On buildings like schools, hospitals, and even triple-deckers or individual homes, we can be generating our own electricity with solar and keeping it in battery storage so that we can utilize that energy when there’s an outage and not have a crisis when there’s a climate disaster. In Superstorm Sandy in New York and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, some of the last people to get their power back were the low-income residents. So we have to come up with our own solutions. If we build smart grids that accommodate distributed generation and battery storage, we don’t need large sources of electricity like power plants. Eversource says that we have to keep building substations and that we need diesel generators for blackouts and brownouts. If we had renewable distributed generation and battery storage all across our neighborhoods, that would not be the case.
In Chelsea, we’re working on a community microgrid with solar panels and battery storage at the police station, City Hall, and the 911 dispatch center. The idea is that this will be expanded to include more buildings that are part of the municipality or private buildings that want to join. This will reduce emissions, and it will also increase local resilience at an incredible level.
But on top of funding this infrastructure, we need to enact legislation that breaks down the monopoly power of companies like Eversource and National Grid and puts it back into the communities. You could have a trillion dollars to spend on new infrastructure, but if you don’t have the political will to break the monopoly power of these large generators of electricity, then you will not be addressing equity or environmental justice.
Maria Belen Power is associate executive director at GreenRoots Inc., an environmental organization based in Chelsea. Miles Howard is a freelance journalist in Boston.