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.”
BostonCAN celebrated Earth Day in Dorchester this weekend, handing out fliers for Community Choice Energy and talking with local residents and activists. We had lots of people pose in front of Rosie the Riveter to make a statement to the City of Boston to speed up its climate action efforts.
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.
Darlene Lombos, the Executive Director of Community Labor United, wrote an editorial piece for Commonwealth Magazine last month about Community Choice Energy and the need for the Mayor’s office to take swift action implementing it for Boston.
As the largest metro area in the state, Boston must play a leading role in meeting our climate goals as a state, while also reducing emissions and increasing resiliency in the city. Through CCE, Boston can expect to increase its clean energy portfolio by at least 5 percent, helping to reach its goal of a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
You can read the whole article here.
BNN News interviewed members of BostonCAN as part of a larger piece on climate readiness in Boston in the wake of two recent “Once in a Generation” storms that caused so much flooding.
Storm Prompts Call for Climate Action from Chris Lovett on Vimeo.
BNN interviewed Boston University professor Nathan Phillips, who discussed the need for Community Choice Energy to be acted on more urgently as a critical part of the climate plan for the City of Boston.
BCAN’s Rising Seas Rally made a splash.
We got picked up by multiple news outlets. The Boston Globe interviewed our campaign coordinator Andy Bean:
Bean said he hopes the city this year implements the Community Choice Energy plan that Boston’s City Council approved in October 2017, which would increase the amount of renewable energy residents and businesses use without raising costs.
The city has a Climate Action Plan, which aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020 and be carbon neutral by 2050, but Bean said it is overdue for an update.
We were also in the North End Waterfront neighborhood news and Universal Hub. Attendees were also interviewed by Boston Neighborhood Network News.
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.