Progress on CCE program guidelines

Update: The City of Boston reports that it has submitted its CCE plan to the DPU on June 20!

At the May 30th meeting of the Community Choice Energy (CCE) Working Group, the City of Boston reported that it is still waiting for the state Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to authorize the City to submit its CCE plan to the Department of Public Utilities (DPU). The City anticipated a quick turn-around with DOER, and had not been asked for any additional materials beyond the draft plan it submitted to DOER weeks ago. The City hoped to have its plan approved by DPU in time to make its first foray into the electricity market in January. That timeline now seems doubtful with the delay at DOER and DPU’s expectation that it will need as much as 8 months or more to review Boston’s plan. Eversource is also lobbying for a later start date so that it might have more time to prepare the data transfer to Boston.

Also on May 30th, BostonCAN and other working group participants dove deep into the Values and Principles statement that will guide decision-making as the program details are spelled out and the plan is implemented. In addition to the three values presented for discussion: additionality, preference for local generation, and affordability, the discussion generated 4 additional principles. BostonCAN led the drafting of language codifying a goal of rapid greenhouse gas reduction through CCE’s green power purchases. We also proposed a new principle that residents of Boston’s environmental justice (EJ) neighborhoods should have priority access to those jobs created by CCE. Our Green Justice Coalition allies Youth on Board (YOB) raised the important question of how “affordability” would be defined. YOB also put forward an idea to help make the green electricity even more affordable for low-income residents: a voluntary extra payment option for those who can afford more. We were just beginning to discuss a fourth new principle (meaningful engagement of residents of EJ neighborhoods in the details of the plan design) when the meeting had to end.

Due to the fruitful discussion, City staff announced that they would convene an additional working group session in July to finalize the Principles and Values document. We are excited to have this additional opportunity to work with the City and allies to craft this important document which will guide this program for years to come.

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.

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.

bnef-recs-regions

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.

Castle_Square_2

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

 

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.

BCAN Begins Design of New Campaign

As the City of Boston works to implement Community Choice Energy, BCAN has been striving to define our next campaign. On Saturday, January 26, we held a productive retreat to determine how best to support and push Boston to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Previously, we had studied Carbon Free Boston’s preliminary report, with selected members reporting to the group on possible priorities in the Energy, Transportation, and Buildings sectors. At the retreat, high-level options in each sector were summarized and discussed. (Here, “high-level” means generally defined, and “options” mean areas for possible concentration by the city as a whole. For example, high-level options in the Buildings sector included New Buildings, Existing Buildings, and District Heating and Cooling).

Our task was to choose options where BCAN could make a difference. As a first step, members voted, ranking their preferred campaigns. Five top vote-getters were identified. Then, members rated each of these on their suitability for a BCAN campaign, using a 1 to 5 scale on pre-selected criteria that included environmental impact, feasibility, environmental justice, “fit” with BCAN’s strengths, and opportunity to work with allies. Then, each member tallied their scores for each option and reported which one got the highest total. Winners from this round clustered around the topics of Net Zero Buildings (making all Boston’s buildings net-zero), Electrification (converting processes that now use fossil fuel directly, such as heating and cooking), and Green Energy (sourcing electricity from renewables).

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If that sounds very general, that is on purpose. We need more time and input to design the details of an effective campaign. We hope some of that input will come from you!

At BCAN’s next Action Team meeting, (6pm Thurs 2/14 at First Baptist Church, JP) you will have a chance to learn more about our proposed campaign and give us your thoughts on how best to move forward. For more information, contact Andy Wells-Bean at 617-971-8568.