The Energy and Sustainability Committee will recommend to the Select Board that the next contract for energy under community choice aggregation increase the proportion of renewables in the default position to 35 percent.
Last week the committee voted to call for a local percentage increase of at least 15 percent, compared to the current 5 percent. The amount of green energy in an aggregation plan is expressed in terms of a percentage above the state’s renewable portfolio standard, currently set at 20 percent for electricity generated by renewables in the region.
The matter is expected to be discussed by the Select Board at its virtual meeting on May 3. The current contract doesn’t expire until December, but the town’s energy procurement consultant recommends bidding for terms now because of favorable market conditions. “The market right now is very good for renewal and we want to get that bid,” said John O’Rourke of Good Energy.
The decision disappointed some members of the local advocacy group Mothers Out Front, who at the beginning of the meeting described an ongoing petition drive for 100 percent renewables as the default choice.
Renu Bostwick told the committee that during the current aggregation contract, 41 ratepayers opted for 100 percent. The group so far has 101 signatures on its petition. She mentioned that the likely monthly additional cost would be $12 to $15.
“We think it’s a great way to make sure as much renewables as possible are being used by our town,” she asserted, pointing out that “there’s always an opt-down function for those who need it economically.”
Select Board Chair Margot Fleischman, who has a seat on the committee, said customers committed to full renewables can choose to “opt up” regardless of the default. “People don’t often take that extra initiative even if they want to,” Bostwick replied.
Bedford’s community choice aggregation program for electricity began in August 2019. Residents who do nothing will accept the default choice; they can also select other renewable options or withdraw entirely from aggregation and revert to Eversource’s basic residential service.
Daria Mark of Good Energy outlined to the committee four considerations when restructuring. They are the market price for electricity; the market price for renewable energy certificates (they certify claims of renewable energy use); the community’s appetite for renewables; and the risk of attrition among participants.
“You always have to be conscious of price sensitivity among your residents,” O’Rourke said. It can be “very tempting to compare with other towns but be cognizant of what your population wants. If you try to go too high you are going to get a lot of pushback. You have to balance price with the amount of renewable energy you want to put in the default.”
Significant attrition could impact rates, as well as the stability of the program,” Mark said. “You should be confident that the level you pick will be accepted by the community.” But member Dan Bostwick pointed out that “climate change is also a risk. There are risks all around.”
“We can make a strong push to opt up, but we don’t want to lose people,” commented Emily Price, committee chair.
“We know we really need to do this, but by doing this we need to take their cautions to heart,” said member Robert Dorer.
Good Energy isn’t allowed to communicate with ratepayers who opt out, Mark said. She also noted that attrition “leaves a window for marketers who send official-looking things that are not expertly timed.” These choices often turn out to be more expensive than anything under community aggregation, noted Facilities Director Taissir Alani, who has reviewed some of the bills. Fleischman said she hopes the committee can explore sending an informational mailing to all residents.
“If everybody who signed the petition opted up instead, that would be an indicator of the buy-in,” said Fleischman. “There is a variety of income levels and appetites” for electricity prices. “The more buy-in we can demonstrate the easier it will be to increase the rate of renewables, contract over contract.”
Fleischman pointed out that the town has “a net-zero policy that provides some guidance and structure around decision making.” Asked by Prince if there is a number that aligns with the policy, Fleischman said “if we stayed at 10 percent we would hit the target in 2050.” Bedford’s net-zero plan goal is 50 percent green by 2030 and 100 percent green by 2050.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763