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.

CCE in the Boston Globe

The Boston Globe released an editorial on Community Choice Energy in its October 8th print edition.

There are lots of reasons for Boston to lead the way with this sort of program. One, of course, is that the city sits on the water and is sure to feel the effects of climate change for years to come. But that’s not all.

Boston is an important city. It’s the largest in New England. It’s filled with top-notch scientists and big thinkers, and its citizens increasingly feel like citizens of the world. Boston needs to do something. This is something. Let’s do it.

Read the whole editorial here.

It’s powerful to see the momentum building on this campaign as group after group comes out in support of CCE.  Now is the time to keep the pressure on!  Call Boston 311 to tell the Mayor’s office that you support CCE and want it to be a priority.

CCE Authorized Unanimously!

Boston City Council voted unanimously today to authorize Marty Walsh to implement Community Choice Energy. This is a huge step forward toward our goal of having a citywide green electricity purchasing program!

Continue reading

Big Showing at City Council Today

Thanks to everyone who came out to the Boston City Council hearing this afternoon. We packed the hall, filling every seat, lining up against the back wall, with people standing outside the door. Together, we made our voice heard — our city councilors heard that Bostonians want green energy, and that we want them to vote yes on Community Choice Energy.  The councilors present reacted positively and there was a good vibe going in the room.

The next step is getting Mayor Walsh to agree.

You can help right now by calling Mayor Walsh at 311. Tell his staff members that you want him to implement CCE. To verify that you’re a resident, be sure to give your name and address.

It’s that simple, and that important.

Hearing Tuesday: Boston must step up the pace of climate action!

This Tuesday, BCAN and our allies will argue before Boston’s City Council that the city government must take a crucial step to speed up its actions to fight climate change: implement Community Choice Energy. Be there: anytime from 1:30 till 5pm, in the City Council’s temporary meeting room at 26 Court Street, one block up hill from State Street Station.

Boston’s leaders know that addressing climate change with a range of tactics is essential, but hardly any attention has been focused on switching our energy dollars from fossil fuels to clean, safe and renewable energy. Community Choice Energy is a tactic that numerous other cities and towns in eastern Mass. have already embraced. It’s time for Boston to take this step too.

This can’t wait for another plan to be created. Climate change is already affecting Boston residents with heat waves and stronger storms. Just this past Saturday a torrential downpour produced severe flooding in East Boston and other North Shore communities. Here’s a report compiled by The Harborkeepers:

“Yesterday was another warning sign of the increasing impacts of the changing climate and the increase of more frequent and intense storm events and precipitation. East Boston received 4.54 inches of rain within a matter of hours. Other North Shore towns like Winthrop and Lynn underwent a worse fate, in some ways. I took some notes and did a recap.

  • East Boston received 4.54 inches, most of it in a matter of hours
  • Homes in East Boston which typically don’t get basement flooding got their basements flooded
  • The stormwater drainage system & sewers could not handle the amount of rain hence they overflowed
  • Route 1A in East Boston both South and North by the Chelsea Street bridge and right next to the oil terminal got flooded causing an accident, at least 1 car stuck and backups on the highway
  • 2 neighborhoods in particular in Lynn and Winthrop (Michael’s Mall & Ingleside Park) were  flooded with more than three feet of water causing cars to get stuck and forcing evacuations of homes and rescues2017-9-30 Winthrop flooding
  • Power outages were reported in Winthrop, East Boston and Lynn
  • Unprecedented amounts of rain gushed down the hills of Orient Heights causing a mudslide from Gladstone to Leyden streets which broke a retaining wall and pushed mud and silt down city streets and sewers
  • Some roads and streets were flooded to the point of being impassable including in Winthrop, Lynn, Chelsea, Revere and East Boston
  • A house fire was reported at around 3am in the area where there was flooding in Winthrop
  • Downed distribution poles also were reported.”

Community choice energy would significantly speed up our transition to renewable power. Come out on Tuesday and let the City Council and the Mayor know it’s time to step it up on reducing Boston’s use of fossil fuels.