ACTIVISTS, OFFICIALS ASK FOR SWIFT APPROVAL OF CCE

An overflow crowd of climate activists, City officials, and others filled the Boston office of the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) on Tuesday, August 20, for a public hearing on the City of Boston’s municipal aggregation plan. The hearing was one step in the DPU’s decision-making process regarding Community Choice Energy (CCE), the name of Boston’s proposed aggregation. In attendance were representatives of BostonCAN, Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE), the Barr Foundation, Boston Student Advisory Council (BSAC), Clean Water Action, Community Labor United (CLU), Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO), Massachusetts Climate Action Network (MassCAN), Mothers Out Front, Sierra Club, and 350 Mass.

The testimony covered a wide range of arguments supporting approval of CCE. For example, BostonCAN’s speakers stressed the urgency of reducing carbon emissions, the importance of price stability and protection from unscrupulous energy suppliers, and the contribution of aggregations to state-level as well as citywide goals. BSAC students testified about the transparency and inclusiveness of the City’s CCE planning process. Mothers Out Front volunteer Emily Arnold said of CCE, “This program offers the greatest single reduction of Boston’s greenhouse gases and opportunity for growth of renewable energy use—and all the while Boston residents will not have to change a thing.” As only a parent could, she framed this message between a tale about teaching her five-year-old son to “work smarter, not harder” and a fervent hope that climate change will not rob him of a full lifetime to use his problem-solving skills.

Attendees urged the DPU not only to approve CCE, but to do so quickly. David Sweeney, Chief of Staff for Boston’s Mayor Walsh, reiterated the request in Boston’s plan that CCE be approved by August 31 to allow for a January 1, 2020 start date. In written comments, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office had articulated concerns that could delay CCE’s approval: (1) that the simultaneous shift of so many customers from Eversource to CCE could create “market uncertainty” and affect electric rates for non-CCE customers, and (2) that Boston must educate its large, multilingual public well enough to enable informed decisions about CCE participation.

Addressing the first issue, Sweeney argued that the lack of a decision about CCE has already created market uncertainty, and that the best cure would be a timely implementation.  Responding to the second challenge, Sierra Club’s Michelle Brooks pledged that her organization would help “by informing our roughly 10,000 members and supporters residing in the City of Boston throughout each phase of the implementation process.”

Last to testify, BostonCAN member Mike Prokosch said he expected Eversource to claim that they would need more time to transfer customer data to the City’s supplier. “They should have seen this coming,” said Prokosch. “They’ve had two years.”

BostonCAN awaits the DPU’s decision on CCE. We hope it is both positive and timely.

Community Choice Energy hearing at the DPU: Aug. 20

We have been pushing for the last 2 years to increase the renewable electricity coming to all Boston households and businesses through Community Choice Energy (CCE). Now we’ve reached a crucial milestone: a hearing at the Department of Public Utilities (DPU). This state agency has the power to speed up or slow down our progress. Please speak out to ask the DPU to support the prompt implementation of Boston’s plan for Community Choice Energy.

When: Tuesday, August 20th at 2:00 pm 

Where: Dept. of Public Utilities, One South Station, 5th Floor, Boston, MA, 02110

If you can’t attend the hearing, please take advantage of this opportunity to to express your support for CCE by submitting a short comment. Comments must be submitted by 5:00 pm on Aug. 20th.

If you would like to submit a comment to the DPU, please email it to these email addresses:

dpu.efiling@mass.gov and Sarah.Smegal@mass.gov
and CC javery@pierceatwood.com and BostonClimateAction@gmail.com

The text of your email must include:

  • The docket number of the proceeding D.P.U. 19-65
  • Your name and telephone number.
  • Your title if you represent a specific group or agency.
  • It may be useful to identify yourself as a resident of Boston, if you are one.

Please use a clear file name for the attached comment letter that does not exceed 50 characters in length, for instance D.P.U. 19-65 comment (and your name).

We suggest you refer to our CCE website and the City’s CCE website for reasons you might include in your letter to the DPU. It’s fine to include just one reason that’s important to you. Please keep your letter brief.

If you prefer to send a letter via the postal service, note that your letter must be received by Aug. 20 (not postmarked by that date). Mail your comment letter to:

Mark D. Marini
Department of Public Utilities
One South Station, 5th Floor
Boston, MA 02110

Also mail copies of your comment letter to the following two people:

Sarah A. Smegal
Department of Public Utilities
One South Station, 5th Floor
Boston, MA 02110

AND

James M. Avery, Esq.
Pierce Atwood LLP
100 Summer Street
Boston, MA 02110

Heat Wave Hits Boston – And the World

Following the hottest June in recorded history, temperatures smashed records again in July.

Paris grabbed the headlines with an all-time high of 108.7 degrees, but the city of lights did not suffer alone. European weather maps showed much of the continent in the grip of a heat wave, along with the eastern United States from Texas to Chicago to Maine. In Boston, the temperature broke 90 degrees on 12 days in July, including two official heat waves (stretches of three or more consecutive days with highs in the ‘nineties). That compares with seven days last July, and an average of 4.3 days in July from 1981 through 2010.

