CCE is not Rocket Science!

At a hearing on May 30, Boston City Councilors, energy experts, and community members all pressed Alison Brizius, Boston’s Director of Climate and Environmental Planning, for answers she often could not supply. Asked by Councilor Matt O’Malley to project a timeline for implementation of Community Choice Energy (CCE)—the climate mitigation measure passed unanimously by the City Council and signed by the Mayor seven months ago—Brizius indicated that her department, Environment, Energy, and Open Space (EEOS), was still studying its options.

Significance of CCE to Climate Mitigation

The five City Councilors in attendance: O’Malley, Michelle Wu, Ed Flynn, Josh Zakim, and Michael Flaherty, and the two that sent letters of support: Tim McCarthy and Lydia Edwards, all urged EEOS to move more quickly to implement what they see as a significant step to reducing the City’s collective carbon footprint. Invited panelist Ann Berwick, formerly the Undersecretary for Energy for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Chair of the Department of Public Utilities, described CCE as the most significant GHG reduction tool at a municipality’s disposalWinston Vaughn, Senior Manager for Renewable Energy at Ceres invoked Boston’s commitment to the Paris Accord and asked administrators to make good on that pledge to urgently reduce emissions. Liz Stanton, Director and Principal Economist at Applied Economics Clinic, reported on the significant environmental benefits reported by other municipal aggregations.

may 30 hearing

Historical Pricing

Brizius repeatedly spoke of the department’s need for historical pricing data from other municipal aggregations as a way to project what rates Boston might attain through CCE. The panelists urged Brizius and EEOS to stop trying to gather this historical data. Stanton declared, “Historical energy prices are in no way indicative of future pricing.” Vaughn noted that energy pricing is “extremely dynamic,” and Berwick noted that “Trying to get pricing information now will not be fruitful. No one can tell you what prices will be a year from now.”

Boston’s Size

Brizius also referred to Boston’s relatively large size in comparison to other Massachusetts municipal aggregations as an explanation for why the department has not made more progress.  Stanton offered that Boston’s size would put it at an advantage when negotiating the consultant’s fee, as well as the wholesale price of electricity. Berwick also emphasized that virtually all municipalities simply hire an energy consultant to guide the process of implementation. “This isn’t rocket science. Hire an energy consultant to get the ball rolling.”

2018-5-30 CCE Hearing

Cost of a Consultant

Brizius countered that the payment for the consultant might be exorbitant given Boston’s size. Stanton and Berwick both reassured her that all aggregation consultants work on spec—that no city funds would be paid to the consultant, whose fee is generated instead through a small “adder” to the wholesale price per kilowatt that city residents would purchase, and then only if they successfully delivered a favorable bid. Councilor Wu summed up this practice common to all other aggregations in the state: There is no risk, either to the City budget or to ratepayers, of engaging a consultant.

Moving Forward – An Advisory Committee

Councilor Michelle Wu implored Brizius to understand the importance of appointing the CCE advisory committee called for in the Council’s authorization. This committee of Councilors, EEOS staff, energy experts, and community members would resolve the remaining questions about what Boston would want a consultant to be responsible for and what parts of the implementation Boston would perform through dedicated staff. Then, “in quick order” as Wu put it, a request for proposals (RFP) from experienced aggregation consultants could be finalized.

BostonCAN agrees wholeheartedly with Wu’s priorities: Mayor Walsh needs to appoint a CCE advisory committee with the goal of EEOS choosing an aggregation consultant this summer.

Refuting Common Objections to Community Choice Energy for Boston

In advance of the City Council hearing today at City Hall, BostonCAN has compiled a list of responses to the common objections we hear from the Office of Energy Environment and Open Spaces (EEOS) about why they should delay implementing Community Choice Energy.

Community Choice Energy (CCE) could cost more than basic supply, which would put an unacceptable burden on ratepayers.

The cost of renewable energy is steadily dropping and will continue to drop as economies of scale are achieved. Already many community choice aggregations (CCAs) have been successful in getting better rates. In a study by the Applied Economics Clinic in Nov. 2017, the residential rates procured by local aggregations saved 19% on average below the Eversource rate. By delaying the implementation of CCE, the Office of Environment, Energy, and Open Space (EEOS) is costing ratepayers by not getting residents and businesses a better option.

There will be fluctuations in the market, but if the City finds that all the bids it receives for CCE are higher than Basic Service it can delay entry into the market until a better opportunity arises. Over the course of a contract the price will likely stay below Basic Service since many forces mitigate against significant declines in Basic Service rates. If at the time of contract renewal the bids would be significantly above Basic Service, the city can choose not to renew. In addition, individual ratepayers can always opt out.

But it happened in Chicago. In fact, Chicago’s aggregation had to be stopped when basic service prices became cheaper than their aggregation’s. What if that happens here?

In Illinois, rates for basic service had been kept high by a temporary state regulation for several years. Then that regulation expired, so basic service became much cheaper and was able to underbid aggregation contracts. In Massachusetts, there are no temporary regulations on basic service rates that are set to expire.

What about Melrose, MA? When their first contract was up, none of the new bids was competitive with basic supply.

Melrose had to pause its aggregation due to a spike in capacity charges in National Grid territory. Boston’s default electricity supplier is Eversource, who has not had the problem with capacity charges that National Grid has. Melrose plans to petition DPU to re-start its aggregation once the capacity charge issue has abated.

