Contacting Public Officials About Community Choice Energy

To make Boston officials adopt renewable energy policies as quickly as possible, we as residents need to make our voices heard. The best way to do this is by contacting the mayor and your city councilor directly, to say that you want Community Choice Energy (CCE) available in Boston.  You may call, email or send a letter by U.S. post.

When calling an office, begin by stating your name and address. This lets the staffer  know that you’re actually a resident, not some paid political operative.

Tell the staff member that you want the mayor or councilor to support CCE. To show that your concern is genuine, you should briefly mention one something related to one of the talking points listed below (please don’t read these verbatim to the staffer, as that lessens the impact of your call):

  1. CCE will make renewable energy affordable for residents and small businesses.
  2. Adopting renewable energy will help Boston reduce its carbon emissions to fight climate change.
  3. As a city, Boston will be able to meet the terms of the Paris Accord, which will improve our reputation internationally.
  4. Renewable energy will create many new jobs in the city.
  5. Moving to renewable energy will ensure that Boston stays a center of innovation, which will attract more business to our city.
  6. CCE will stabilize our electricity bills, helping households and business to more easily plan their budgets.
  7. CCE democratizes decisions concerning electricity generation, allowing people to use the economic power of their utility bill payments to push for a faster transition to a fossil-fuel-free future.

Staff members in government offices are always busy, so be brief and stick to just one or two reasons why you support CCE. Personal reasons like owning a business in the City, living in a neighborhood that is particularly vulnerable to climate change, etc., are also effective.  Above all, be polite.  Political offices usually discard comments from rude people.

When sending an email or writing an old-fashioned letter, it’s best to follow the standard business letter format. It makes you look more credible, and the official’s staff members will take your opinion more seriously.

Format for CCE Letter

{Your street address}
{City, MA zip code}

Mayor Martin J. Walsh
1 City Hall Square, Suite 500
Boston, MA 02201

-or-

Councilor {Your councilor’s name}
1 City Hall Square
Room 550
Boston, MA 02201

{Date on which you are writing the letter}

Dear Mayor Walsh -or- Councilor {Councilor’s Name}:
{Body of the Letter}

Sincerely,
{Your name}
{Your email address}

In the body of the letter, introduce yourself as a resident of Boston and indicate your home neighborhood.  Then in one or two sentences, ask the mayor or your councilor to support CCE, and explain why you want them to.  You may use one or more of the talking points listed above.  Keep the letter short and courteous. End by asking the councilor or mayor to let you know where they stand on CCE.

If you send your letter via email, feel free to cc City Council President Michelle Wu and City Councilor Matt O’Malley, who are leading the effort to pass a CCE authorization in City Council: Michelle.Wu@boston.gov or Matthew.OMalley@boston.gov. We also encourage emails to the three other at-large Councilors: Ayanna Pressley,  Ayanna.Pressley@boston.gov; Michael Flaherty, Michael.F.Flaherty@boston.gov; and Annissa Essaibi George, A.E.George@boston.gov.

Contact info for all the Councilors is available at: https://www.boston.gov/departments/city-council.

Trump’s Withdrawal from the Paris Accords

President Trump announced last week his intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords.  This decision is misinformed and reckless.  It ignores the overwhelming evidence that the world is getting hotter every year, and gives up our role of global leadership.  Exiting the agreement aligns the U.S. with Syria and Nicaragua, the only other two countries in the world that did not commit to the Paris Accords.

Trump said “I was elected to represent the people of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”  It’s worthwhile to linger on the know-nothingness of this statement for a moment.  The people of Paris did not form the climate accords – world leaders did, gathered in Paris to represent the people of their nations.  Pittsburgh, like all U.S. cities, will face hotter summers, refugee crises, food shortages, and other terrible effects of climate change if it is not addressed.

The ignorance of this decision and rhetoric is palpable.

So – what do we do now?

State and Local Action

With continued inaction at the federal level, it’s clear that the responsibility of meeting the challenges of climate change falls to the state and local levels of government.  Several states have banded together to form the Climate Alliance, with the stated goal of acting to meet the Paris Accord carbon reductions without federal support.

