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Guest Blog: How Massachusetts cities & towns are leading our transition to clean energy

100% Renewable | Environment Massachusetts

As mayors representing a diverse group of communities across Massachusetts, we are in a unique position to be on the front lines of how the big global issues manifest from block to block in our neighborhoods. One of the many ways we see this is in how our residents want to power their homes and businesses. Their message to us is clear: they want cost-effective solutions that speed our transition to clean and renewable energy, and they want innovative and meaningful ways to help them combat the climate crisis.

As a result, communities like ours are increasingly taking advantage of a process known as community choice electricity (also known as green municipal aggregation), which allows our municipalities to purchase electricity directly from suppliers (rather than the utility base option), and fully live up to the needs and expectations of our residents who are increasingly eager to source a larger percentage of their household electricity consumption from renewable energy like solar and wind. Our cities, in turn, can offer our residents electric plans that offer more local renewable energy than required by state law.

Today, a growing number of cities and towns like ours across Massachusetts have launched their own programs that go above and beyond the state’s baseline requirements for the proportion of renewables in their energy mix, and dozens more are at various stages of the approval process. An increasing number of homes and businesses are opting for electricity that comes from 100% green power.

The benefits are dramatic and have a direct and positive impact on our fight to reduce emissions, improve public health, and save consumers money. 

First and foremost, green municipal aggregation allows our communities to play a critical role in reducing emissions across the state and helping us meet our ambitious climate goals. A recent report by the Green Energy Consumers Alliance estimates that by 2022, programs like ours across the state will continue to drive a massive increase in renewables flowing through our electric grid of 700,000 megawatt-hours per year, enough to meet the electricity needs of about 100,000 homes.

Green municipal aggregation is also one of the most important tools in the fight against climate change and for environmental justice, because it creates the market pressure for even more local solar and wind electricity to be built in the future, and for older, polluting, fossil fuel plants that are harmful to the public health to be retired and taken offline. A recent study by the Journal of Environmental Science found that burning fossil fuels accounts for one in five premature deaths globally, and specifically pointed to the Northeast of the United States as one of the areas of greatest concern. Green municipal aggregation allows us to make our communities healthier while also reducing emissions at the same time.

Secondly, households in our communities are seeing that switching to renewables is just as affordable as fossil fuel energy, and in many cases, their electric bills have actually gone down compared to their old plans. That’s because purchasing renewable electricity on behalf of our entire community actually gives us leverage in the market that helps us keep costs down for everyone.

Lastly, green municipal aggregation gives our residents an extra layer of trust, security, and confidence that they won’t be taken advantage of by predatory electric suppliers. A new study by the office of Attorney General Maura Healey estimated that predatory competitive electric suppliers, who typically go door to door convincing consumers to use their higher cost electricity plans, cost consumers over $486 million in additional costs and fees over the past five years, and disproportionately harmed low-income communities and communities of color.

The results speak for themselves. Since the city of Somerville’s program launched in 2017, Somerville ratepayers have saved over $5 million on their electric bills, and today nearly 30% of Somerville’s electricity supply is from local renewable sources. In Salem, ratepayers have saved $3 million, and the city is boosting its percentage of local renewables from 23% to 33% starting in December. 

There is a lot of reason to be optimistic that this is just the beginning for green municipal aggregation in the commonwealth. In the last few years, there has been a surge in momentum and scale with Boston, Worcester, and Lowell, three of the five largest communities in Massachusetts, launching new programs. And many more municipalities are currently in the pipeline, with their applications working their way through the approval process at the state’s Department of Public Utilities. 

The city of Framingham is currently developing a municipal aggregation plan that prioritizes price security for its residents, enhanced consumer choice, and the growth of renewable energy. The city is placing a special focus on engaging with residents of its Environmental Justice neighborhoods and vulnerable populations that are often most susceptible to energy affordability challenges in addition to growing climate change impacts.

As mayors who already carry the responsibility of helping our communities navigate the perils of a rapidly changing climate, these programs give us the dynamic tools we need to be a part of the solution at a time when we need it most.

Joe Curtatone is the mayor of Somerville, Massachusetts. 

Kim Driscoll is the mayor of Salem, Massachusetts. 

Joseph Petty is the mayor of Worcester, Massachusetts. 

Dr. Yvonne Spicer is the mayor of Framingham, Massachusetts.