Letters from Leaders

From Michael McCord, Chair, Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay Green Committee:

Public Testimony for the Boston City Council Hearing on Net-Zero-Carbon New Buildings, December 11, 2017

Across our country, citizens by the thousands are rising up to oppose the installation of new gas and oil pipelines for a very simple reason: The burning of fossil fuels is a proven cause of global warming and unless we reduce our usage of fossil fuels—not expand usage—we are actively choosing to contribute to, not mitigate against, climate change.

It is, in my view, morally unconscionable that the city of Boston is poised to allow new buildings to be constructed that will substantially add to Greenhouse Gases (GHGs). We all know our planet is in peril from these gases. Instead of working to add more to the atmosphere, we should be do everything we possibly can to reduce them. LEED certification (which addresses conservation of energy but sets no standards regarding sources of energy), or architecturally interesting green walls, or twirly things on top of buildings that produce a minuscule amount of electric energy (e.g., 888 Boylston Street) skirt the real issue—that we must transition rapidly and effectively to a clean energy economy,

What is possible? This: All new buildings in Boston, right now, should be required to use renewable sources for heating, cooling and lighting in place of fossil fuels like gas. Developers (joined by their allies in the fossil fuel industry) will complain about costs. Let them. Let them absorb some of those costs as a condition for building in a city committed to reducing GHG’s; let them absorb some of those costs as the price for helping the clean energy sector develop; and let them absorb some of those costs as an emblem that they, too, care about the planet and not just short term profits.

The developers, supported by the fossil fuel industry, make the argument that clean energy is prohibitively expensive, but they offer no detailed analysis of that assertion and conveniently ignore several important considerations: First, as the clean energy sector responds to new demand, as it develops new technologies, and as competition develops among different providers, prices can be reasonably expected to decline. Second, the multi-millionaires to whom the developers are marketing their luxury housing can likely afford to pay a bit more for clean energy until the prices stabilize at lower levels. Third, the assertion about clean energy costs being too high completely ignores the  incomprehensibly high costs of dirty energy to life and property—see hurricanes Sandy, Harvey, Irma, and Maria as examples.

I encourage you to help the developers and the people at National Grid toward their ‘better selves’ by requiring them to be part of the transformation of the world from fossil fuels to clean energy. They, too, need to take seriously their responsibility as stewards of our children’s future, and the future of later generations. They, too, must do everything in their powers to move as forcefully as they can, as quickly as they can to reduce GHG’s before the balance tips toward cataclysmic catastrophe for the planet.

Somewhere in government, a group of public officials needs to stand up to these enormous economic and political forces and say, “NO more GHG’s; NO more profits before the planet; and NO more self-delusion about this existential crisis.” Would the DPU be that group?


From Martyn Roetter, Chair, Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay:

Testimony for the DPU Hearing on Approval of a Service Agreement between National Grid and One Dalton, December 15, 2017

The Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB) is a volunteer organization whose mission is to support, protect and enhance the environment for residents and others in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston, respect and preserve the architectural beauty of the Back Bay, and sustain its unique urban residential character. The mission of the NABB Green Committee is to provide information and assistance to neighborhood residents, businesses, and other organizations in the Back Bay by providing information on and promoting measures for energy supply and demand and the conservation of scarce resources in support of actions and activities that respond to and anticipate the imperative and growing need to cope with the impact of climate change. NABB collaborates with several other volunteer and civic organizations, local, regional, and national, in the pursuit of its mission and these goals. This collaboration includes proposals for initiatives and policies to protect Boston’s iconic green spaces and develop improved and accelerated measures as well as regulations to reduce the damage caused by methane gas leaks.

As Chair of NABB I interact closely with its Green Committee. I would like to offer a few comments on the troubling implications and consequences of the Transportation Service Agreement between National Grid and One Dalton Owner LLC. The foreseeable harmful consequences of this Service Agreement and the precedent it would establish for other agreements between National Grid and developers are substantial. I believe that the proposed new fracked methane gas distribution pipeline in the Back Bay is harmful to the public interest in light of necessary and urgent efforts to limit the effects of human-made contributions to climate change. At this stage, however, the scope of potential harm cannot be determined by key third-party stakeholders – who include National Grid’s residential customers and other members of the public – given the lack of public information regarding the content of this Agreement and the justification for the proposed use of fracked gas. A delay in a decision on this Agreement is justified until such time as these consequences have been determined objectively and transparently.