Massachusetts has joined the Alliance, and Governor Baker and Mayor Walsh have issued statements rejecting Trump’s decision.

Now those statements need to turn into policy.  We have a long way to go to reduce our carbon footprint in Boston to meet our climate goals.  Energy efficiency, green jobs, and resiliency planning should all come to the forefront now.

One of the easiest wins for the City of Boston is to adopt Community Choice Energy.  It would cost the city nothing to implement, and we will accelerate our transition to renewable energy by adopting more of it for our residents and businesses.

What You Can Do

City Council is considering this approach now.

Call Mayor Walsh (617-635- 4500) to tell him that you support Community Choice Energy, and that you consider the environment an important election year issue.

Call your City Councilor to ask that they support the plan brought forth by Councilors Wu and O’Malley to adopt Community Choice to get more renewable energy for Boston.

If you’re dismayed by the short-sighted withdrawal from the Paris accords, then you can still do something to resist, fight back, and help preserve the environment.

Bostonians want Climate Action – and the need is more urgent

The Yale Climate Communication group recently published a breakdown of climate opinion by county in the US.  Drilling down into the numbers in Suffolk county, we see the following:

  • 80% of Bostonians believe climate change is happening.
  • 72% are worried about climate change.
  • 87% support funding for developing more renewable energy
  • 75% support requiring utilities to source 20% of their generation from renewable sources.

This compares against the national average of 70% of Americans who believe climate change is happening.

It’s not surprising that Bostonians are progressive on climate action – we live on the ocean and are particularly exposed to rising sea levels, heat waves, and other climate effects.

But the need for action is getting more urgent.

So what can we do about it?

Call your city councilors (both for your district and the at-large councilors) to support the Community Choice Energy proposal sponsored by Councilors Wu and O’Malley.  Tell them you support the increasing renewable energy through municipal aggregation as part of Boston’s climate policy.

Check out this resource if you’re not sure who your city councilors are.  Just enter your zip code and scroll down to the “Local Representatives” section.

Calling is the best way to show your support – more than email or social media.  You’re letting them know you want to see them take action on climate change and that people in their districts are worried about it.

Together we can make a difference!

Community Choice Aggregation — lessons around the country

In Chicago, community choice aggregation nosedived after initially saving electric customers millions of dollars. But in other Illinois cities, Ohio, and especially California, it’s thriving. Check out the whole story here.

Here’s why Community Choice Energy works

Boston’s City Council just took its first look at a plan that’ll shrink Boston’s carbon footprint and bring more renewable energy to every resident in the city. The April 25 session was remarkably successful: it drew most of the city’s councilors, over 80 supporters, and it took a deep dive into the sometimes puzzling details of Community Choice Energy.

The only opposition came from Boston’s chief of energy and environment, Austin Blackmon. Here are Mr. Blackmon’s main arguments against CCE and the reasons those arguments don’t stand up. (We paraphrase his statements for clarity. You can see a recording of the working session at https://www.cityofboston.gov/citycouncil/cc_video_library.asp?id=11203)

Blackmon Claim #1: Energy efficiency is the cheapest and cleanest way to cut GHG emissions. Investing any resources into CCE will be at the expense of energy efficiency.

We agree: the cheapest and cleanest way to cut emissions is energy efficiency. Actually, BostonCAN worked on energy efficiency (aka weatherization) before the city created its efficiency program Renew Boston.

But there’s no need to choose between efficiency and renewables. Efficiency alone won’t solve our climate crisis. We need new renewable capacity too.

We don’t know of any government committed to reducing GHGs that denies renewable energy purchases are an essential part. That part can be a very big. In one year, Community Choice Energy would cut Boston’s carbon emissions more than the five most productive years of Renew Boston. (The figures in this chart are the City’s.)

Blackmon Claim #2: Getting 5% more renewables, as other cities have done, would cost Boston ratepayers about $2.26 million above Eversource’s rate for Basic Service, whereas Renew Boston would save $400,000.

Not so. The goal of CCE is to buy as much additional renewable energy as we can get without raising the price customers are paying for electricity. That’s a goal, not a guarantee, because we can’t predict whether Eversource’s rates will go up or down every 6 months.

