Boston City Council Setting the Stage to Combat Climate Change

By Beth Treffeisen

At last week’s Boston City Council meeting, held on January 25, legislation was filed for a hearing to discuss dramatically increasing the share of renewable energy used to power Boston through a program called Community Choice Aggregation.

City Council President Michelle Wu and District 6 City Councilor Matt O’Malley filed the legislation in an effort to combat climate change on a local level.

Community Choice Aggregation is a program created by Massachusetts state law that allows cities and towns to use bulk purchasing power to negotiate the cost of electricity on behalf of residents and small businesses to tap into lower electricity rates, while also giving municipalities the ability to require a higher percentage of renewable energy content than the state mandates.

“This a really, really impactful one that we can take control of at the local level and get Boston fast-tracked for a complete renewable energy future,” said Wu.

Wu pointed out that for the last three years in a row we have broken global records for being the hottest year on record and scientists have reported that we have a limited window to avert climate catastrophe.

If this trend continues it could result in extreme weather patterns, sea level rise, heat and drought that could cause famine and other societal consequences.

“For what we see in Washington D.C. and our new President they’re not taking actions to make sure that 2017 doesn’t continue along that same trend,” said Wu. “Boston has to step up. We need to get to zero emissions and we need to do it faster.”

Municipalities can access a process to set an alternative default energy contract that specifies regional wind and solar energy sources, which Wu believes will also spark local green energy jobs.

Wu said that Massachusetts is quickly increasing the amount of wind energy, especially offshore that has ideal conditions.

“Boston can help speed up renewable energy and create a good economy in terms of making new jobs,” said Wu.

Local utility companies such as National Grid and Eversource would continue to deliver the energy to consumers and administer billing just as before, creating a stream less process.

Individuals who are not happy with the change will be given the opportunity to opt-out of the bulk contract and return to their own. Residents can already switch their own source of energy to increased renewables on an individual basis.

“This is a new world we are living in and now more than ever this city needs to lead on environmental issues,” said O’Malley. “This is a great opportunity to do so. We can set the goal to have 25, 50 percent and [City Council President Michelle Wu hopes 100 percent renewable energy in Boston.”

A total of 98 cities and towns have received approval from the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to implement Community Choice Aggregation Programs since the start of 2017.

O’Malley said that since the late 1990’s Cape Cod has had this system in place for years to tremendous success. In December 2016 the Cape Light Compact announced that its power supply would be 100 percent renewable.

Seven states in the country including nearby New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, make the Community Choice Aggregation available to their municipalities.

“If done right, it is not only good for the environment but it is also good for the ratepayer,” said O’Malley. “We can generate and invest in renewable energy infrastructure that we so desperately need.”

The hearing order is only the first step in the process to determine whether implementing Community Choice Aggregation would be feasible in the City of Boston. To proceed, the City Council would need to introduce an order authorizing the Administration to explore Community Choice Aggregation under certain parameters and pass that order with a majority vote.

The City would then need to work with state agencies to finalize an energy plan and issue a request for proposal or RFP. Eventually, the city will have a contract with an energy broker to create a new default for residents for renewable energy at a certain price point.

The order has been assigned to the Committee on Environmental and Sustainability, and a hearing date has yet to be scheduled.

O’Malley said in a statement, “Now more than ever, it is incumbent upon cities to lead our country in molding an energy strategy that incorporates sustainable solutions and address climate change head-on.”

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