The city of Boston is finally getting into the electricity-buying business.
Dozens of Massachusetts municipalities have already put their residents in group-buying programs, switching them from their local utility, largely to get more renewable electricity. Boston was the big market that had eluded the energy brokers — until now.
Environmental activists had been getting antsy. The Walsh administration sent out requests for information after the City Council endorsed the idea last fall, but did not take a big step toward hiring a broker. Many worried Mayor Marty Walsh was applying the brakes. (Protesters even tried to embarrass Walsh when he hosted the US Conference of Mayors in June.) Austin Blackmon, Walsh’s energy chief at the time, expressed concerns about potential higher costs for ratepayers and whether some residents would unknowingly be swept up into the program. Blackmon left City Hall to join a California solar company this summer.
Boston officially began on Monday to solicit consulting firms that could launch and run an electricity aggregation program for the city. Boston municipal energy director David Musselman denied that the administration intentionally slow-walked this. He points to the nearly $100,000 in the mayor’s budget for this fiscal year to hire an energy consultant as proof.
Environmental advocates rejoiced. If Boston’s plan ends up resembling those in nearby communities, most residents and small businesses would be placed in a program that provides more “green” electricity than Eversource’s default service offers. (Currently, Eversource and National Grid need to get 13 percent of what they procure from renewable sources, a figure that goes up every year.) Consumers could opt out, and stick with Eversource. Either way, the utility still delivers the electricity.
It’s too early to know if this process will lead to higher rates — green energy is often more expensive, but not always. City officials might back out if they don’t like the price they see. Boston’s size should give it pricing leverage. The same principle holds true for those who stay with Eversource, but for a different reason: The utility is losing buying power as more cities and towns opt to get into the electricity-purchasing business for themselves.