- Since 2017 I have been engaged in the development of the electricity aggregation program in my home city of Newton, the so-called Newton Power Choice. Power aggregation, known also under such names as Community Choice Aggregation and Municipal Aggregation, was first introduced in Massachusetts in 1997 to increase market competition, and is becoming increasingly popular among municipalities nationally. It works as follows. A municipality (or some other entity representing a town or another large community of households), serves as an intermediary in purchasing electric power on behalf of all its residents. Such bulk procurement, generally done through a consultant under a 1-3 year renewable contract, gives the municipality a leverage to negotiate better price and to avoid large price fluctuations. Very recently, power aggregation has been also used to increase the content of renewable electricity sources in the mix. And important feature of all aggregation programs is the opt-out option: people can choose not to participate by taking an active step of opting-out.
More than a hundred municipalities in Massachusetts currently participate in aggregation and of those about two dozen use it as a vehicle to increase the level of renewables generated in the New England region above the state-mandated 13% (so-called Class 1). All but one have set their “default” value for renewables (from which a consumer can opt-out) at 5% above the state-mandated level. The town of Brookline, at 25% default, is an exception. Newton has an opportunity to go far beyond the level chosen by its neighbor and rival Brookline, which has mobilized the very active local grassroots community.
It will take until the fall of 2018 for all the decisions and approvals to be completed. Until then, we will witness a lively contestation over the value of the “default” among all the key actors in Newton. I play a triple role in this process: as a member of the Newton Coalition for Climate Action I am and advocate; as a member of the City Working Group on Power Choice I am part of the process of reconciling and balancing competing objectives: the extra cost of green electricity vs. the City’s commitment to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions; as a member of the Citizens’ Energy Commission I help frame the debate, provide conceptual clarity and ground it in science and empirical data.
- Since 2014 I have been a co-leader in the emerging close collaboration between SCORAI and Urban Sustainability Directors Network USDN on sustainable consumption. The underlying rationale is that cities have a unique role to play in fostering lifestyle choices that carry a small carbon footprint. In 2015 we jointly (with One Earth) published Eugene Memorandum, which articulates the principles and actions that cities can take to foster more sustainable lifestyles and consumption patterns. In 2016 a Toolkit has been completed to help urban sustainability directions with that work.
- Since 2003 and I am member, and more recently Vice Chair, of Citizens Commission on Energy in my home city of Newton, Massachusetts. Members of the Commissions are appointed by the Mayor, City Council, School Committee and Chamber of Commerce. In this capacity the Commission monitors energy consumption in Newton, advises the Mayor and City Council on reduction in energy demands, energy efficiency, renewable energy technologies and energy conservations measures. It also undertakes various initiatives on behalf of the City.
- Between 2009 and 2012 I co-founded and co-led Worcester Housing Energy and Community (WoHEC), a multi stakeholder group in Worcester, Massachusetts, seeking to combine a program in energy retrofits in the residential sector with community development and employment creation for high risk youths. So framed, the initiatives attracted a large group of academics (from Clark University and others), local community activists, politicians and business people.