Community Choice Energy for Boston: Council Hearing on Implementation May 30

Back in October 2017, the City Council voted unanimously to authorize Boston to adopt Community Choice Energy (CCE). CCE would allow for bulk purchasing of electricity for all residents, which would mean negotiating lower rates and more renewables. Implementation in the dozens of other towns in Massachusetts who have CCE took between three and ten months. In Boston, however, months later, the Environment Department has put implementation on hold.

The Council co-sponsors of CCE, Matt O’Malley and Michelle Wu, filed a hearing order on Jan. 24, 2018, calling for formation of a CCE Advisory Committee to guide and oversee implementation of the ordinance. No such committee has been formed, nor has there been any movement toward doing so.

On May 30, 2018, an expert panel testified at a City Council hearing that was called in order to look into why CCE implementation has been stalled. Among the more memorable statements was one repeated several times by former DPU chief Ann Berwick, in reference to the process involved to implement CCE: “This is not rocket science.” Listen to all the expert testimony; questions from the city councilors; mostly lack of response from the Department of the Environment, Energy, and Open Space; and public testimony here:

Video of May 30 City Council Hearing:

Here is an April 2018 update from the Boston Climate Action Network, reporting on the stalled implementation by the City’s Environment Department:

Last fall, the Boston City Council passed, and the mayor signed, an order authorizing the implementation of a Community Choice Energy (CCE) program. The Office of Environment, Energy, and Open Space (EEOS) said that this process would take two years—longer than the norm for surrounding cities and towns with CCE programs—and involve a formal feasibility study. The order recommended soliciting bids from suppliers and establishing a stakeholder advisory group, but EEOS has as yet done neither. Instead, it issued, in March, a Request for Information (RFI) soliciting pages of advice from electricity suppliers, consultants, and other organizations. After reviewing the results, EEOS announced that the failure of any respondent to provide pricing information still leaves questions about the advisability of CCE. EEOS has now added CCE to the mix of alternatives being studied as part of the Carbon Free Boston initiative, whose report is due out at the end of the summer.

BostonCAN is deeply concerned about this series of decisions, which have added months to an already lengthy process. In principle, we agree that CCE should be thought of as one part of Boston’s carbon reduction plan. CCE is not a magic bullet: it will take multiple strategies, implemented soon, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in time to make a difference. The operative word, however, is “soon.” There is world-wide consensus that we have a limited window of opportunity to reduce carbon emissions before climate change reaches a point of no return. In its concern over the costs and risks of implementing the “wrong” solution, we wonder whether EEOS feels this urgency; whether it is sufficiently in touch with the costs and risks of waiting too long. Rather than deferring all new carbon reduction options until the end of an exhaustive study, we would like to see the city fast-track the most “shovel-ready” approaches even as it explores others.

The RFI findings themselves support simplifying the investigation of CCE. Of the seven respondents who replied about whether the city should conduct a feasibility study, five said no. “The feasibility, risks, costs, and benefits of aggregation are well known as a result of the experience of the over 125 Massachusetts communities with active aggregation programs,” explained one writer. Another warned that “offering no real benefit to launch planning, feasibility studies needlessly cause launch delays.” The two organizations who did suggest some form of preliminary research on CCE agreed that it “would not have to be elaborate.”  

Several sayings come to mind: “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” “Not to decide is to decide”—and the one we must never allow to describe Boston’s carbon reduction outcome, “Too little and too late.”


Watch the video of Councilor O’Malley’s brief presentation of the implementation hearing order at the Jan. 24 Council meeting here.

Read the implementation hearing order: CCEOrder