Speak out on Boston’s draft CCE plan!

The City of Boston wants public comments on its draft plan for Community Choice Energy (CCE). You can submit written comments until 5pm on Friday, May 17.

Please consider taking 15 minutes this week to send a short comment on the plan. Email david.musselman@boston.gov with “City of Boston’s Aggregation Plan” in the subject line.

In particular, we encourage you to comment on this section of the plan, which leaves open the possibility that Boston might look outside of New England for its renewable energy:

“The City will require that the RECs [Renewable Energy Certificates] either be created and recorded in the New England Power Pool [NEPOOL] Generation Information System or be certified by a third party such as Green-e.” (page 16)

Put simply, buying RECs is a way of paying for renewable energy. The “either…or be certified by a third party such as Green-e” in this sentence indicates that Boston is not committed to buying all its green energy from generators within our region (i.e. only those recorded by NEPOOL). We are concerned about this lack of commitment.

We see several advantages to keeping Boston’s electricity dollars within New England as much as possible. By supporting the local renewables industry, we encourage the development of more green generators in our own region. This will create jobs locally. It will also hopefully enable the retirement of some older, carbon-burning generators, which will reduce not only the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, but also other types of pollution that threaten local public health. Additionally, the City Council’s authorization for CCE specified that the renewable content should come from our region.

Some may argue that the retirement of carbon-fired plants in other states is still a win for us, since greenhouse gases produced anywhere affect climate globally. What complicates this issue is the fact that the environmental effectiveness of green energy purchases vary from state to state. The strength of a state’s energy regulations and other market conditions affects the value – both environmental and financial — of its RECs. If, to save money, Boston were to buy from a state where green energy purchases do not stimulate new development or shutter dirty plants, Boston might claim to be “green” without effecting much change. This is called “greenwashing.”

If local renewables ever become so expensive as to make it impossible to offer any additional renewable content in Boston’s default CCE rate and still keep prices comparable with Eversource’s, only then would we want the City to consider purchases from outside New England. In that event, we would want the City to ensure that any out-of-region RECs we buy would be effective in stimulating further development of green energy generators.

For more details on how RECs work, we recommend this short video from the EPA or this essay from journalist David Roberts. Roberts specifically discusses the difference between Green-e RECs and RECs sourced from generators in our region.

For more about NEPOOL, see nepoolgis.com/about.

For an example of “greenwashing,” consider this short video from Cascade Policy Institute.

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An illustration of the relative higher value of RECs generated in New England, compared to other regions. Image source: https://www.vox.com/2015/11/9/9696820/renewable-energy-certificates.

Tough Nut to Crack: Reducing Emissions from Boston’s Existing Buildings

After a thorough process of research and deliberation, BostonCAN is excited to announce the focus of our next campaign: winning policy change to accelerate the conversion of Boston’s existing 86,000 buildings to clean energy for heat, cooling, lights, and all their energy needs.

Powering our homes and businesses with fossil fuels accounts for about 70% of our collective greenhouse gas emissions. The Carbon Free Boston report calls for “deep energy retrofits” within 30 years of all existing buildings in the city: installing deeper insulation in walls and roofs with heating and cooling supplied by highly efficient electrical heat pumps. As our grid becomes steadily greener, these heat pump systems will be responsible for fewer and fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Our top near-term goal is to strengthen the energy efficiency of  Boston’s largest buildings. Less than 3% of Boston’s buildings account for more than half of all greenhouse gas emissions from buildings. These largest buildings are already regulated by Boston’s Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO), which covers all buildings of 35,000 square feet and larger. Adding stronger enforcement mechanisms to BERDO will lead property owners to transition more quickly to cleaner energy. More retrofits will also lead to more jobs for Boston residents, as well as cleaner air, soil and water as we reduce our need to transport and combust fossil fuels.

Retrofitting existing buildings is one of the four top priorities that Boston has chosen for the update of its Climate Action Plan. Carbon Free Boston emphasized the importance of reducing carbon use in existing buildings, especially since “85 percent of projected building square footage in Boston in 2050 exists today.”

