Power brokers: Boston to join other cities to collectively buy energy from renewable sources
At the start of a series of conferences involving mayors from across the country, Mayor Martin J. Walsh plans to announce Thursday an effort to team up with cities from Orlando to Los Angeles to collectively buy renewable energy, hoping a collaboration of cities will increase their buying power to cut down on costs and spur incentives to create green energy.
Walsh plans to make the announcement at his welcome address at Boston’s first International Mayors Climate Summit at Boston University, a daylong series of workshops on ways communities can team up to combat climate change. The summit will be followed over the next four days by the US Conference of Mayors’ annual meeting, a gathering of more than 250 mayors to discuss and adopt policy resolutions.
“Climate change and climate resiliency is not a city issue, it’s a nationwide issue, and any time we can partner with other cities and towns it’s important for us to do so,” Walsh said in an interview, announcing the plans for the “large-scale renewable energy initiative.”
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti endorsed the plan. “Cities wield the power to create demand and transform the energy market — and when we act together, we can show the world that environmental stewardship and economic prosperity go hand in hand,” he said in a statement. “As a co-chair of Climate Mayors, I’m proud to stand beside Mayor Walsh in the work of amplifying the role of cities and upholding the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.”
The plan would mirror a local, smaller initiative by MIT, Boston Medical Center, and Post Office Square Redevelopment Corporation two years ago to unite to buy electricity from a new solar power installation in North Carolina. The agreement enabled the construction of a 650-acre, 60-megawatt solar farm.
Municipalities have used a similar collaboration formula before, for instance to encourage the development of police cruisers at lower costs, though Boston’s attempt to form an alliance is believed to be the first collaboration to buy renewable energy.
Austin Blackmon, the city’s chief of environment, energy and open space, said the initiative could lower costs for solar energy, and help the city accomplish its goals of going carbon-neutral by 2050.
The city spent about $9 million on its electricity supply in 2017, and electricity use for government operations represented 35 percent of the city’s overall carbon footprint in that year, he said.
Blackmon said it is not yet known how much the city could save on spending on electricity by participating in an alliance, or how much renewable energy the city could acquire to cut down on its reliance on default energy.
The first stage of the initiative is for communities to unite and gather data on their demand for renewable energy, and then seek proposals such as pricing from developers who have an interest in creating solar energy facilities.
Already, Blackmon said, major cities such as Los Angeles, Orlando, Chicago, Houston, and Portland, Ore., have signed on to the plan, and he hopes the announcement will attract other interested communities.
“What we have done is, we have looked at our own internal inventory, we recognize we want to be carbon neutral, we want to lead by example,” Blackmon said, saying the alliance is an opportunity for communities to move forward on renewable energy at a time that the federal government has increased its reliance on natural resources, such as coal.
The climate summit, featuring representatives from more than two dozen communities across the country, and involving panel discussions on clean energy and transportation methods, comes as Boston is serving as host to other conferences with national delegations over this past week and into the weekend.
The BIO International Convention, hosted by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization that represents more than 1,000 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, and government centers, began on Monday. The International Conference on Opioids begins Sunday at the Harvard Medical School.
And the four-day US Conference of Mayors begins Friday, with a series of workshops and discussions, ranging from a “Fireside Chat” between Walsh and Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, to panels on public safety, affordable housing, and the opioid crisis.
Walsh, who chairs the conference’s committee on community development and housing, has attended the annual conference before, including last year in Miami. He said they serve as opportunities for mayors to assess what works in other communities.
“The conference is about sharing best practices, in how you do things,” he said in an interview. “It’s talking about ‘how do you move the city forward.’ ”