In Split Decision, Select Board Votes to Increase Percentage of Electricity from Renewables

The Select Board voted 3-2 Monday to increase the percentage of electricity generated by renewables from 5 to 20 as the default option in the next community aggregation contract, which is expected late this year.

Since the state mandates a 20 percent baseline of renewables, the vote means the percentage actually will be 40. Participants in the plan will also have options to increase to 50 or 100 percent, as well as decrease to the baseline.

The monthly average price increase with the increase was estimated at $6, but that could change with the upcoming bids.

The split vote represented a philosophical difference: committing to a higher level of renewables versus cost increases that could deter participation.

Community choice aggregation began here in August 2019. The current contract expires in December, but the Select Board will expedite terms for a second agreement now because “we are in a very good market now and it’s a chance to use that market to our advantage,” said John O’Rourke of Good Energy, the town’s aggregation consultant.

The local energy conservation advocacy group Mothers Out Front supports 100 percent renewable as the default position. The group submitted a petition in support of that choice and three members spoke in favor at the beginning of the virtual Select Board meeting.

Board member Bopha Malone supported that approach. “I think we should be bold,” she asserted. “We as a town have a responsibility and we should be bold about it. “  Ratepayers who are concerned about the cost have an option to use less, she pointed out.

Her colleague Ed Pierce said the decision represents an experiment, especially since participants can choose to leave aggregation entirely.  Will an aggressive stance engender more withdrawals, he posed, and will a more moderate approach “say that we are concerned for our constituents’ pocketbooks and want to make it easier for them to participate? If participants leave, the net outcome would be less use of renewables, he added. “Where is that balance point?”

O’Rourke told the board, “Many people are under some economic stress. You want to be very careful about the affordability of that default product.“ He pointed out that only 73 subscribers — 2 percent — chose to opt for a higher percentage of renewables “If there was that much concern about putting more renewable energy in the situation, there would be more people in those two options. The last thing you want to do is alienate people by giving them the impression that you are forcing them to go into that high level of renewable energy.  Find a balance that’s palatable to your population.”

“If the program is showing problems, suppliers will either increase the rate or they won’t bid at all,” added Daria Mark of Good Energy. “And competition brings better rates.”

Select Board member Emily Mitchell moved the 20 percent level. “It’s a significant improvement,” she said. Mitchell was joined by Malone and board Chair Margot Fleischman in support; Pierce and William Moonan were opposed.

“It’s an opportunity for us to find out what happens,” Fleischman said after the vote. “We have an experiment,” Moonan said. “Let’s see how it goes.”

Fleischman is a member of the Energy and Sustainability Committee, which last week recommended that the default percentage of renewables increase by at least 15. Fleischman said Monday she is hopeful that the market will keep prices down even with additional renewables.

“I certainly understand the passion of Mothers Out Front,” O’Rourke said. “You have to do something that is beneficial to both the economy and the environment .”

He said there are 3,709 participants in the Bedford aggregation, and they have purchased 2.1 million kilowatt-hours in renewables. “That’s very good, and it certainly has helped your program be successful,” he said. Mark said the annual usage of renewables is equivalent to powering 337 Bedford homes for one year.

The 2 percent who opted higher “don’t expect savings,” O’Rourke said. Mark noted that these 73 households account for 23 percent of all renewables. Another 53 participants opted to the lower basic rate.

O’Rourke explained that bidding will take place by June. Outreach to the community is planned for November with enrollment the following month. Current participants won’t have to do anything to re-enroll, he said, but the fall will be “a great time to get people to consider higher options.” Mitchell agreed that there will be “a great opportunity for education and awareness.”

Pierce noted that there was a slight decline in participation over the past several months, but Mark explained that when people change residences, their participation stops, even if they relocate within the town.

Fleischman said the increase puts the town on a trajectory to meet its 2020 net-zero goal of 50 percent renewable energy.

The Bedford Historic Preservation Commission (HPC)  held a public hearing on May 4 to determine if the building at 37 Hillside Avenue is to be “preferably preserved.” Developers Suzanne Koller and Nicholas Vercollone presented their rationale for seeking approval to reconstruct the 1911-era home.

At their April meeting, the HPC determined that the property has enough historical significance to be subject to the town’s 18-month demolition delay.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763

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