National  Grid seeks to keep confidential much of the information that is central to evaluating this agreement in comparison to alternative, more environmentally friendly solutions. The redacted details include the prices that One Dalton will pay and the volumes of fracked gas it will consume over a period of 20 years, as well as the contribution it will make to the capital costs of the new distribution pipeline in the Back Bay, that is necessary, according to National Grid, to deliver gas to the building.

If approved, this Agreement would create an additional demand stream for fracked methane gas in the City of Boston, with a term running until 2038. It is reasonable to anticipate that other major new buildings, which as currently planned will also use methane gas that has to be delivered over the new Back Bay pipeline, may well enter into similar contracts with National Grid. National Grid has demonstrated a consistent pattern of locking large customers into firm transportation contracts for gas even when they have other fuel sources available.

Plans for significant new usage of fracked gas extending at least 20 years into the future are at odds with the targets approved by the Commonwealth and the City of Boston for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and 2050. Reductions in these emissions are an essential step towards limiting the extent of the threats to Boston and many other areas of the planet from the effects of climate change. This change is being driven in significant measure by human activities including the burning of fossil fuels. The cumulative effect of additional usage of fracked gas that seems to be foreseen for at least the next two decades will put these targets beyond reach. Vision Net Zero will turn out to be Mirage Net Zero.

NABB participates in the BPDA’s Article 80 Reviews of proposed new large developments in Boston that affect the Back Bay, including evaluations of their environmental impacts. NABB has raised the question, which has yet to be addressed satisfactorily, of whether there are alternative sources of energy for these developments that would be more economical and have lower adverse environmental effects than fracked gas, and could and should be introduced well before 2038, given the need to make a transition from this fossil fuel within a few years.

Sensible decisions and practical compromises can only be achieved if they are based on an understanding of the costs to all of us taking into account the public interest as well as the interests of those directly involved in investments in fracked gas and their users. Achieving this understanding requires an objective evaluation or rather re-evaluation of the costs of current fracked gas-based solutions against alternatives. Such an evaluation must take into account externalities such as their respective effects on the environment and the health of the population as well as associated financial (e.g. health care costs) and other consequences, in addition to their direct capital and operating costs. As matters now stand, third parties who are stakeholders do not have access to the cost calculations of developers that are said to justify their investment plans, are reflected in the prices they are willing to pay for fracked gas, and allegedly demonstrate that possible alternative solutions to this fossil fuel are financially infeasible. Alternatives to be considered once this understanding is reached include variations of the implementation of new solutions, notably all-electric systems, within a strategy and plan to reduce over time the proportion of the supply of electrical energy that is generated from fossil fuels. The alternatives could involve a variety of incentives depending on the end users involved (tenants or purchasers of the commercial or business and residential spaces that are built) to compensate for any additional direct costs these users may incur in the short term for the sake of acting in the public interest. For example any incremental costs might be immaterial for purchasers of high end condos in their decision making, whereas middle or low income consumers and small businesses might need help to be able to buy or rent in new buildings if the initial costs (capital and especially operating) they have to pay for are higher with non fracked gas-based installations. These incentives would foreseeably be reduced and phased out over time as the costs of non-fossil fuel-based systems in buildings, even if originally higher, become equal to or fall below those of the fracked gas-based systems now proposed, thanks to technological progress.

The Service Agreement between National Grid and One Dalton preempts development of this understanding and sets a perilous precedent for continuing to kick the can down (or push another pipeline under) the road in coming to grips with the challenges we will all face if climate change is allowed to intensify through our decisions and actions.

I therefore respectively request the DPU to delay a decision on this Agreement, until it has been possible to evaluate the total costs and consequences of alternative solutions to the use of fracked gas and the justification for a new pipeline in the Back Bay in a holistic context. On the basis of this knowledge, plans can be formulated in a transparent and open manner for how best to meet the needs of the new buildings this still unbuilt pipeline is destined to serve, including One Dalton, while not compromising the Commonwealth’s and the City’s ability to meet agreed targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions over time.