Carbon Free Boston – Transportation

Later this year, the City of Boston and the Boston University Institute for Sustainable Energy plan to release the findings of the Carbon Free Boston (CFB) Initiative with concrete recommendations on how to achieve Boston’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2050.  Last June, CFB researchers released a preliminary report listing a wide range of options under consideration in the areas of energy, buildings, transportation, and waste.

To better understand and respond to the release of the Carbon Free Boston plan, BCANers have been educating each other through presentations and discussions during our bi-weekly Action Team meetings. The presentation about the energy sector was reviewed earlier (see the blog post from October 28 below). Here we summarize the presentation and discussions on the transportation sector.

In 2016 (latest data available) the transportation sector was responsible for about 29% of the greenhouse gas emissions from all sources in the city, up from 25% in 2015. It was also the sector with the least progress toward the 2020 goal of a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, it represents a major opportunity for progress toward achieving carbon reduction goals and eventually carbon neutrality.

The wide-ranging transportation policy options currently being considered by Carbon Free Boston include:

  • Incentives for adopting electric vehicles
  • Banning gasoline and diesel-fuel vehicles
  • Promoting more carpooling or ride-sharing
  • Improving bicycle and bus infrastructure
  • Converting public transit and government fleets to no-carbon or low-carbon vehicles
  • Requiring travel management plans for workplaces with more than 50 employees

BCAN has been discussing some of these options as we plan our areas of work in the coming year or two.  At our October 11 action team meeting, one specific option we discussed was conversion to no-carbon (all-electric) buses on Boston bus routes.

Our discussion centered on using the following criteria for deciding which transportation policy options to support:

  • How achievable are they in the short term?
  • Who might be our allies?
  • Will they positively impact environmental justice communities in the City?
  • Might there be funding to support the planned policy?

We will continue this discussion at upcoming meetings, and will closely review the Carbon Free Boston plan when it is released.  All of this work is now in the context of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which says “Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Centigrade would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes . . . .”  BCAN stands ready to work on such changes in Boston.

Giving Thanks: Progress Party for CCE Allies

Several dozen climate hawks, including three official representatives of the City of Boston, attended a joyous CCE Progress Party on Nov. 12 at Democracy Brewing in downtown Boston. City Councilors Matt O’Malley and Michelle Wu and the city’s Chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space, Chris Cook, thanked all the groups that helped push the Walsh administration to adopt our plan to make renewable energy more accessible to all Boston residents through Community Choice Energy.

Chief Cook reported that the Environment Department has concluded interviews with potential consultants to manage the planning and implementation of the CCE program, also known as green municipal aggregation. Councilor Wu pointed out the CCE is a counterweight to the doom and gloom of climate science, noting the opportunity within this crisis. “The steps that we have to take to make this transition to a fossil-free future successful are the only chance that we have to, not only think about the planet and green energy, but also to reduce income inequality and empower our communities.”

Many thanks to the groups that sent representatives, including Boston Student Advisory Council, Community Labor United, Eastie Farm, Greening Rozzie, Sierra Club, Mothers Out Front, 350 Boston Node, and the many other allies who attended. As Councilor O’Malley noted, there’s still much to do before we actually have a default electricity service that offers more renewables than is required by law. And Khalida Smalls pointed out, CCE is just one step to the sustainable and equitable society. We are committed to building climate justice every day and every way we can.

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.

Green Minga Barnraising: Big Success

(En Español Abajo)
When was the last time you hosted a party and saved hundreds of dollars in fuel costs and thousands of pounds of global warming pollution? Yolanda Gonzalez and family did that just last week at the Green Minga barnraising!

Yolanda

Three generations of the Gonzalez family were joined by about 40 BostonCAN volunteers for the Green Minga barnraising, or community work party. Key among these were local professionals Victor Guillén of Carpentry Services Boston, Wilbert Seoane of Co-op Power, and Next Step Living’s Carl Lowenberg, who donated both time and materials to make the day a success. These three were joined by Manuel Gonçalves of Co-op Power, Loie Hayes of BostonCAN, and Matthew Schriener of Home Energy Efficiency Team as team leaders who taught volunteers ways to block cold air from sneaking in through windows and doors, and to keep heat in where it’s needed and not where it isn’t.

