Boston – Cities and towns are taking ambitious steps to increase renewable electricity generation, reduce energy use, and shift heating and transportation to clean sources of power, according to a new report from the Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center.
“The best ideas for clean energy often start at the local level,” said Ben Hellerstein, State Director for the Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center. “If we want to have cleaner air, healthier communities, and a safer future for our children, we need to move rapidly toward 100% renewable energy from sources like the sun and the wind. These communities are showing how to make it happen.”
The report, Renewable Communities, features 21 Massachusetts cities and towns that are leading the way to 100% renewable energy.
“I am proud to have spearheaded Boston’s efforts to lead the way to 100% clean, renewable energy,” said Councilor Matt O’Malley, the Chairman of the Boston City Council’s Environment, Sustainability and Parks Committee. “The City of Boston has been at the forefront of efforts promoting renewable energy by increasing the municipal renewable portfolio standard (RPS) by passing Community Choice Energy (CCE) and committing to carbon neutrality by 2050. I am looking forward to Friday’s panel discussion from public and private sectors.”
At an event today, leaders from local government, the clean energy industry, and academia discussed the findings of the report and shared their perspective on the importance of municipal action on clean energy.
“Communities can be renewable energy leaders by addressing the built environment as a critical piece of the puzzle for where deep energy efficiency and electrification of end uses can dramatically improve the resiliency and comfort of existing buildings and also reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Samantha Caputo, Senior Policy & Research Associate at Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships. “Local governments should lead by example with deep efficiency, electric vehicle fleets and transit, and renewable electric and thermal technology in public buildings. Through green zoning ordinances and stretch codes, communities can also require electrification and related deep efficiency in new construction and major renovation.”
The report comes as legislators consider a statewide commitment to 100% renewable energy. The 100% Renewable Energy Act (H.2836, S.1958) would transition Massachusetts to 100% renewable electricity by 2035, and phase out the use of fossil fuels for heating and transportation by 2045. The Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy held a hearing on the bill last week.
So far, 113 legislators have endorsed the 100% Renewable Energy Act.
“My entire career in commercial solar development and my work at Resonant Energy has been dedicated to expanding access to clean energy to nonprofits and low-income communities in cities,” said Isaac Baker, Co-Founder and President of Development at Resonant Energy. “Our climate policies have to play a stronger role in ensuring that vulnerable communities are among the first to benefit from clean energy. We work with community organizers and coalitions on this because we believe that a just transition is possible and that cities can and should be powered by clean energy.
"As an environmental epidemiologist I study how climate change impacts the health of vulnerable populations,” said Lindsey Butler, a scientist and PhD candidate in Environmental Health at the Boston University School of Public Health. "Fossil fuels have profound negative impacts on public health through both their warming capacity and their contribution to dangerous levels of air pollution. We can and must address these problems with our transition to 100% renewable energy, and cities and towns are uniquely positioned to lead the way in this important transition."
In recent weeks, Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center has visited five communities to share a preview of the report with municipal officials and business leaders.
“These communities are leading the way on clean energy,” said Hellerstein. “We hope to see state leaders follow their example.”
Quotes from state and local leaders:
"It's encouraging to see such momentum for a commitment to renewable energy by so many municipalities," said State Representative Marjorie Decker. "We know that the devastating impacts of climate change will only increase if we do not take bold action. While municipalities continue to move towards 100% renewables, I am proud to have filed a bill with my colleague Rep. Sean Garballey that would transition the state of Massachusetts to a fully renewable energy grid. The future of our children and grandchildren depend upon it."
“It is encouraging to see communities like Arlington leading the way in finding innovative ways to increase clean energy and energy efficiency,” said State Representative Sean Garballey. “Massachusetts must lead the way in the United States by passing 100% renewable energy legislation.”
“More and more Massachusetts communities have started transitioning to 100% renewable energy because they realize that this will protect us all from the destructive effects of climate change, and have the added benefit of creating tens of thousands of jobs,” said State Senator Jamie Eldridge. “It is my hope that the legislature can build on the progress being made by these communities and pass a statewide bill that will move the Commonwealth towards a clean energy future with a commitment to environmental justice for all communities regardless of zip code or race.”
“As a two-term member of the Select Board, I was proud to advocate for local initiatives to ensure that Lexington leads the way toward a sustainable and healthy future for Massachusetts” said State Representative Michelle Ciccolo. “Now in my first year as a state legislator, I am excited to have the opportunity to continue my advocacy for clean and renewable energy as a member of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.”
"Municipalities across the Commonwealth know what they need to do to address climate change. They just haven't had the resources,” said State Representative Paul Schmid. “The Greenworks bill passed by the house July 24 will provide over one billion dollars to our cities and towns and fits nicely with Governor Baker's climate change bill."
