing Director, at (857) 891-9466.

CCE Celebration this Thursday

2017 marked a major milestone in the campaign for Community Choice Energy in Boston — an order passed unanimously by the City Council and signed by Mayor Walsh.

Come celebrate!  Boston Climate Action Network invites you to join us this Thursday:

Community Choice Energy Celebration
January 18, from 6-8 PM
The Nate Smith House
155 Lamartine Street, Jamaica Plain

The Nate Smith House is near the Stony Brook T stop. With campaign partners Boston Node 350MA, Sierra Club, Green Justice Coalition, and Mothers Out Front, we will update you on the progress toward implementation and discuss the next steps to keep CCE moving forward. There will be refreshments, music, and time to network and socialize.

Hope to see you there! For more information, email us at bostonclimateaction@gmail.com.

Back Bay Pipeline Hearing Tomorrow!

As we have reported, National Grid has proposed to construct a new, mile-long gas pipeline through Boston’s Back Bay and South End. The line would carry “fracked” gas to service new buildings. On Thursday, December 7, the City of Boston’s Public Improvement Commission (PIC) will hold a public hearing to discuss this proposal. Located within Boston’s Public Works Department, PIC has the authority to grant or deny permits for projects which use public space for business ventures. Like the previous PIC hearing on November 2, this is a strategic opportunity for citizens to speak out against the pipeline.

Boston Public Improvement Commission – Back Bay Pipeline Hearings
Thursday, December 7th, at 10:00 AM
Boston City Hall, Room 801

Opposition to the pipeline is being spearheaded by the Boston Clean Energy Coalition (BCEC), a grassroots group with eleven member environmental organizations, including the Boston Climate Action Network. According to its website, BCEC’s mission is accelerate Boston’s “transition to a clean, green economy,” and its current focus is “on halting the expansion of fracked gas and other fossil-fuel infrastructure while promoting net-zero carbon standards for the built environment.”
BCEC hopes to pack the house for the hearing, which takes place this Thursday at 10:00 AM, Boston City Hall, Room 801. To request more information, or to sign a petition against the pipeline, go to BCEC’s site.