Spanish and English conversations echoed throughout the building, with more than a third of the participants being native Spanish speakers. Media professionals José Massó from WGBH’s Con Salsa and independent filmmaker Carla Pataky interviewed participants to document the event and discuss more broadly Latino efforts to address climate change. Jose and WilbertFreelance photographer Gretjen Helene took photos throughout the day and created a wonderful slideshow of highlights. Whole Foods donated a bounty of sandwiches and snacks to get volunteers fueled up for the four-hour work session.  Catalina Justiniano, the Green Minga organizer, commented afterward, “It was an exciting and beautiful experience of a community working together to improve the living conditions of these JP residents. Most impressive was how most of the volunteers were willing to come back again if anything else could be done beyond the possibilities of a four-hours work session.”

As in a traditional Minga, the homeowners offered food to thank their community after the work was done, Yolanda thanked the volunteers with a wonderful supper of chicken, rice, red beans and a delicious salad jointly prepared by the family. Volunteers took a break from work to enjoy this meal and share their joyful sense of accomplishment. Yolanda never stopped smiling throughout the day and days after she said “I feel blessed with all the work that was done, as it was something I really needed. What I like most was that there was a family-like feeling in the air and also that I’m positive I will save energy. Now I need to get the insulation and I hope that will happen soon.”

During supper, people had the opportunity to hear presentations on job openings in the weatherization industry. Jubeth Nuñez representing Renew Boston and  Next Step Living, Eunice Yu from Mass Energy, Mela Bush from Co-op Power, and Stephan MacPhee fromjob info session Solar City all discussed the types of positions that are currently open at their workplaces. Just the fact that so many more companies are now providing energy efficiency services to Boston residents, compared to even 4 years ago, is a testament to the potential of community development through investment in energy efficiency.

Victor Guillén and Co-op Power both donated planning time before the barnraising and Co-op Power came back after with a blower door test to measure how much our work had reduced the draftiness of Yolanda’s home. Based on that evaluation, we project that the building’s residents will save a combined $438 in energy costs every year going forward. That also means that there won’t be any of the global warming pollution that would have been created by burning that $438 worth of energy: a savings of more than 3895 pounds of CO2, which is equal to about a fifth of Yolanda’s household’s energy pollution footprint.  And all from do-it-yourself projects!

Green Minga organizer Catalina Justiniano is saying goodbye to BostonCAN as she moves out of the area. Thankfully she has created some wonderful precedents that our next barnraising organizer can use going forward. Please contact BostonCAN Coordinator Loie Hayes if you’re interested in helping to organize our next barnraising!

We’ve posted more photos on-line.

End the Era of Coal!

We have a huge opportunity to speed Massachusetts to a coal-free future!

Dominion, the owner of the largest coal-fired power plant in the state, Brayton Point, is putting the plant up for sale, along with two more coal plants in their portfolio. This could be the nail in the coffin for coal in our state, and would echo loudly beyond our borders, but only if we speak out for what we know our communities need.

The Commonwealth’s leaders need to hear from us about our vision for a clean up the site, retraining of the workers, and new economic investments to “make whole” the communities that have borne the brunt of the plant’s pollution and that have depended on the plant’s tax payments to maintain the roads, schools, and hospitals that have been the foundation of Dominion’s profits.

