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Cambridge wants to cut ties with TransCanada over KeystoneXL

Cambridge officials want to cut ties with the company that supplies electricity to its municipal buildings, citing the contractor’s controversial KeystoneXL proposal for a crude oil pipeline from Canada through the United States.

TransCanada, which has offices in Boston, keeps the lights on at many Cambridge facilities, but lawmakers last week passed a policy order requesting that City Manager Richard Rossi refrain from entering into contracts with the company after the current deal expires this year.

“It’s now or never,” said City Councilor Dennis Carlone, who sponsored the legislation.

Council members passed the proposal unanimously, backing Carlone’s “rebuke” of the energy giant.


The proposed pipeline is at the center of a rift between President Obama and congressional Republicans. Obama has questioned the environmental effects of the 1,179-mile pipeline extending from Alberta to Nebraska, and last month vetoed a proposal to allow the start of construction.

Representatives from TransCanada said oil pipelines such as KeystoneXL represent just a fraction of their business, and have nothing to do with the municipal power deal.

“Regardless of the type of product we are transporting or the kind of energy we are producing, we will continue to do so safely and in an environmentally sustainable way,” said Sharan Kaur, spokeswoman for the TransCanada Corp.

Even so, elected leaders are requesting that Rossi now shop around for an energy provider that can provide 100 percent renewable power for Cambridge by 2016.

The review will take into account the price of such a switch, and Rossi will report back to the council with recommendations before the city takes action.

Cambridge’s current contract with TransCanada, which started in 2010, expires at the end of this year.

TransCanada has provided electricity to Cambridge for the past 10 years, according to representatives from the company.

Amy Whitts, Cambridge’s purchasing agent, said in fiscal year 2014 the city was billed approximately $3.2 million by TransCanada, for electricity supplied to a combination of buildings and outdoor facilities including traffic signals and athletic fields.


Carlone said his proposal goes beyond opposition to the pipeline. He developed it with the help of the local group Mothers Out Front, which has been pushing to take fossil fuels out of the municipal power mix.

“If TransCanada is going to continue with its business of extracting oil from tar sands, then we shouldn’t be buying our electricity from them,” he wrote in a letter to constituents last month.

Carlone said he looked at how other municipalities have approached the issue of fossil fuels.

Officials in Palo Alto, Calif., “took the leap” in 2013, and enacted a Carbon Neutral Electric Resource Plan, turning the city into one of “only a handful of places” to rely on 100 percent carbon-neutral electricty, according to that city’s website.

Kaur said TransCanada is willing to be part of the conversation for how Cambridge can use fewer fossil fuels.

“As has been the case for the past 10 years of service, we welcome any discussions with the City of Cambridge,” about any objectives they may have around renewable power commitments,” she said in a statement.

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.