CCE Working Group Explores Green Energy Sourcing Alternatives

BostonCAN is a member of the Municipal Aggregation Working Group that the City’s Environment Department has formed to help ensure that Boston’s Community Choice Energy (CCE) program reflects community priorities. (Note: Municipal aggregation is the legal term for CCE.) Working group members represent City departments and other stakeholder organizations. Monthly meetings began last December and have served to educate the group about different aspects of aggregation design. The February 28 meeting addressed alternative ways that a program can acquire green energy. Guest speakers Megan Shaw from the Cambridge Energy Alliance and Ann Berwick from the City of Newton each described the option that her municipality chose.

Newton’s program goes live this month with a 22-month contract. The program gets green energy by purchasing Class I RECs. A REC (Renewable Energy Certificate) is earned by a renewable energy producer (for example, a solar or wind farm) for each 1,000 kilowatt hours that it generates. RECs are sold on an open market. When people (including aggregations) buy RECs, they help to repay up-front costs for existing renewable projects and to encourage investment in new ones. Class I RECs are for energy produced in New England, New York, or parts of Canada, where they help to green our regional grid and to create local jobs. Newton’s default offering is 60% green (46% more than the current state requirement, or RPS, of 14%). Newton customers may also opt up to 100% green or down to the RPS level.

Cambridge’s second CCE contract started last November. The previous 18-month contract relied on RECs, prioritizing new-vintage solar RECs (SRECs) in order to incentivize local solar development. When the incentive fell short of its goal, Cambridge designed its current, 24-month contract with an “operational adder” (customer surcharge) that will be used to finance a new, City-owned solar project. Cambridge’s program has an opt-up to 100%; these customers pay for Class I RECs in addition to the adder. The program is currently collecting more money than it can use, and the City is considering different options, such as adding battery storage.

Because recent market prices for electricity have been low, Newton and Cambridge now offer their customers both greener energy and lower prices compared to Eversource. However, prices fluctuate, and Berwick said that Newton was careful never to promise its customers cost savings. Alternative ways to set prices for an aggregation will be the topic of the next working group meeting.

In later meetings, the working group will set priorities for Boston’s CCE program and discuss what design alternatives support those priorities best. To help members prepare, the City provided the following questions about green energy sourcing alternatives:

  • Do we want to use RECS, direct investment in new renewables, or some combination of both?
  • If RECs, do we want to buy a fixed percentage above RPS or a varying percentage based on energy prices? In either case, what’s our target amount of renewables?
  • What types of RECs and/or renewable projects do we want to prioritize?
  • How might we want to change the aggregation over time and in response to new circumstances?
  • Do we want opt-up or opt-down options, and if so, what should these entail?

What do you think? BostonCAN represents its members at the working group, and we need to hear from you to do a good job. Send us a message at BostonClimateAction@gmail.com or at Facebook.com/BostonCAN with your opinions and questions.

Check out the City’s new CCE website for the latest progress indicators.

progress graphic

 

Learning from Cambridge’s Net Zero plan

This Tuesday’s release of the Carbon Free Boston (CFB) report begins a political process for us to make hard choices to accomplish the necessary transition away from the fossil fuels devastating our global climate. The report will outline options that will be debated by stakeholders, incorporated into the City’s 2019 Climate Action Plan, and eventually codified in the ordinances and other policy instruments needed to implement its goals.

To give some context for the CFB report, this blog summarizes the City of Cambridge’s 2015 Getting to Net Zero report. Cambridge’s Net Zero plan exclusively targets energy use in  buildings ‒‒ both the amount of energy used and its source. (Emissions from transportation are addressed in other City of Cambridge documents.)

Cambridge’s plan makes some basic distinctions to guide its energy policy.  Energy reduction strategies for new construction are distinguished from those for existing buildings. Likewise, increasing renewable energy generation within city limits is distinguished from using renewable sources outside the city. In addition, it proposes a local offset mechanism for buildings that do not achieve net zero emissions through efficiency, on-site renewable sources, and a greener grid.

Energy efficiency in new construction is the easiest and least expensive route to net zero.  To take advantage of this streamlined approach, Cambridge set targets ranging from 2020 for municipal buildings to 2030 for labs, such as those in Cambridge’s well-known biotech industry.

cambridge net zero
Timeline for net zero new construction by sector, from Getting to Net Zero, City of Cambridge.

Reducing energy use in existing buildings is more complex and Cambridge’s plan lacks a comprehensive approach. The patchwork of policies proposed include retrofit pilot projects, stronger requirements for large building owners to report energy data and plans for improvements, and eventually a mandate to make energy efficiency upgrades at time of sale.

In tandem with buildings being made increasingly energy efficient, Cambridge expects to increase the generation of renewable or low-carbon electricity, heating, and cooling within the City’s boundaries. The primary sources discussed in Getting to Net Zero include solar, harvesting waste heat from large industrial and commercial buildings, and expanding district energy.  Cambridge will also lobby state government for raising the Renewable Portfolio Standard, thereby reducing the percentage of nonrenewable fuels used to generate the electricity throughout the state’s grid.