If the City thinks Eversource’s rates are going to drop, it can simply delay CCE implementation till the price picture looks better.

If the City wants to expand Renew Boston, its representative on the state Energy Efficiency Advisory Council could support more money for weatherization instead of voting for the current three-year plan.

Blackmon Claim #3: The proposal to buy Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) would not actually bring new renewable power online or cut fossil fuel generation.

Experts disagree.  And the state has successfully used the purchasing of RECs to stimulate the conversion of fossil fuel generation to renewable power generation since 2003.

Massachusetts law says utilities have to buy a set percent of all their electricity from new renewable generators located in New England (known as “Class I RECs”).  In 2017, we’re at 12 percent. When you buy RECs, you are competing against the utilities for ownership of those certificates. Every REC that a city buys is not available to the utilities to meet their state-required purchases. The utilities have to sign contracts with other REC producers. Developers and financiers build more windmills and solar farms to meet the demand.

The city of Melrose and the town of Dedham launched community choice energy a couple of years ago. Other Massachusetts cities have jumped on the CCE bandwagon (i.e. Brookline, Arlington, Somerville, Sudbury, and Winchester) and we expect their REC purchases to support about 17 more wind turbines than required by state law. That’s a very significant expansion of our local renewable capacity. Boston can take it a big step further.

Blackmon Claim #4: Buying RECs only lines the pockets of renewable developers

Buying any energy that’s privately developed profits those developers. Buying fossil fuel power raises profits for the large corporations that own New England’s fossil fuel plants. Buying RECs means we shift dollars from fossil fuel plants to renewable energy projects.

Blackmon Claim #5: More renewables would raise prices and MA electric prices are among the highest in the nation.

CCE didn’t raise prices in Melrose and Dedham. Those two pioneering communities hired an energy broker who found cheaper power, then used those savings to buy Renewable Energy Certificates.  Residents ended up getting 5% more renewable energy than their utility was providing, without paying more on their electric bills. Our goal is to do the same in Boston.

As for the state’s high electric rates, one of primary reasons for this is that we have to import all of the fossil fuels we use to generate electricity. Because we have plenty of sun and wind locally, building more renewable capacity will eventually bring our rates down. It takes time and new investments to build the fossil fuel-free grid that we need, but someday, we won’t be paying fossil fuel corporations to frack gas and build new pipelines to get it here. We’ll be using free sunshine and wind.

Blackmon Claim #6: About 28% of Boston’s  customers have chosen competitive suppliers, and that weakens our ability to cut greenhouse gases via CCE.

Yes, we’re not going to switch 100% of Boston’s energy consumption to renewable power this year. But if we switch the 125,000 Boston households and small businesses currently using Basic Service, we’ll immediately and significantly shrink Boston’s greenhouse gas profile, at a rate that far exceeds what energy efficiency through Renew Boston was able to achieve in its five most productive years.

Blackmon Claim #7: Natural gas prices are probably coming down.

So are prices for renewables. Natural gas produces greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Wind and solar do not.  Buying more of them can help us achieve our greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Blackmon Claim #8: Boston would need three to five full-time employees to administer a CCE program.

Most Massachusetts cities and towns don’t do it that way. They hire energy brokers to go out in the market, find suppliers, and come back with a power purchasing plan. The city reviews the plan. Then the broker buys the energy, carries out a community education program to prepare for the transition, and handles any questions or complaints residents may have. The broker is paid a tiny percentage of the energy purchase. That costs the city nothing. All the city needs is a part-time staffer or consultant who selects the broker, evaluates the broker’s proposal, and keeps tabs on the project as it rolls out.

Clean Energy at the City Council

The Boston City Council will hold a working session on April 25th at 3pm to discuss adopting Community Choice Energy for the city.  The Boston Climate Action strongly supports this measure and we plan to show up to let the city council know.

Come out and join us – let’s get clean energy for everyone in Boston.

If you want to learn more about our Community Choice Energy campaign, visit the campaign site: https://communitychoiceboston.org