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.

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.

Join us for a Gas Leak Safari!

GAS-LEAK_84291

There are more than 3,300 natural gas leaks in the City of Boston, where miles of old corroded cast-iron pipes are badly in need of replacement with newer pipe material. The leaked natural gas is expensive for ratepayers who bear the costs. The methane in the gas is also a more potent greenhouse warming gas than CO2, meaning that the leaks represent a significant part of our collective carbon footprint. Natural gas leaks also harms trees and plantings, which has been documented along the Boston’s famed Arborway.

At 1pm, Sunday, Nov. 17, we will gather for a short briefing on the issue, and then depart to bike and caravan through Jamaica Plain, led by Boston University scientists, a professional detection team, and neighborhood leaders from Boston Climate Action Network and Clean Water Action. Please bring a bike or car, or plan to join a carpool. We will return to the Brewery by 3pm.

Who:  Concerned residents of Boston

BU scientist Nathan Phillips and his son Julian measuring gas leaks in Dorchester.
BU scientist Nathan Phillips and his son Julian measuring gas leaks in Dorchester.

What: Bike and car tour of natural gas leaks in Jamaica Plain

When: Sunday, November 17th at 1pm

Where: Meet at Bikes Not Bombs at the Jamaica Plain Brewery Complex

284 Amory Street, Jamaica Plain, MA02130

Entrance to Bikes Not Bombs is to the left of Ula Café entrance

RSVPs welcome or  to get involved in organizing this action and the on-going “Stop the Gas Leaks” campaign, contact: Becky Smith, Clean Water Action: bsmith<at>cleanwater.org, 617-314-2347 or Boston Climate Action Network: BostonClimateAction<at>gmail.com.

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.