As New York learned last month, our cities’ infrastructure was not built for such high temperatures. On July 13th, a blackout caused by a burning cable left 72,000 people in Manhattan without power for five hours. And on July 21st, as temperatures soared above 90 degrees for the third day in a row, ConEdison cut power to more than 30,000 customers in Brooklyn. The action was necessary, the company said, to prevent damage to transmission equipment overstressed by high demand for air conditioning.

Heat waves kill people, both directly and when air conditioning fails from loss of power. Expect many more blackouts—and heat-related deaths–in the future, unless we take immediate action to staunch the flow of greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere.

What can you do to help speed the transition to a low-carbon energy grid? Please join us at a public hearing on Tuesday, August 20, at 2pm at One Atlantic Ave., in South Station, Boston for a hearing at the Department of Public Utilities on Community Choice Energy. We’re organizing speakers from as many organizations as possible and need as many Boston residents as possible to show their support for the swift transition to fossil-fuel-free electricity.

New England waters warming quickly

A new study finds that New England’s coastal waters have warmed faster than anywhere else in the continental U.S. What does the future hold?

As satellite data show that June 2019 was the hottest June on record, a recent study has found that the coastal waters off New England have warmed more than those anywhere else in the continental United States. An analysis by the nonprofit Climate Central revealed that average sea surface temperatures off New England have risen by 2–3°F since 1901, compared to increases of less than 1.5°F elsewhere on the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Warming seas cause many changes to marine ecosystems, including acidification, reduced oxygen concentrations, increased incidence of toxic red tide algal blooms, and migration of marine species to cooler climes. In New England, many fish species are expected to move northeastward by 100 to 600 km over the course of the century, depending on how fast the climate warms. Such changes in marine life can ripple through the ecosystem, as when reduced foodstock may have led to the starvation of some 350 puffins and auklets on St. Paul Island in Alaska in 2016‒2017.

In New England, climate change has already led to the collapse of lobster populations and the lobster-fishing industry to the south, and the explosion of populations and catches farther north. Connecticut’s landings fell by 96% from 1996 through 2014, while Rhode Island’s declined by about 75% from 1999 through 2017. Maine’s landings, by contrast, have increased by more than 200%, and lobsters now bring the state over $450M annually.

What fish will be common in the waters of Massachusetts in 2050 or 2100? And how long will Maine’s lobster luck last? The answers to these questions depend on how quickly we can replace fossil fuels with cleaner sources of energy, staunching the flow of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Speak out in favor of speeding up the transition to renewably generated electricity for all Boston homes. Join BostonCAN as we practice giving testimony for the forthcoming a Department of Public Utilities hearing on Community Choice Energy. The hearing date is TBD, but we will start our practicing this coming Thursday, July 25, at 6:30pm at the  First Baptist Church, side entrance, 633 Centre St., Jamaica Plain. Or email Andy Wells-Bean to find out how you can get involved.

References

Copernicus Climate Change Service, “Record-breaking temperatures for June” (July 2, 2019). <https://climate.copernicus.eu/record-breaking-temperatures-june>

Climate Central, “In Hot Water: How Warming Waters Are Stressing Fish and the Fishing Industry” (June 26, 2019). <https://ccimgs-2019.s3.amazonaws.com/2019Fishing/2019Fishing.pdf>

Arnault Le Bris et al, “Climate vulnerability and resilience in the most valuable North American fishery” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 20, 2018). <https://www.pnas.org/content/115/8/1831>

James W. Morley et al, “Projecting shifts in thermal habitat for 686 species on the North American continental shelf” (PLOS One, May 16, 2018). <https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/file?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0196127&type=printable>

Jennifer Walter, “Climate change may have caused mass puffin die-off” (Discover Magazine, May 29, 2019). <http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2019/05/29/climate-change-may-have-caused-mass-puffin-die-off/>

Emily Greenhalgh, “Climate and lobsters” (NOAA Climate.gov, October 6, 2016). <https://www.climate.gov/news-features/climate-and/climate-lobsters>

Zoeann Murphy and Chris Mooney, “Gone in a generation: Across America, climate change is already disrupting lives” (The Washington Post, January 29, 2019). <https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/national/gone-in-a-generation/fishing-climate-change.html

Contractors lead deep dive into retrofits

BostonCAN recently announced its new campaign to promote deep energy retrofits of Boston’s existing buildings. What do these retrofits entail, and what are the challenges associated with them? On May 9, we hosted “A Discussion of Deep Energy Retrofits” in order to learn more. The event featured Paul Eldrenkamp, Kerry Kostinen, and Mike Duclos, contractors and energy efficiency mavens with years of experience retrofitting homes and tracking the energy savings achieved.

Boston’s Climate Goal and the Role of Retrofits

Before summarizing the event, let’s put retrofits in the context of Boston’s overall carbon neutrality goal. The Carbon Free Boston Summary Report 2019 outlines three broad strategies: increasing energy efficiency, electrification, and shifting the electric grid toward renewables. Buildings are one sector where these strategies will be applied. The report defines a deep energy retrofit as “a whole-building approach [that] improves both the building envelope—its roof, walls, windows, and doors—and replaces heating/hot water systems that currently rely on gas and oil with systems that run on increasingly zero-GHG electricity . . .” (p. 13).

