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.

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.

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