JP Observer: Boston needs to opt for cleaner electricity

When it comes to climate change, no reasonable opportunity to lessen the effects of fossil fuels on the environment should be turned down. Right now, the administration of Mayor Marty Walsh is being very cautious about a movement to adopt what’s called “Community Choice Energy (CCE).”

Many individuals and groups in JP, including local City Councilor Matt O’Malley, chair of the Council’s Environment and Sustainability Committee, say they’re all for CCE. City Council President Michelle Wu and a crowd of about 80 people from around the city said so at committee working session at City Hall in late April. But City of Boston Chief of Energy, Environment and Open Space Austin Blackmon expressed reservations.

With CCE, the City of Boston would get a higher portion of the fuel used for electricity in homes and small businesses from renewable sources like wind and solar, in addition to the 12 percent already in place. State law requires utilities to buy an increasing amount of renewable energy every year.

CCE—not to be confused with those private companies that call, mail, or knock on the door asking residents to make them their energy supplier—is a state approved way that everyone receiving basic service could be switched to more renewable energy through the city. CCE, enacted by seven states, is also sometimes called “Community Choice Aggregation (CCA).”

According to Massachusetts Climate Action Network (MCAN), “An energy broker helps the community purchase the amount of energy that best fits their needs. Residents may opt out at any time.” The energy would still be distributed and billed, as usual, through Eversource.

Major goals of proponents are to keep energy costs low while helping combat climate change.

Supporters of CCE also include 350 Massachusetts – Boston node, JP Mothers Out Front, and the Sierra Club. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council, of which Boston is a part, supports adoption of CCE.

Boston Climate Action Network (BCAN), a group of interested residents from around the area, meets every two weeks on this topic at the First Baptist Church of JP. The meeting on July 13 drew more than 20 people.

“BCAN is working to stop climate change in the City of Boston,” member Loie Hayes of Mission Hill said this week, adding that the CCE would stabilize rates and support clean energy facilities—making it “a win for the city and its residents.”

JP resident Jim Kilgore, a part of 350 Massachusetts-Boston node, attended an informational event about CCE sponsored by supporting groups on June 21 at First Church Jamaica Plain Unitarian Universalist.

“As my two grandchildren have asthma, I am looking for ways to minimize the use of fossil fuels in Boston,” he said. “If we, as Boston residents, put pressure on the Boston City Council and mayor’s office, we can make a real difference.”

According to BCAN, Dedham launched CCE a couple of years ago. Many other Massachusetts cities have “jumped on the bandwagon” including Brookline, Arlington, Somerville, Sudbury, and Winchester. Acton is in the process of booting up now.

In an interview on July 20, the City’s Blackmon said he is concerned about CCE costs and using the City’s energy-saving funds “efficiently.”

“We are not saying ‘no,’” he said of CCE, stressing double goals. “We want to have high impact [on the environment] and lower cost to benefit residents.” He said the City is taking a “long look” at CCE and “understands the importance of renewables.”

Blackmon said lower electricity prices can only be achieved through taking advantage of short-term anomalies in price fluctuations of fuels. He pointed out that after enacting CCE, Chicago and, just this month, the City of Melrose have sent consumers back to basic service electricity due to increases in prices.

He said that Boston, as a big city, would need to use more staff and other resources than smaller Massachusetts cities and towns to ramp up and run CCE. He said, in addition to other work, the City would have to conduct a large community information campaign to tell consumers that they can opt out of the switch to CCE and remain with basic service.

Blackmon referred to an article about CCE in the Boston Globe July 5 about a Brookline woman who was confused by a letter she received from the town saying her electric supply would be switched if she didn’t opt out. After she understood, the article said, she decided she would pay “a few dollars” extra each month to help the environment.

Local activist Jim Kilgore urged speed this week. “The sooner we reduce fossil fuels, the better our chances of improving health (reducing asthma, for example) and possibly reducing the worst effects of climate change,” he wrote.

Boston, along with the planet, is going through a crisis. Some financial risks and small hits to our pocketbooks may need to be taken to reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are harming us. Sensible solutions need to be adopted by individuals and government to combat the effects of fossil fuels.

The City of Boston, through its Greenovate initiative, has established Carbon Free Boston, Blackmon pointed out. According to an executive summary of a Carbon Free Boston overview from May 18 this year, the Boston Green Ribbon Commission is working with Boston University’s Institute for Sustainable Energy through Dec. 2018 to develop strategies to cut GHG by 25 percent by 2020 and to have 100 percent clean and renewal energy sources in every sector by 2050.

Toward those goals, it is hoped that the City administration comes to the conclusion that adopting the CCE in a careful way will benefit all the people and businesses in Boston and figures out how to institute CCE as soon as possible. As the Carbon Free Boston report says, “It is important that this work starts now.”

Sandra Storey is founder and former publisher and editor of the Jamaica Plain Gazette.

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