After more than three years of deliberations, Boston is finally ready to join dozens of other cities and towns in the region by pooling its residents together in a bid for greener energy.
Households in Boston that don’t choose a different option by Jan. 11 will end up with a plan that would secure 28 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, compared to the state’s mandated minimum of 18 percent for 2021. However, that default plan still will be slightly cheaper than the basic rate that Eversource is charging, at least through June.
“We think it’s a real benefit that is going to offer more savings against the Eversource price point,” said Christopher Cook, the city’s energy and environmental chief. “This is the real benefit of municipal aggregation [and] the reason the advocates were so excited about proposing this for a city as big as Boston.”
The trend toward municipal aggregation, referred to by city officials as “Community Choice Electricity,” kicked off in Greater Boston several years ago. Dozens of smaller communities adopted these plans as a way to help the environment after a few energy brokers pitched the idea.
Environmental advocates had proposed it for Boston in 2017, when city councilors Michelle Wu and Matt O’Malley championed the concept. But the Walsh administration, under a previous energy chief, was initially reluctant, primarily because of cost concerns.
Eventually, in March 2019, Boston hired an energy broker, Colonial Power Group, to get in on the action. By that point, aggregation was viewed by city officials as crucial to Boston’s long-term goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. About 150 cities and towns in Massachusetts had already aggregated their purchasing of power, mostly for environmental reasons.
State lawmakers, meanwhile, are pushing the state even further toward renewables. Negotiators on Beacon Hill reached a last-minute accord over the weekend on a far-ranging climate bill that would, among other things, incentivize the construction of more solar plants and more contracts for offshore wind power. The compromise bill would also accelerate the statewide renewable electricity mandates, to ensure at least 40 percent of electricity in Massachusetts comes from green sources by 2030.
In Boston’s effort to seek more renewable energy, city officials working with Colonial Power recently lined up electricity supplies from Constellation, a division of Exelon Co., for as many as 190,000 residential accounts and up to an estimated 31,000 business accounts. (Many larger businesses are already buying their electricity supplies from another provider.) Eversource will continue to distribute the electricity over its power lines.
The city has been notifying residents in the past few weeks of their options under this new municipal aggregation effort, and it has been hosting webinars in multiple languages to explain the alternatives.
If residents don’t act, they will be placed in a default plan that is, on average, $2.84 cheaper per month than the Eversource bills they are paying right now, and 28 percent of their power will be slated to come from renewable sources, such as solar panels and wind turbines.
Residents can choose to “opt down” to a plan that is, on average, $5.54 cheaper than Eversource, but with a supply mix that includes 18 percent green power. They can also pick a 100-percent renewable option, but at a price that is, on average, $17.29 per month more expensive than the Eversource basic service rate. Or they can decide to stick with Eversource.
The city’s new contract for electricity supplies runs for nine months, starting in February. The comparable Eversource plan starts in January — a month when electricity is particularly expensive because of cold-weather demand — and runs until June.
Cook said he hopes the city can procure even more green energy, and for a longer period of time, during the next bidding process, He said city officials opted to be conservative in this go-around, to protect consumers.
“We felt this was a responsible price point where we’re saving people money but also increasing renewables,” Cook said.
The amount of renewable electricity in a particular municipality’s aggregated supply varies significantly, from 18 percent in Cambridge to 80 percent in Newton.
Like Boston, many other cities and towns require residents to knowingly opt out of the default plan if they want a cheaper alternative. This is done to ensure the municipalities have enough critical mass to make buying electricity collectively worthwhile.
But it still rankles Edgar Dworsky, the editor of ConsumerWorld.org in Somerville.
“It is unfortunate that Boston chose the same anti-consumer, negative option method that other cities and towns have used to boost signups,” Dworsky wrote in an e-mail. “Residents who didn’t understand the mailing or never read it are going to be automatically switched into the plan the city chose, which is not even the least expensive one available.”
However, Andrew Wells-Bean, campaign coordinator for the Boston Climate Action Network, praised city officials for developing a plan that brings more green power to Boston without increasing the cost for residents. Wells-Bean said the city tried a few creative concepts, such as offering a discount for low-income residents, but those requests didn’t make it through the state Department of Public Utilities this time. They could be revisited in the future.
“We think this is definitely a win for consumers; it’s a win for [the city’s] climate goals and moves us toward a carbon-neutral city,” Wells-Bean said. He added that it’s like “tens of thousands of cars being taken off the road [every year]. When Boston goes out to bid the next time, they’ll be able to do more.”
Jon Chesto can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.