We demand our gas utilities shift to renewables

This is a critical time to say no to methane

ONE MORNING, as Elena was walking her children to school, her 8-year-old son suddenly said: “Mom, I smell gas!” He was smelling gas from one of Massachusetts’s 15,000 unrepaired leaks, spewing 5,700 tons of gas in our atmosphere each year. Massachusetts has a program to fix leaks, but it can’t keep up with the problem: as soon as a leak is repaired, a new one emerges. Sensors revealed that the amount of gas in Boston’s air is actually six times higher than the state’s estimates.

The “natural gas” that Elena’s son smelled was methane. Methane is not only a fossil fuel, it is also a potent greenhouse gas that traps heat in our atmosphere, contributing to climate change.

The effects of climate change in our state are all too evident. 2021 was Boston’s hottest year and the risks from excessive heat can be life-threatening for those living in heat islands. Scorching heat, damage from increasingly potent hurricanes, sea level rise, biodiversity loss… This is not the present we wish to live in. This is not the future we want for our children.

The United States launched a Global Methane Pledge to reduce global methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. Massachusetts has a goal to reach net-zero by 2050. How can these targets be achieved if we keep depending on methane? What is a pledge to cut emissions worth if methane is leaking into the atmosphere unaccounted for?

Methane also presents serious health and safety risks. Gas stoves release chemicals that are particularly harmful for people with asthma. We were shocked to learn that emissions from stoves increase our children’s risk of developing respiratory diseases by 20 percent. Worse, most stoves leak methane from loose fittings even when they are not in use. It is like having an open tap spewing harmful gas in our home, all the time. The explosions in the Merrimack Valley left an indelible memory of how dangerous gas can be.

This is a critical time to say no to methane. The utilities that bring methane gas to our homes have until March 2022 to develop plans to reach net zero emissions by 2050. But letting utility companies determine our energy future is like putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

At Mothers Out Front, we are determined to provide all children with a healthy environment. This is why last fall we mobilized, with hundreds of mothers from across the state, to tell our gas utility companies that we want a future where our heat and power come from safe and healthy renewable energy.

On November 17, 2021, we picked up our children from school and headed to Copley Square. There, we chanted with dozens of other mothers and children. From East Boston to Brookline, we were all there for one reason: to deliver hundreds of postcards to Eversource, our utility company, demanding an energy future free of gas.

That same day, Mothers Out Front volunteers – together with members of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team – delivered postcards to Berkshire Gas in Pittsfield and to National Grid in Waltham. They delivered a total of three thousand postcards, asking gas utilities for an energy future that relies on electricity produced by clean, renewable sources, such as wind, solar and geothermal.

Gas utility companies need to know that we are watching and that customers should not bear the cost of their poor planning.  We expect them to be at the forefront of a green transition toward clean and affordable energy. Utility workers can be retrained to participate in the green energy economy and hold jobs that pay good salaries. Low-income communities overburdened by climate risk should be prioritized, with access to financial resources to choose safer and greener energy options – to keep homes warm in winter and cool in our increasingly hot summers. The technologies to switch to clean energy are here and are increasingly affordable; they should be available to those who need them the most.

Last December, a delegation of mothers was hosted by National Grid president Steven Woerner, who acknowledged the need to move away from fossil gas to reduce emissions. That same day, another delegation met with William Ackley, president of the gas business unit at Eversource, who shared his commitment to expand renewable energy infrastructure. We hope gas utilities will present a specific timeline to make this happen soon and at scale. Absent that commitment, we will continue to mobilize to hold them accountable.

We, as mothers and others, will not let our children’s future be bargained for the short-term and short-sighted profits of utility shareholders. We refuse to support a system that is destroying itself and ourselves at the same time.  For our children, for all children, we will not let utility companies go unchecked anymore.

Elena Fagotto is a climate activist, an expert in health and safety regulations, and a member of Mothers Out Front. She lives in Cambridge and is the mother of two children. Alice Plan is an adjunct professor at Brown University, whose research revolves around climate change, and a member of Mothers Out Front. She lives in Cambridge and is the mother of two children.