“I had the valuable opportunity to work on the GreenWorks legislation that passed the House this past Wednesday and the theme that kept coming up was that there needs to be an equal focus placed on both adaptation and mitigation,” said State Representative Antonio Cabral. “As a state, we must collectively lower emissions and consume less energy. At the city-level, New Bedford has made significant progress on this mitigation front . . . We all have a role to play in the fight against climate change – we just need to use the tools available to us.”
“In recent years, Amherst has taken major steps to reduce our carbon footprint and increase clean energy,” said Lynn Griesemer, President of the Amherst Town Council. “The Zero Energy Town Buildings Bylaw is one way we can ensure that Amherst continues to support renewable energy and serve as an example of sustainable development.”
“To avoid the worst impacts of global warming, we need to transition off of fossil fuels as soon as we can,” said Stephanie Ciccarello, Amherst Sustainability Coordinator. “Transportation is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state. Increasing access to emissions-free transportation through programs like ValleyBike is one important way to address this issue.”
"Buildings account for 66% of Lexington's greenhouse gas emissions. Making both our homes and businesses more energy efficient will help reduce their carbon footprint," said Caryl Dlugy, the Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of the Lexington Chamber of Commerce and owner of Lexington’s Get In Shape For Women. "We hope to see the local clean energy economy grow!"
“In Lexington, we’re working to reduce our energy consumption and improve our town’s energy efficiency. Our net-zero energy schools signal our commitment to clean energy,” said Lexington Selectman Mark Sandeen. “We’re excited to have our efforts celebrated in this report, and are eager to keep working towards a sustainable, healthy future for Lexington.”
“Concord has committed to reducing community-wide greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050 and that means decarbonizing all sectors as soon as possible,” said Kate Hanley, Director of Sustainability for the Town of Concord. “Transportation makes up almost 40% of Concord’s emissions. The electric school bus pilot was a great opportunity to start electrifying our fleet and demonstrate the co-benefits of electric buses like improved air quality and enhanced resilience.”
“Our climate is already changing, which is a serious threat to all of us in Massachusetts,” said Sue Klem, an environmental advocate from Lincoln. "For the sake of our town, particularly the children, our goal is to transition as quickly as possible to 100% renewable energy.”
“As a coastal city and the center of the commercial fishing industry on the East Coast, New Bedford has a lot at stake when it comes to climate change and sea-level rise,” said New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell. “We have led by example on these issues, so we appreciate the recognition of our efforts to embrace renewable energy. We have installed more than 16 megawatts of land-based solar and wind projects, positioned ourselves to be a leader in offshore wind energy, and pushed hard to convert our municipal fleet to electric vehicles.”
“At the SouthCoast Chamber, we are happy to see clean energy become more accessible for families and businesses,” said Rick Kidder, President and CEO of the SouthCoast Chamber of Commerce. “Achieving 100% renewable energy for Massachusetts would keep more dollars within our local economy and presents a great opportunity for job growth.”
"As MAPC strives to support cities and towns to set and reach net zero goals, we are proud to raise up the success stories of our communities with Environment Massachusetts today, and to work toward a brighter climate future together in the days ahead," said Cammy Peterson, Director of Clean Energy at Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), the regional planning agency serving the 101 cities and towns of Metro Boston.
“To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to transition off of fossil fuels as soon as we can,” said Arlington Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine. “Transportation is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state. Implementing designated bus lanes, as we have in Arlington, encourages the use of public transit options by improving their service and reliability. When commuters choose to take a bus and keep their cars off the road, we reduce our carbon footprint.”
"Climate change isn't coming, climate change is here, and for the health, safety and well-being of our residents, I believe municipalities have a moral imperative to take action," said Edward Lewis, Energy Manager for the Town of Watertown. "Watertown's first in New England zoning ordinance, which requires certain commercial buildings to install solar, does just that. This ordinance will decrease Watertown's carbon footprint, increase building sustainability, and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, all while providing the local economic benefits that come with the installation of solar."
"Newton Power Choice has allowed residents to match their homes’ electricity use with renewable energy," said Ann Berwick, the Co-Director of Sustainability for the City of Newton. "Residents of Newton will match 60% of their electricity with resources like solar or wind power in the default energy package, with the choice to opt up to 100% clean energy. And rates will remain competitive, making even the 100% renewable package a completely affordable option."
"If we are to avoid the worst economic, health, and environmental impacts of climate change, we must take action now," said Oliver Sellers-Garcia, Director of Sustainability and the Environment for the City of Somerville. "Somerville's Climate Forward Plan identifies steps the city can take in the short- and medium-term to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the resiliency of our community.”