Business & Tech

Boston City Council authorizes green electricity purchase on behalf of residents

Gloucester, Mass. 6/29/14 A wind turbine on Friday, June 27, 2014 in Gloucester's Blackburn Industrial Park. Perched more than 250 feet above ground, the turbines are expected to save the city of Gloucester $11 million in electricity costs over 25 years. (Zack Wittman for the Boston Globe)
A wind turbine in Gloucester's Blackburn Industrial Park.

Boston’s city council took a big step Wednesday toward buying electricity on behalf of residents, following many nearby communities that already have done so in an effort to increase the use of renewable energy.

The council approved a resolution adopting a Community Choice Energy program for the city, at the prompting of councilors Michelle Wu and Matt O’Malley. The two want residents to use more energy that comes from renewable sources than what’s offered through Eversource’s basic plan. The effort would be run by Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration.

The municipal aggregation initiative, like its suburban counterparts, would eventually place residents and small businesses into an electricity plan that relies on more renewable energy than the amount that utilities must buy to meet state mandates.

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A recent analysis conducted for the Walsh administration determined that a modest increase in renewable sources above what is required by the state would cost customers about $1 a month extra, or $12 a year more than Eversource’s basic plan.

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About 200,000 residential accounts and 21,000 small business accounts could be in play in Boston. Many big businesses already shop around for their electricity supplies.

Austin Blackmon, Walsh’s energy and environment chief, said he and the mayor continue to have concerns about the program’s costs. Blackmon said he will begin working with state officials on the next steps in the energy procurement, but the process could take 18 to 24 months.

“Our focus is really on making sure we come up with a plan to inform all of our businesses and residents about the impact on their rates, and to make clear what their options are,” Blackmon said. “This is the very first step. We’re going to keep all our options on the table.”

Municipal aggregation plans like the one Boston is considering only involve the supply portion of electric bills, and include an option for consumers and businesses to opt out of them. Participating ratepayers still pay their utilities, primarily Eversource or National Grid, to get power to their homes and businesses.

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.