Increasing Energy Efficiency with Air Sealing and Insulation

On May 9, Kostinen and Duclos showed photos of projects to “improve the building envelopes” of private homes. In a deep energy retrofit, the house’s sheathing is stripped off, air leaks are sealed, insulation values are increased, and a dedicated ventilation system is added. As Duclos demonstrated, the house then becomes more energy efficient. It is also more comfortable, with reduced drafts and cleaner air. However, retrofits are expensive: Kostinen showed examples costing $40,000 or more. In his experience, monetary return on investment is not a reasonable expectation.

According to Eldrenkamp, return on carbon investment is also an issue. Retrofitting a building requires producing materials, transporting them, and using power tools to install them. All of this releases greenhouse gases (GHG), which constitute the “embodied carbon” of the project. How long it takes for the savings in “operating carbon”—the emissions from day-to-day activities in the building— to make up for this embodied carbon depends partly on the materials used. While spray foam has a huge carbon footprint, there are actually some materials that sequester carbon. But another key factor is the project’s duration. Eldrenkamp has concluded that “we cannot do projects that last months and months” because the carbon payback period can be 75 years.     

Electrification with Heat Pumps

Eldrenkamp was more optimistic about the potential of electrification (replacing a gas or oil heating system with an electric one), now viable because of heat pumps. Per unit of energy delivered to a home, electricity is much more expensive than gas or oil, because a lot of energy is lost during generation at a fossil fueled power plant and in transmission to our homes. For the same reason, conventional electric heaters are the most carbon-intense way to heat a home. Heat pumps are different. They move heat outdoors in summer (like air conditioners) and indoors in winter (yes, there is enough heat outside then.) Heat pumps are 280% efficient on average—a unit of electrical energy used to run a pump moves almost three units of heat energy. Oil and gas heaters, on the other hand, average about 80% efficiency. With heat pumps, electric heat can be competitive in price with propane, oil, and (in some cases) gas heat systems, and it emits less than half the carbon.

These comparisons assume the current mix of power sources in the New England grid. For Eldrenkamp, greening the grid is a top priority: as the grid approaches 100% green, the GHG cost of powering a home with heat pumps approaches zero, regardless of other measures. Unfortunately, as Duclos pointed out, the United States is far behind Europe in the development of renewables.

Eldrenkamp also stressed that the climate movement needs to do a better job of tracking energy usage, before and after interventions. “If you don’t keep score,” he said, “you don’t know whether you’re winning.”

Takeaways

As BostonCAN mulls over what we learned, three principles stand out:

  1. We must green the grid. Although BostonCAN’s new campaign focuses on the buildings sector, the energy sector remains crucial.
  2. How we retrofit matters, not just how much or how fast. Poorly planned projects can backfire.
  3. We must track energy use. Data is knowledge, and knowledge is power.

See the entire presentation, “A Discussion of Deep Energy Retrofits,” on YouTube.

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.

Castle_Square_2

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

Carbon Pricing in Massachusetts

Please join BCAN for a forum on carbon pricing legislation on Wednesday, February 6 at the UU Church, in Jamaica Plain at 7pm.  

Carbon pricing bills have been filed in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the Senate in January. Rep. Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) is the lead sponsor on the House bill, with a list of more than 100 co-sponsors.  Representatives Nika Elugardo, Liz Malia, Chyna Tyler, Russell Holmes, Dan Hunt, Liz Miranda, and other Boston Reps are among those co-sponsoring HD.2370, An Act to Promote Green Infrastructure and Reduce Carbon Emissions.  The bill would establish a fee for each ton of carbon dioxide emissions produced by carbon-based fuels used in the State (excluding electricity generation, which is covered by another mechanism).  Seventy percent of the fees collected would be rebated to households and employers, organized so that low- and middle-income households would get more in rebates than they pay in increased fuel costs.  The other 30% of the funds would go to a new Green Infrastructure Fund, which would support clean transportation, resiliency, and renewable energy projects. It is estimated that $400-$600 million would be raised each year for this fund.  The bill also has a provision that would assess a carbon fee on gas leaks from gas pipelines and distribution networks in the State.

The Senate bill, SD.1817, An Act to Combat Climate Change, was filed by Senator Mike Barrett, along with 65 co-sponsors.  State Senators Sonia Chang-Diaz, Nick Collins, and Mike Rush are among the Boston co-sponsors. This bill recommends “market-based compliance” mechanisms, including “greenhouse gas emissions exchanges, banking, credits and other transactions . . .” and is less specific than the House bill about the percentage of funds that would be allocated to infrastructure or renewable energy projects.  The Senate bill also provides for rebates to households, and requires that low-income and rural residents not be disproportionately burdened by the market-based mechanisms.

Rep. Benson will present the House bill at the Feb 6 forum, along with a panel including Cindy Luppi, the New England Director of Clean Water Action and chair of the carbon pricing coalition; and Dr. Jonathan Buonocore from the Harvard School of Public Health.