For cases where a building’s implementable efficiency measures and renewable sources do not achieve net zero, Cambridge has proposed a local “offset” fund.  In contrast to offsets that protect global carbon sinks such as tropical rain forests, this locally-managed but independently operated carbon fund would be used to support Cambridge-based greenhouse gas reduction and renewable/low-carbon energy projects. No timeline for this fund is included in the report.  This is an implicit acknowledgement that such a fund would require extensive engagement from all sectors of the real estate industry and other drivers of investment in Cambridge’s built environment.

The latest update on Cambridge’s plan can be found at https://www.cambridgema.gov/CDD/Projects/Climate/~/media/1CA864BB4D9E421E858D647D36C3FF76.ashx.

 

Boston’s Latest Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data

As the City of Boston begins the implementation of Community Choice Energy and prepares to release the Carbon Free Boston report, BCAN members are debating what we might do next to help reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Boston. To make the most impactful choices, we need to know which sources contribute the most to GHG emissions and how that distribution has been changing over time.

The following data and graphs are based on the City of Boston’s Community Greenhouse Gas Emissions dataset and the related report, “City of Boston Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory 2005–2016.”  The City tracks emissions in the following categories: large, commercial buildings (which includes residential buildings with 10 or more units); residential buildings; transportation; waste; and fugitive gas (from all sectors). As shown in Figure 1, the largest contributor to GHG emissions is the commercial buildings sector, followed by transportation, then residential buildings. Waste water and fugitive gases (gas leaking from pipelines in the city) contribute a negligible amount, according to the metrics used by City staff.

Between 2005 and 2016, the most progress in GHG reduction was made in the commercial buildings sector, followed by small residential buildings. The transportation sector barely managed to reduce emissions.

FIGURE 1

chart

In Figure 2, the contribution of each of the three largest sectors is further dissected into its various components (electricity, natural gas, fuel oil, and steam for buildings; vehicle fuel (for vehicles other than the municipal fleet), municipal fleet, and MBTA for transportation).

FIGURE 2

GHG Emissions in 2005 and 2016 for the Different Sectors
Note: Total emissions from the five categories (indicated above with capital letters) are broken down into their components by fuel source. Thus, the components of each category add up to the totals of the category.

Between 2005 and 2016, most of the GHG reduction from commercial buildings came from electricity, while emissions from natural gas increased slightly. Fuel oil and steam showed large proportional declines, but their contribution to overall emissions is relatively small. In small residential buildings, electricity and fuel oil made the highest contributions to the reduction. Over 90% of the emissions in the transportation sector come from vehicle fuel.

Some of the factors driving GHG emissions down are as follows:

  • Switching power plants from coal (and oil) to gas
  • Increasing the proportion of clean energy (solar, wind, hydro) in the electricity mix
  • Conversion of oil heat to gas heat
  • Better insulation of buildings
  • Saving electricity due to efficient appliances and lighting
  • Better fuel efficiency of cars in general and increased proportion of hybrids and electric vehicles

It should be pointed out that GHG emissions reductions from replacing coal and oil with natural gas will reach a plateau. According the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas emits 25% less CO2 than heating oil and 50% less CO2 than coal for the same amount of energy produced (although these calculations don’t take into account the leaking of methane during fracking and from pipelines, as pointed out by the Union of Concerned Scientists, among others). However, natural gas is still a fossil fuel that emits GHG.  

There are also some factors that tend to drive GHG emissions up:

  • Increase in population, requiring more residential buildings
  • Increase in economic output/GDP, requiring more commercial buildings
  • Increase in traffic (vehicle miles traveled)

These data and considerations would suggest that some of the most urgent and effective measures to bring down GHG emissions would be greening the electrical grid at a much faster pace (which is the goal of BCAN’s CCE campaign), replacing natural gas as a heating source with electrical heat pumps, better insulating old and new buildings, replacing gasoline as vehicle fuel (more electric vehicles), and reducing the miles traveled in cars by getting more people to use public transportation, bike, and walk.

Note: The data used to generate the graphs (plus more graphs and analysis) can all be found at this link: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1SWi9P4fyUvFZXOXSwqyFX5VvH-bS3afg_R-DOpmr2Gg/edit?usp=drivesdk

 

Carbon Free Boston – Buildings

Boston University’s Institute for Sustainable Energy plans to release its Carbon Free Boston (CFB) report later this year, outlining a menu of policy options that the City of Boston might adopt to reach its 2050 goal of carbon neutralityWritten at the behest of the Boston Green Ribbon Commission, the report will form the basis of discussion of measures to incorporate into the next update of Boston’s Climate Action Plan.

Last June, CFB researchers released a preliminary report listing a wide range of options under consideration in the areas of energy, buildings, transportation, and waste. To better understand and respond to the release of the Carbon Free Boston plan, BCAN has generated a series of introductions to the key elements of the plan. We have summarized the sections about energy and transportation in previous blog posts (energy on October 28 and transportation on December 8). Here we summarize our recent discussion on the buildings sector.

