As the City of Boston rolls out Community Choice Electricity (CCE), we hear or read occasional criticism of the program’s “opt-out” nature. To some, switching customers into the program unless they object feels like overreach, and non-transparent. We firmly disagree that the City has been either deceptive or coercive.
Communication about CCE has been open. The City sent a letter to every eligible customer, explaining the program, the comparative rates, and the available choices, including opting out. If the letter’s recipients, like its critics, found it confusing, it included clear instructions about where to get more information. Additionally, CCE has been well-advertised across several platforms, with many opportunities for engagement around questions and concerns. These have included press releases, posters, webinars on multiple dates with translation into multiple languages, and virtual “office hours” with City officials.
To those who find automatic enrollment in CCE heavy-handed, we offer a reminder: before CCE, people moving to Boston were not left to shop on their own for an energy provider, either. Instead, incoming residents were automatically assigned to Eversource, where they stayed unless they took the initiative to contract with a different electricity supplier. If it was previously acceptable for Eversource to be the default supplier, why is it a concern now to establish a different default that offers greener energy? The rollout only moves customers from one default to another: anyone who has already chosen a supplier other than Eversource will not be moved. And customers who are switched do not lose any of their choices: although January 11 was the deadline to prevent being enrolled in CCE, people can still switch back to Eversource at any time—or, alternatively, change to a more or less expensive CCE plan.
CCE skeptics also note that CCE’s rates are only guaranteed to be lower than Eversource’s through June, and that CCE could possibly end up costing more over all. However, every supplier changes its rates periodically, and there is no guarantee that Eversource will be the cheapest in the long run, either. What we do know is that the City is committed to keeping rates favorable and stable over time, being a principle priority of the program as disclosed on their website.
We get it: no one likes to feel pushed around. But that is not what’s happening here. Opt-out programs are designed to sign up a critical mass of participants in a timely way, not by entrapping the unwilling, but by making the process effortless for the rest.
CCE is a critical element of Boston’s Climate Action Plan, which aims for our city to be carbon neutral by 2050. We think that implementing CCE efficiently is a form of facilitation, not pressure. Claiming that city government either overstepped its bounds or was secretive in the instance of the CCE rollout is not factual. When the City Council hearing on CCE was held in 2017, over 300 Bostonians showed up to voice their support. As a city, we have demanded swift and meaningful climate action; let us not now criticize our officials for fulfilling their promise.