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Boston needs to lead on clean energy

Sumul Shah, CEO of Solaya Energy, climbs on a wind turbine at Gloucester’s Blackburn Industrial Park.Zack Wittman for The Boston Globe

President Trump’s failure to act on climate change has conferred an enormous responsibility on local governments. They can’t just sweep the streets and pick up the garbage anymore. They’ve got to save the world.

Or at least, do all they can.

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh has begun to carve out a leadership role. Last month, he announced that the city will host an international climate summit in 2018. Now, he should seize an opportunity to do something concrete: steer more of Boston’s enormous resources into clean energy.

State law already requires utilities to buy 12 percent of their power from renewable sources like wind and solar — a figure that increases by one percentage point each year. But a number of cities and towns, including Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville, have gone further than that, rolling local businesses and residents into buying collectives and purchasing a larger amount of clean energy than mandated.

Last week, the Boston City Council authorized the administration to pursue a similar arrangement, bumping up the clean energy buy in the state’s biggest and most powerful city by five percentage points.


“You only have to look at the news every day to understand that climate change is here; it’s vicious, it’s destructive,” said City Council president Michelle Wu, who pushed the idea with Councilor Matt O’Malley. “It’s not enough just to adapt and be resilient, to react after each hurricane or flood or heat wave and marshal relief efforts. We have to change the physical and economic reality.”

Austin Blackmon, the mayor’s energy and environment chief, said the administration is “really excited” to have the authorization in place, calling the buying collective a “very, very powerful tool.”

He sounded some cautionary notes, though. Before moving ahead, he said, the administration needs to make sure that businesses and residents know what they’re getting into, and that the price is right. Those are reasonable concerns, of course. But they shouldn’t obscure the value of the proposition.


In other cities and towns, the cost of going greener has been entirely manageable. Brookline residential rates went up by a few dollars a month. In Cambridge and Somerville, they dropped slightly. A preliminary estimate from the city of Boston suggests bills could increase by $1 per month.

Wu says she doesn’t think the price will go up that much, if at all. And businesses and residents will be able to opt out, anyhow, and return to basic service if they choose. But even if many customers wind up with a modest increase, it’s a small price to pay. Fighting climate change is going to require some sacrifices, and this is a relatively painless one.

There are lots of reasons for Boston to lead the way with this sort of program. One, of course, is that the city sits on the water and is sure to feel the effects of climate change for years to come. But that’s not all.

Boston is an important city. It’s the largest in New England. It’s filled with top-notch scientists and big thinkers, and its citizens increasingly feel like citizens of the world. Boston needs to do something. This is something. Let’s do it.