Carbon Free Boston (CFB) has determined that buildings — commercial and residential combined —  are Boston’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).  The age of our buildings, the lack of good insulation, and their often inefficient heating systems mean that we need to focus on existing buildings, not just try to build new super-efficient ones. And the most effective way to cut emissions from existing buildings is to do deep energy retrofits, according to CFB’s early research findings. Deep retrofits could include different steps such as:

  • Sealing the building “skin” completely so it doesn’t let heat or cold radiate in and out.
  • Installing super insulation.
  • Making buildings more resilient in the face of extreme weather.

Carbon Free Boston’s preliminary findings say deep retrofits would cut building energy use and emissions in half. These are a good beginning to get us to Net Zero Carbon or carbon-free buildings by 2050, Boston’s goal.

How do we get building owners to do deep retrofits, which are very expensive? CFB is looking at these approaches:

   – Requiring deep retrofits when a building changes hands or is sold.

   – Requiring smaller increases in building efficiency every five years.

A good way to reach these goals is to use Passive House principles in our retrofits and all new construction as well. Passive House techniques can be applied to any building type including skyscrapers, not just single-family homes. A passive building: 

  • Uses continuous insulation throughout its entire envelope without any thermal bridging. That means no piece of the building extends all the way from the inside to the outside, where it could conduct heat or cold.
  • Employs double or triple-paned windows and manages solar gain so the sun’s energy heats the building in the winter and not in the summer.
  • Makes the building envelope completely airtight, preventing infiltration of outside air and loss of conditioned air.
  • Uses some form of balanced heat- and moisture-recovery ventilation so this fully-sealed building doesn’t get moldy.

Ideally, Passive House construction is so efficient that no active heating system is required to maintain a comfortable temperature.  Even in less than ideal conditions, this type of building allows for the replacement of large fossil fuel heating systems with small electric ones so they can run on renewable power.

Passive House type buildings are also more resilient in extreme weather (if the power goes out they can maintain comfortable temperatures for days instead of hours) and more valuable because they’re better to work and live in. But that could mean landlords charge higher rents for them, which creates equity issues.

CFB’s early research also finds that we must start electrifying our heating and cooling systems. If we moved to all-electric systems, we would be cutting energy use and emissions, while pushing the energy industry to build 100% renewable sources. Water heating and cooking are two other common uses of gas that will have to be replaced with electric options. Especially in kitchens with inexpensive or poorly ventilated gas stoves, “fracked” methane leaks into the air we breathe every day, polluting us with toxic gases.

Finally, some other strategies that CFB is looking at are:

  • Saying “no new gas burners can be sold after x date.”
  • Requiring solar panels on all new buildings’ roofs.
  • Using cool roofs and cool pavements (painting them white to reflect the sun back off rather than absorb the heat).
  • Cutting the electricity our buildings use at peak demand times.

We will continue to look at and question these ideas as we move forward in our work.  Join us!

passive house principles
Passive House principles include an uninterrupted thermal barrier around the living space, roof overhangs to control the seasonal change in the sun’s position, and heat recovery ventilation.  This illustration also includes a ground-source heat exchanger. (Image courtesy of the Passive House Institute US)

 

 

Carbon Free Boston – Transportation

Later this year, the City of Boston and the Boston University Institute for Sustainable Energy plan to release the findings of the Carbon Free Boston (CFB) Initiative with concrete recommendations on how to achieve Boston’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2050.  Last June, CFB researchers released a preliminary report listing a wide range of options under consideration in the areas of energy, buildings, transportation, and waste.

To better understand and respond to the release of the Carbon Free Boston plan, BCANers have been educating each other through presentations and discussions during our bi-weekly Action Team meetings. The presentation about the energy sector was reviewed earlier (see the blog post from October 28 below). Here we summarize the presentation and discussions on the transportation sector.

In 2016 (latest data available) the transportation sector was responsible for about 29% of the greenhouse gas emissions from all sources in the city, up from 25% in 2015. It was also the sector with the least progress toward the 2020 goal of a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, it represents a major opportunity for progress toward achieving carbon reduction goals and eventually carbon neutrality.

The wide-ranging transportation policy options currently being considered by Carbon Free Boston include:

  • Incentives for adopting electric vehicles
  • Banning gasoline and diesel-fuel vehicles
  • Promoting more carpooling or ride-sharing
  • Improving bicycle and bus infrastructure
  • Converting public transit and government fleets to no-carbon or low-carbon vehicles
  • Requiring travel management plans for workplaces with more than 50 employees

BCAN has been discussing some of these options as we plan our areas of work in the coming year or two.  At our October 11 action team meeting, one specific option we discussed was conversion to no-carbon (all-electric) buses on Boston bus routes.

Our discussion centered on using the following criteria for deciding which transportation policy options to support:

  • How achievable are they in the short term?
  • Who might be our allies?
  • Will they positively impact environmental justice communities in the City?
  • Might there be funding to support the planned policy?

We will continue this discussion at upcoming meetings, and will closely review the Carbon Free Boston plan when it is released.  All of this work is now in the context of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which says “Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Centigrade would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes . . . .”  BCAN stands ready to work on such changes in Boston.

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!