A Boston City Council and Mayor Marty Walsh approved state program that would allow Boston residents to choose to get more electricity from renewable sources is purposely not being implemented by the City’s Environment Department.
Local City Councilor Matt O’Malley responded firmly and appropriately this week when informed that the City’s Chief of Environment, Energy and Open Space (EEOS) Austin Blackmon said in an interview with the Gazette on June 11 that his department has problems that prevent putting Community Choice Energy (CCE) into effect any time soon. [Editor’s note: Blackmon announced after the article went to print that he is leaving his position and moving to California for a new job.]
“It seems they have not done enough to explore CCE,” O’Malley responded in a telephone interview the next day. “It is not a good faith effort. As the chief sponsor, I will work to make CCE a reality. I will continue to push for that as an elected representative.”
O’Malley pointed out that CCE was authorized unanimously by the Boston City Council last October and signed by Mayor Walsh. CCE was recommended positively to them by the City Council’s Environment, Sustainability and Parks Committee that O’Malley chairs.
Responding to the roadblocks to implementation offered by Blackmon, O’Malley said he would “continue to push” for taking the next steps in the process, which are: 1) form an advisory committee and 2) put out an RFP for an expert energy consultant to research specific renewable energy providers and costs.
O’Malley said he himself would “empanel” a CCE group and continue to hold hearings, if necessary.
CCE is a state program that encourages cities and towns to enable their residents to choose more renewable sources like water and wind for their electricity, if they want, while staying with the same electric company—Eversource in Boston.
In the interview with the Gazette, Blackmon expanded on a range of reservations he has about CCE that he expressed last July before it was authorized in Boston.
Although one of the basic stated goals of CCE is to keep consumer prices lower, the same or only slightly higher than now, Blackmon said he is quite worried about that monetary element of the clean energy program.
“We have to be careful to keep prices down,” he said. He said he doesn’t want to create the advisory committee or line up the price consultant until he has a better idea of energy costs to ratepayers.
“Boston has approximately 700,000 residents,” Blackmon said, adding that communicating with them about their choice and preparing for that “is not a small task. We would need an idea of what the price difference would be beforehand. We would be taking a risk. We have to have information up front.”
That is contrary to the standard CCE implementation process described by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) and followed by other municipalities, which solves that problem. The process says cities implementing CCE should contract a consultant who researches energy costs and providers for cities and towns at early stages before any big decisions are made or ratepayers directly involved.
MAPC has endorsed CCE (also known as CCA, Community Choice Aggregation Program) and put out a step-by-step overview and timetable of how cities and towns should implement it. (http://www.mapc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Toolkit.pdf).
Dozens of municipalities in Massachusetts are at some stage of adopting CCE. The Boston Climate Action Network (BostonCAN or BCAN), which meets regularly in Jamaica Plain, has been a strong supporter of the program as a real and major way to deal with causes of climate change. It has established a CCE website to promote and explain the program. For example, Brookline has a plan to increase its commitment to renewable energy by 25 percent of their power usage, according to the site.
Dozens of attendees and seven City Councilors pressed Alison Brizious, Boston’s director of Climate and Environmental Planning, for specifics on implementation CCE at a May 30 hearing. According to a hearing report on the BostonCAN website, three prominent experts also described why CCE in Boston is so important to reducing greenhouse gases. Brizious, whose department is part of EEOS, offered the same objections then as EEOS Chief Blackmon did later.
Blackmon added in the June 11 telephone interview that implementing CCE is difficult because EEOS is very busy. He cited various programs and policies it is working on. He spoke of the importance of considering the cost/benefit ratio of each when determining where to focus staff and other resources.
Blackmon said that, since CCE was authorized last fall, his department “has been slammed” with lots of programs to work on dealing with the environment, including the goal of being carbon neutral by 2050. He said it takes time and money to support an advisory committee.
One thing that kept EEOS busy recently was sponsoring what was called the “International Mayors Climate Summit” on June 7, right before the U.S. Conference of Mayors was held here.
Mayor Walsh announced plans then for yet another initiative—issuing a Request for Information (RFI) for pricing of large-scale renewable energy projects with the goal of compiling data from cities across the country about large energy usage to give to energy developers.
BostonCAN is now asking on its website that this new effort does not distract EEOS further from implementing CCE.
“We have so much on our plate,” Blackmon said on June 11. “We won’t take time [for CCE] until we see a clearer path forward,”
“Austin Blackmon does not get to unilaterally decide whether or not Boston joins CCE,” O’Malley responded.
And he shouldn’t. CCE needs to go forward, following the standard process, now.
Sandra Storey is founder and former publisher and editor of the Jamaica Plain Gazette.
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