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.

Report Back: Carbon Free Boston Briefing

The City of Boston has committed to become a carbon neutral city in a little over 30 years.  Getting there will require changes large and small across many sectors of the city.  Where to begin?  The City, Green Ribbon Commission (GRC) and Boston University’s Institute for Sustainable Energy (ISE) are currently producing a Carbon Free Boston (CFB) report to answer just this question.  On June 28th, over sixty people representing a broad array of stakeholder groups (including BCAN) were briefed on the status of that report.  Our takeaways:

  1. We expect the report to be of very good quality.  While we learned that the release date has been pushed back a little more to Nov 7th, we learned that local utilities have been providing very granular, extensive, and otherwise helpful use data.    The way questions were answered by Cutler Cleveland and Michael Walsh (CFB Principal Investigator and Lead Modeler respectively) gives us every indication that the report will include options sufficiently aggressive and thoughtful to address the issue.

 

  1. Social Equity will be “woven through.”  A Social Equity Advisory Group led by Dr. S. Atyia Martin has hit the ground running!  They’re meeting regularly and working to ensure that the interests of disadvantaged populations are represented.  In their words:

Disadvantaged populations …often have greater exposure to air pollution, environmental hazards and dangerous conditions, and they often face reduced access to basic energy services. Equitable access to affordable, safe, renewable energy must be a central theme in the City’s plan to reach carbon neutrality.

 

  1. Our voices will be needed soon to ensure action.  After the CFB report is released this fall, the City will begin the process of deciding which options are worthy of inclusion in the Climate Action Plan (CAP).  The report will not include recommendations, only options.  All ideas, all policy comes with costs, some financial and some political.  Regardless of the benefits to come, these costs may result in some of the best ideas not being adopted, funded or implemented.  We must be ready to demonstrate political demand for climate action in November on the broad range of issues that the CFB report will address.  We’re not sure what the process for updating Boston’s CAP will look like but we know that it  will be during this period that community input will be most important.

 

*Boston has reduced GHG’s 12% over 10 years. data.boston.gov/dataset/greenhouse-gas-emissions .

Massachusetts Green Energy Bill is Down to the Wire

With a 35–0 vote, the Massachusetts Senate passed a comprehensive bill on June 14 that would “promote a clean energy future” across the state. Here are some of the bill’s most important provisions:

  • Raising Massachusetts’ Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) by three percentage points a year. The RPS is the minimum percent of the electricity sold by utilities and competitive suppliers that is required to come from local renewable sources. Currently, the annual increase is one percentage point. Raising the RPS faster would stimulate the development of new renewable energy projects in our region.
  • Eliminating the net metering cap. Net metering means that when solar panels produce more energy than the owner uses immediately, the extra goes into the grid and the owner gets a credit on his or her bill. Not limiting the amount of electricity that can be credited makes “going solar” affordable for more people.
  • Getting more specific about reducing statewide carbon emissions. The Global Warming Solutions Act had already mandated 80% reduction below 1990 levels by 2050. The new bill sets interim targets for 2030 and 2040, and it instructs the state administration to produce specific plans for meeting all the goals.
  • Encouraging further development and use of offshore wind, energy storage, and electric vehicles. All of these technologies would reduce fossil fuel use.
  • Regulating competitive electricity suppliers more strictly. Allowing independent suppliers to compete for the business of individual residents was intended to help people save money. However, a study by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office shows that it does the opposite, and that vulnerable populations are hurt the most.

The next stop for the energy bill, now numbered S. 2545, is the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, time is tight: the current legislative session ends on July 31, and any bills that are still pending by then must start all over again next session.

Please contact your state representative now and ask him or her to pass the energy bill. If you can’t recall your rep’s name, here are three options:

  • Call (617) 722-2000, dial 2 for the House of Representatives, and speak with the operator.
  • Go to the Action Network website and compose an e-mail.
  • Go to the Massachusetts Legislature’s “Find My Legislator” page. Enter your address, then click on your rep’s picture to get contact info.

And while you’re at it, consider contacting your state senator, too, and thanking him or her for passing this important bill.

A powerful argument for Community Choice Energy

Low- and moderate-income people make up 40 percent of the country’s population, but account for less than 5 percent of all solar customers. And “An equitable and complete transition to renewable energy cannot occur without the full participation of low- and moderate-income households,” says Dr. Martha Nathan of Climate Action Now.

Community Choice Energy would make renewable energy available to all Boston households, including low- and moderate-income residents who rent (67% of the city), lack the credit to put solar panels on their roofs, or can’t use tax credits to recover part of that cost. That’s why we want Community Choice Energy now. And that’s why we support a solar access bill that the state legislature is supporting. Click here for an article about that bill.

Why Monica Supports CCE

Bostonians want Community Choice Energy – a sensible energy policy approach toward aggressively combating climate change.

There is a City Council Hearing on October 3rd at 2pm at City Hall to discuss Community Choice Energy. We need to pack the hall to let councilors know this is an important issue.

Video of City Council Introducing CCE

On August 2nd, City Council President Michelle Wu and Councilor Matt O’Malley introduced Community Choice Energy for consideration by the council.

What the video:

More Choice — Not Less — Through Community Choice Energy

Some Boston residents may fear that Community Choice Energy (CCE) would take away their options, that the City would force them to purchase renewable energy at higher costs. The truth is that CCE actually gives residents more choices, including the right to opt out completely.  Before the implementation of any municipal electricity aggregation program, city officials give ample opportunity for residents to express their concerns.  Mayor Walsh and all the city councilors welcome comments at any time.

The Town of Arlington will officially begin its CCE program (which they call Arlington Community Choice Aggregation) on August 1, 2017. According to Anne Wright, Coordinator of the Arlington, MA, Mothers Out Front (MOF) Community Team, the intention was to “keep the prices the same as or lower than the Eversource default, but to increase the amount of renewables.”  The MOF Arlington Team worked with Sustainable Arlington  to educate people about Arlington’s CCE plan.  They found outreach leaders for each of the Town’s 21 precincts, and contacted Town Meeting members.  In May of 2016, the Town Meeting voted in favor of the CCE plan.  This gave the Town Manager and Board of Selectmen the go-ahead to find a supplier of renewable energy.  However, there was a stipulation that if they couldn’t match Eversource’s default prices, the CCE plan would not be implemented.

During the campaign, some Arlington residents opposed CCE because they were afraid of increased energy costs. “We had to explain that City officials would not sign a contract if the cost exceeded Eversource’s, and that when they found a lower price, it would then  be locked in, that it would not rise,” said Wright.  MOF members passed out flyers and presented slide shows.  “In every precinct, we had some kind of gathering to explain it”, said Wright.  “We had some little question-and-answer sessions in neighborhoods, where Town Meeting members could speak directly with precinct members.”  Wright even held a session in her own home.  “We made sure the pricing was clear, and that anybody could opt out if they really wanted.”

For the time being, the Town of Arlington has been able to negotiate a CCE rate that is lower than the Eversource default rate. The CCE default rate for renewable electricity costs $0.10756, while the current Eversource rate costs $0.10759.  While Eversource rates can fluctuate, the CCE rate for Arlington will remain the same for the next 20 months. Since Eversource’s rates traditionally are higher in winter than in summer, Arlington is assuming that its CCE will be lower than Eversource’s for the first 12 months of its contract term. The environmental impact of that year’s worth of additional 5% renewable electricity is about 1.5 megawatts of power that didn’t need to come from fossil fuels.

Boston can join other Massachusetts communities that are leading the way to move our electricity away from fossil fuels.  Come over to our CCE website, and sign the petition if you agree.