Please read the press release from the Coal-Free MA coalition below. We don’t yet have a specific action in response to this news but you can demonstrate your support for a speedy and just transition to a coal-free MA by signing on to two e-actions from coalition member groups Toxics Action and Clean Water Action:

1) ask Governor Patrick to make aggressive carbon reduction a condition of the plant’s future operation:
https://secure3.convio.net/engage/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=6309

2) ask our federal Senators to tighten regulations on coal ash
http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/2155/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=11381

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 9/06/12

Coal Free Massachusetts responds to Sale of Brayton Point

Today Dominion Resources, Inc. announced the sale of three coal plants as they divest from their merchant fossil fuel plants in de-regulated states. Included in the sale announcement are the Brayton Point coal plant in Somerset, Massachusetts and two plants in Illinois.

In response, the following members of Coal Free Massachusetts stated:

“Certainly we know that coal-free is the future, and Dominion’s plans to sell Brayton Point only reinforce our message,” said Pauline Rodrigues, a leader of the local group Coalition for Clean Air South Coast. “The Town of Somerset has to make arrangements now for how to prepare for this economic transition, to bring in good new jobs and replace lost municipal revenues. We need to plan ahead so we’re not left holding the bag.”

We hope that Dominion will be a better neighbor on the way out of Somerset than they were for us here in Salem,” commented Pat Gozemba, Co-Chair of Salem Alliance for the Environment. “A legacy fuel and a legacy mess are what we have had on hand, and we want better for our neighbors on the South Coast. The redevelopment of Dominion’s sites into productive and healthy economic centers for our communities relies on full cleanup and accountability for any mess left behind after years of profit-making.”

“Let the buyer beware,” said Shanna Cleveland, staff attorney with Conservation Law Foundation. “Dominion’s retreat from the merchant coal plant business is a clear indication that they see the writing on the wall for coal power. Coal’s share of the nation’s energy mix and New England’s has been steadily declining while clean energy like wind and solar is becoming cheaper. Coal power’s days are numbered, and we will continue to work to hasten the retirement of these aging, polluting plants in Somerset and beyond.”

Cindy Luppi of Clean Water Action said, “After years of working on these issues, you can’t help but wonder what the ‘For Sale’ sign at this plant will read. ‘Wanted: Clean Energy Future?’ Even at minimal capacity, Brayton Point—New England’s largest polluter—is toxic to our health, communities and pocketbook. Let’s hope this marks the shift to a more innovative future. We need a new paradigm for power.”

Sylvia Broude of Toxics Action Center said, “Somerset deserves a better neighbor. We urge whomever chooses to purchase the dirty and aging Brayton Point coal plant to be a good neighbor by working together with the Somerset community and plan for a responsible transition away from dirty coal and a smart, beneficial re-development for the site.”

“Dominion’s attempt to sell Brayton Point signals a recognition that Massachusetts and New England are rapidly building toward a coal-free future. We congratulate Dominion on trying to dump their toxic assets, and encourage them to use the funds they receive to invest in safe, healthy, and renewable energy,” said Craig Altemose of Better Future Project.

Jay McCaffrey with the Sierra Club said, “This should also be a signal to Governor Patrick that it’s more important than ever to make Massachusetts a coal free state. We need a plan to responsibly transition away from the dirty coal plants that have been a toxic burden on Massachusetts families too long and invest in clean, renewable energy that will mean healthier air, good-paying jobs and an economy that’s built to last.”

“It’s heartening to see Dominion getting out of the coal business in Massachusetts. But make no mistake, a new owner doesn’t mean the plant will shut down. This is the perfect opportunity for Governor Patrick to demonstrate his leadership and call for retirement of all of our coal plants,” said Ben Wright, advocate with Environment Massachusetts.

“We know that burning coal has serious impacts on our health and contributes significantly to global warming. For the sale of Brayton Point to be a complete win, we need a robust plan for helping Brayton Point workers transition to new jobs and for keeping the town of Somerset whole,” said Nancy Goodman of Environmental League of Massachusetts.

“Dominion’s actions indicate they are aware of the dim future for coal in the United States. As the rest of the country follows New England’s lead and phase out dirty power sources, plants like Brayton Point will become more and more rare. We look forward to working with the new owners of the Somerset plant to ensure a clean alternative to the region’s power needs,” commented Rob Garrity, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network.

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