Cities want renewable energy

The state should boost its clean energy standard

ACCORDING TO THE United Nations, cities are responsible for 75 percent of carbon dioxide pollution. We believe this means cities have a special responsibility to act to reduce the emissions that are warming our planet.

And we have stepped up. Medford and Pittsfield are on opposite sides of the Commonwealth, but we are representative of mayors all across the state who are leading their communities to reduce their carbon footprint and “act on climate.”

In 2012, Pittsfield participated in the Solarize Mass program, which assisted 39 residents to install rooftop solar, generating an estimated 313 kilowatts of electricity. Pittsfield has worked with local utilities and funders to establish a Powering Pittsfield program which aims to cluster energy efficiency audits in downtown commercial and residential neighborhoods. The city also implemented projects that focused on reducing electricity usage and generating on-site renewable energy that will leave its wastewater treatment plant nearly self-sufficient with respect to its electrical energy needs. These projects include a combined heat and power system, an aeration process upgrade and a solar photovoltaic array. Pittsfield has also recently begun the construction of a 3-megawatt municipal solar power plant on a capped municipal landfill.

Medford has also taken many steps to reduce its carbon footprint. The city has installed more efficient lighting in all municipal buildings, and is now working to upgrade them to LED. Old inefficient boilers have been replaced with highly efficient ones, and the Go Green Medford program, which helps Medford residents take steps to reduce energy use, received the Pickard Innovation Award from the Mass. Municipal Association for “originality, cost effectiveness, efficiency, productivity, community satisfaction, and its ability to address a common community issue.” Part of the Go Green Medford program included a round of Solarize Medford, which helped 48 residents and businesses, including Tufts University, install 322 kilowatts of solar electricity.

Increasing solar installations and energy efficiency investments are not only good for the climate, they mean jobs for Massachusetts workers.

Cities are doing their part, but we are even more effective when we partner with our colleagues in government at the state level.  One great example is the Green Communities Program. This program provides financial incentives for cities and towns to voluntarily take steps to reduce energy usage. This is not only good for climate, it’s also good for municipal budgets. Money saved on energy bills can be redeployed to schools, public safety, or open space.

But there is more we can do and would like to do with state leadership. While the Green Communities Program helps save energy, it doesn’t change the source of that energy. And currently Massachusetts gets nearly 90 percent of its energy from fossil fuels. We will not make a meaningful dent in our carbon footprint until we ramp up the percentage of renewables in our energy mix.

That is where the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) comes in. The RPS requires our electric utilities to purchase a certain percentage of renewable energy, such as solar and wind, annually. The RPS is currently set at 11 percent and increases by 1 percentage point a year.  At that rate, by 2030 only 25 percent of our power will come from clean energy. In contrast, California and New York have requirements of 50 percent renewable electricity by 2030, double our target. Maryland just increased their RPS to 25 percent by 2020,  a full 10 years before us.

As state legislators consider energy legislation over the coming weeks, we strongly urge them to include a provision, first proposed by Sen. Ben Downing of Pittsfield, to double the RPS rate of increase to two percentage points a year. Doing so will help cities and towns meet our climate change goals, it will grow clean energy jobs here in the Commonwealth, and it will also help our local economies – money spent on renewable energy here is money not sent out of state to fossil fuel producers.

Meet the Author

Linda M. Tyer

Mayor, City of Pittsfield
Meet the Author

When it comes to our energy future, Massachusetts cities and towns don’t want fracked gas pipelines which destroy conservation land, devalue private property, and which would make our state more vulnerable to price swings of a globally traded commodity. We want more homegrown energy in the form of solar, onshore wind, offshore wind and energy efficiency.

Linda M. Tyer is mayor of Pittsfield. Stephanie M. Burke is mayor of Medford.