CCE – Quantifying The Cost of Delay

Almost half the world’s population lives in cities, which are bearing the brunt of climate change impacts: sea level rise, extreme weather, and declining air quality and public health. Thankfully, a growing global alliance of cities is committing to mitigate these climate change impacts by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Boston is actively involved in these efforts. In fact, Mayor Marty Walsh is hosting an International Climate Summit on June 7, as a prelude to the U.S. Conference of Mayors from June 8 to 11.

For these developments to be truly hopeful, however, city departments must meet the commitments made by city leaders. This is not the case with Community Choice Energy (CCE) in Boston. Although the Boston City Council passed an order authorizing CCE in October, 2017, the Office of Environment, Energy, and Open Space has tabled implementation. Such a delay comes at a cost. CCE would cut Boston’s GHG emissions by 33,000 metric tons annually, as shown by an analysis from the Applied Economics Clinic (AEC) at Tufts University. The city cannot afford to postpone this significant tool to reduce emissions.

Boston’s goals are in line with those of many other cities: a 25% cut in emissions from 2005 levels by 2020, and 100% carbon neutrality by 2050. With regard to reducing emissions from city government operations, Boston has exceeded its 2020 target. What is troubling is that community-wide emissions reduction is falling short of the goal. Boston tracks its GHG emissions rates annually in the GHG Emissions Inventory, a publicly accessible database. The data show that GHG emissions declined from 2005 through 2012, to almost 20% of 2005 levels. However, between 2012 and 2015, emissions have shown a continued upward trend, with the 2015 rate only 12% lower than in 2005. While the GHG Emissions Inventory is only up to date through 2015, the EEOS budget (p.225) mentions that GHG reductions for 2017 were unchanged from 2015. Thus, with only two years left to go, the achievement of Boston’s 2020 goal cannot be taken for granted. This strongly suggests that more urgent measures are needed.

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The data we’ve presented so far have been community-wide (that is, for Boston as a whole). The GHG Emissions Inventory divides these community-wide GHG emissions into three segments: small residential buildings, commercial/industrial/large residential, and transportation. CCE would mostly affect small residential buildings. Electricity supply to most large organizations is covered by pre-existing contracts and would not become part of the CCE program.

GHG emissions by small residential buildings show the same concerning trend as the community-wide data: they steadily increased from 1.20 million metric tons in 2012 to 1.33 million metric tons in 2015  (No more recent public data are available.) In order to meet the 2020 goal, GHG levels in the small residential buildings segment would need to be cut by 150,000 tons from the 2015 levels. CCE would immediately cut 33,000 tons, or 22% of that goal, and may be able to reverse the upward trend.

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In order to have a chance to limit the global average temperature increase, it is imperative that cities meet their pledged GHG emissions targets. Therefore, cities simply cannot afford to ignore or slow down any measures available to help meet their climate targets. Boston needs to implement CCE now!

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

 

BostonCAN on Earth Day

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.

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Competitive Electric Supply: A Choice Best Made by the Community

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.

CCE Op-Ed in Commonwealth Magazine

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.

BostonCAN on the News

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.

Rising Seas Rally in the News

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.