If you’re concerned about high Eversource utility bills in Boston this winter, you have an alternative.
Mayor Michelle Wu announced on Wednesday new electricity rates through the city’s Community Choice Electricity program that are lower than prices offered by Eversource. Wu says the plan can not only save Bostonians money, but also reduce carbon emissions because it empowers residents to choose a greener energy supply mix. She is encouraging all residents to use the program.
”This reinforces our administration’s commitment to making Boston a Green New Deal city that is affordable, accessible, and sustainable for all residents,” Wu said at a press conference at VietAID in Dorchester. “It ensures that our residents and small businesses can pay lower rates and choose how we power our communities, and is a critical part of our strategy for energy democracy.”
The announcement comes as Eversource prepares to increase its energy rates. Beginning on Jan. 1, 2022, the utility’s basic service rate will cost residents 15 cents per kilowatt hour of energy. That’s the highest price the utility has charged in 15 years.
The city of Boston rolled out Community Choice Electricity, or CCE, this past January, joining dozens of other cities and towns in the region that have similar schemes in place. These programs allow cities to buy cheaper, greener energy directly for local homes and businesses. After a competitive bid process, Boston decided to buy its CCE’s power from a Baltimore-based firm, Constellation.
Boston’s CCE offers three different power plans, all of which will cost less than Eversource’s upcoming basic service rate for a period of at least six months. To see how much you’d save in both dollars and planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions each month with each plan, city officials have created a calculator in which you can input your monthly energy use. You can find it on the city’s website.
All CCEs in Massachusetts operate on an opt-out basis. That means that if you live in Boston, you are automatically entered into the program unless you choose to use Eversource by filling out the necessary paperwork.
Residents who don’t choose a different option are enrolled in a default plan and charged 11 cents per kilowatt hour for power. Under this plan, 28 percent of customers’ energy will come from renewable sources. Wu’s administration says the average customer using this plan is expected to spend $27 less per month more than a customer on Eversource’s Basic Service plan.
“I don’t know about you, but I think $27 is worth saving,” the Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, the city’s chief of environment, energy and open space, said.
Residents can choose to “opt down” to a plan that costs approximately 10 cents per kilowatt hour with an energy supply mix that includes 18 percent renewable power. (Under Massachusetts’ renewable portfolio standard law, 18 percent is the minimum amount of energy that retail electricity suppliers can currently obtain from renewables.)
Bostonians can also choose a 100 percent renewable option, which costs about 13 cents per kilowatt hour. City officials say that the program could reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by up to 9 percent if every single account on basic services opts into the 100 percent renewable plan.
“That’s really a gigantic amount more renewable energy for not that high a price increase,” Cameron Peterson, director of clean energy for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, said of the 100 percent option. “Especially when you consider that ... compared to Eversource, you’re still saving about 3 cents per kilowatt hour.”
Eversource uses 18 percent renewable energy, adhering to the minimum set by state law. The firm does not offer options for Boston residents to change their power mix.
An Eversource spokesperson said the firm encourages its customers to assess their options. “As a regulated utility, we go through a competitive bid process to procure the most competitive price possible for our customers on the wholesale market and in accordance with the Commonwealth’s clean energy goals,” the spokesperson said.
Some critics wish the city had automatically enrolled residents in the least expensive plan, yet city officials have defended automatic enrollments in the greener plan, which is only slightly costlier, as a tool in fighting climate change.
Rates under CCE plans also provide consistency. While CCE’s new prices will remain in effect until December 2023, Eversource changes its rates every six months. Customers can opt up, down, or out of the program via an online form, though it may take a few billing cycles for the change to go into effect. Customers on a budget plan or with an eligible low-income energy rate will continue to receive those benefits on the CCE plan.
In addition to upping Boston’s use of renewable power, officials say the CCE program can help boost equity, especially by reducing the prevalence of predatory third-party electricity suppliers.
These firms, of which there are dozens Massachusetts, go door to door or call residents directly, promising to reduce their energy costs. Several months later, though, many users see their bills increase dramatically, and learn that there are high fees associated with canceling these contracts. From July 2015 to June 2020, electric customers in Massachusetts who used such suppliers paid a combined $426 million more than they would have had they stayed with their utility company, according to a report from the attorney general’s office.
That study also showed that third-party suppliers specifically go after low-income residents, immigrants, elderly people, and communities of color. Residents in Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan, East Boston, Hyde Park, Roslindale, and Jamaica Plain were most heavily targeted.
White-Hammond said that one such supplier knocked on her door, “not knowing that I was an energy advocate.” If residents have questions about their energy plans, she said, they can call her department for help.
Massachusetts is one of 10 US states that permit the formation of CCEs. Some 150 other Massachusetts cities and towns have such programs in place. Wu has been a champion of Boston’s CCE program for years. When she was a city councilor, she was one of two representatives to propose the creation of Boston’s program.
Wu has big plans to up Boston’s commitment to clean power as a part of her vision for a Green New Deal. In November, she signed her first ordinance in office, divesting city funds from fossil fuels. Last week, she outlined steps to reduce vehicle emissions.
“We encourage you to enroll in CCE and opt in as soon as possible to avoid these winter price hikes,” said Wu. “This is a step not just to lower your rates, but to invest in protecting our environment and investing in our shared future.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the locations of Wu’s press conference and the headquarters of Constellation.