The Request for Information (RFI) invited vendors to share historical pricing data for municipal aggregations. Since none of the respondents did so, the cost of CCE to Boston ratepayers cannot be estimated.

Vendors were probably the wrong people to ask for historical pricing information. It is understandable that they might consider this information proprietary. Typically, vendors provide prospective pricing information in response to a Request for Proposals (RFP).

CCE will cost too much to administer. Between start-up activities and on-going maintenance, EEOS simply does not have enough staff.

Most municipalities with CCE programs hire a consultant who handles most administrative details of the program. The best way to ascertain administrative cost is to issue an RFP and see what competing consultants would charge.

Additionally, however, the city needs to weigh the cost of providing a CCE program with the cost of not providing one. The slower we reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the more the city will have to spend on adaptation and on responding to emergencies.

Boston is so big it has to move cautiously when considering CCE and can’t follow the same template that smaller towns followed.

Boston has more than 600,000 residents. It can follow the example of the Southeast Regional Planning and Economic Development District (SRPEDD), which also has a population of more than 600,000, and has had a joint municipal aggregation since early 2015. SRPEDD followed the standard aggregation pattern of using a consultant to create an aggregation plan and administer the program.

EEOS needs time to study the trade-offs of making CCE an opt-in vs. an opt-out program.

This is not the way the law works—the path to set up a municipal aggregation is a clear and well- understood process. Setting up an “opt-in,” and entering the market as an individual competitive supplier muddies the waters and is not what the city council authorized the mayor’s office to do.

According to a city report showing GHG emissions through 2015, Boston is on track with its GHG reductions, based on a per capita decrease.

Boston’s commitment to reduce GHG emissions from 2005 levels was never based on per capita emissions, nor are the commitments in the Paris Accord. Global warming depends on CO2 levels in the atmosphere and not on how many people live on the planet. So tying GHG reductions to population doesn’t make sense. Moreover, in 2017 Mayor Walsh pledged to reduce GHG emissions to zero by 2050, changed from the previous goal of an 80% reduction and zero emissions can’t be adjusted per capita. In order to get to the new 2050 goal, the 2020 goal not only has to be met, but exceeded.

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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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.

Carbon Free Boston, mostly Content Free

Last Wednesday, 2/8, many of us attended the City’s “Let’s Talk Carbon Neutral” program. Presenters included Environment, Energy and Open Space Chief, Austin Blackmon; Director of Climate and Environmental Planning, Alison Brizius;  Professor of Earth and Environment at Boston University and lead researcher on the Carbon Free Boston project, Cutler Cleveland; and Boston University Sustainability Director, Dennis Carlberg.

This was the first time the public was welcomed to hear presentations about Carbon Free Boston, a research initiative designed to quantify the choices that Boston must make in its efforts to reduce our collective contribution to global climate change. The data will be used to shape the 2018 iteration of the City’s Climate Action Plan. We were told that our opinions would be important in helping City officials make “tough choices.” Unfortunately we weren’t offered anything concrete about what options the City is considering, or even an overview of where we stand now on achieving the goals identified in Boston’s 2014 Climate Action Plan.

Climate action advocates we spoke with after the event generally shared our sense that the program conveyed very little information about how the City is defining “carbon free” or “carbon neutral,” what metrics Carbon Free Boston researchers are using, and what the process will be for community engagement in shaping the plan. This is especially disappointing given the extensive outreach and community education that influenced the writing of the City’s 2011 and 2014 Climate Action Plans.

Boston has set a goal of being “carbon free” by 2050.  Tough choices demand more detailed understanding of the assumptions underlying the options.

Toxics Action Conference Coming Up!

The Toxics Action Network will be hosting its annual Local Environmental Action Conference on March 3rd, 2018.  This all-day event brings together environmental activists from all over New England to share stories and strategies.  Attendees can choose from dozens of workshops on environmental and social justice issues.

Don’t meet this chance to connect with like-minded people, while supporting one of our allies in their fight against environmental pollution.  Please register!

Local Environmental Action Conference
March 3, 2018
9:00am-5:30pm
Northeastern University
360 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115

 

Tell Harvard to Stop Profiting from Climate Change

Should anyone invest in a company that profits twice from a disaster it helped cause? Social justice activists say NO!

Community Labor United (CLU), with its partners Hedge Clippers, Harvard Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM), and Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, will demonstrate on the Harvard campus this Wednesday, January 24, to demand that the university divest from the financial firm Baupost Group. Baupost holds over $900 million in the debt of Puerto Rico, the island recently devastated by Hurricane Maria, one of 2017’s dramatic manifestations of climate change. Baupost is demanding that Puerto Rico, financially strapped and in desperate need of infrastructure repairs, adopt austerity measures to be able to pay its debt. At the same time, Baupost also owns $1.8 billion in oil and natural gas stock, and its CEO, Seth Klarman, is on the board of American Enterprise Institute, a think tank that denies climate change.

Local citizens are urged to join the event, which is titled “Harvard, Stand with Puerto Rico! Divest from Hate!” Meet at 1:00 PM in Harvard Yard. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/2078067229147222/ , or call Khalida Smalls, CLU’s Organizing Director, at (857) 891-9466.