The goal is challenging. Many Boston buildings face barriers to even basic levels of insulation, let alone the deep energy retrofits they will need. Judy Kolligian, a BostonCAN member and landlord, has already upgraded heating systems for her own and her tenants’ apartments. “I’ve been improving my building as quickly as I learn how to, but my home has asbestos siding and my tenants’ has asphalt siding. I need the City and Mass Save to figure out more cost-effective ways to insulate buildings like these.”

BsotonCAN invites you to join our “Green Buildings, Not Greenhouse Gases” campaign, working with allies and city leaders to find urgent, equitable, and affordable solutions for retrofitting all buildings, from triple-deckers like Judy’s to the biggest buildings in the city.

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Pictured above is the deep energy retrofit in process in 2012, at Castle Square Apartments in Boston.

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.

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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.

 

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!

Report back: Climate Town Hall with Rep. Jeff Sánchez

Last Thursday, July 12 a crowd of constituents filled the First Church in JP for a “Climate Town Hall with Jeffrey Sánchez,” to urge Representative Sanchez as the House Ways and Means Chair to support passage of a strong climate action bill. The forum had been arranged by a coalition of local climate groups, including JP Forum, 350MA-Boston Node, Boston Climate Action Network, Mothers Out Front, Clean Water Action, Sierra Club Massachusetts, Our Climate, MA Interfaith Power & Light, and the Environmental League of Massachusetts.  

The assembled constituents were not in a happy mood to begin with. While the House had actually passed a climate bill, many were disappointed by its relatively weak language and the omission of important amendments in comparison to the Senate’s climate bill. Plus, Sánchez was busy with budget reconciliation and had to send his chief policy aide, Collin Fedor, to speak in his place.

Fedor did his best to defend Sánchez’ record on climate and his stand on various provisions of the bill. A particularly contentious point concerned the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). The Senate bill called for an increase from 1% to 3% in the rate of increase in renewable energy in our basic electricity mix, bringing the New England grid to 100% renewables by 2049. The House bill provision on the RPS, in contrast,  would only reach 100% renewables by 2095, according to an analysis by Better Future Project.

Sanchez 1

To voice their frustration many attendants held signs like “RPS WTF?” “Not Good Enough” and  “EJ FAIL”, the latter relating to the lack of action on environmental justice amendments. The fact that a low-income solar bill apparently was still sitting in Sanchez’ committee was called a “despicable situation.”

One of the highlights of the forum was when a sophomore from Brookline High handed Fedor a pile of petition signatures in support of carbon taxation. Eli from SunRise Boston put his finger right on one of the big problems of environmental legislation, nationally and locally: the political donations by the fossil fuel industry. He asked whether Sánchez will sign the no fossil fuel money pledge. In the same vein, a representative from the League of Women Voters asked whether Sánchez wanted to side with the energy industry or the renewable energy industry.

BCAN joined other organizations in asking Fedor questions. Dick Clapp from BCAN asked if the Rep. had supported the provision to more strictly regulate competitive electricity supplier, which often prey upon people who want either cheaper or greener electricity supply. Pastor Price from Second Church in Dorchester asked if the Rep. supported expanding solar net metering options. Price explained that the current restrictions on net metering resulted in his church being able to put up only one-third of the solar panels that it had hoped to install. The same restrictions similarly limited solar for Bethel AME and the Church of St. Augustine and St. Martin, both in Boston.

Fedor often deflected or went to some boilerplate statements about Sanchez’ past and his priorities. To his credit, when he encountered points he hadn’t heard before, he said he would look into the issues and pass the concerns and arguments along. He also gave out his business cards when requested.

For now, we’re keeping our fingers crossed that the Conference Committee can achieve a compromise. Committee members are Reps. Golden, Haddad, and Jones and Sens. Barrett, Pacheco and O’Connor. Contact these legislators through the State House switchboard at 617-722-2000. For detailed background on these bills, please read the Better Future Project analysis.  And join us in person for the Emergency Climate & Immigrant Justice Rally and Vigil this Thursday at the State House from noon till 1:30.

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.