Like many consumers, when I flip a switch or turn a knob on the stove in my Massachusetts home, I tend to take the resulting light or heat for granted. I don’t automatically visualize the electrons traveling down the wires to power up my daily activities. I do know, however, that the lights don’t come on by magic, and that the origin of those electrons matters.
Last month, I attended a Green Power Bootcamp in Boston sponsored by Mass Energy Consumers Alliance (Mass Energy), an organization that helps residents green up their electricity. I left the bootcamp with a more concrete understanding of where my energy comes from.
First, while Massachusetts is often cited as a clean energy leader, more than 80 percent of its electricity is generated by fossil fuels and nuclear power. According to Mass Energy, much of the remainder,
“… comes in the form of trash-to-energy, large hydroelectric projects, and unidentified types of power imported from other regions.”
- Solar — Mass Energy supports over 350 small solar energy systems. As of May 2015, Massachusetts surpassed 850 megawatts of cumulative installed solar electric generation capacity;
- Wind — as of 2014 the state had close to 130 wind turbines;
- Cow Power — a process that generates electricity through an anaerobic digester fed with food scraps and manure. In addition to creating green power, the process also cuts down on food scraps going into land fill and reduces cattle farms’ greenhouse gas impact by curbing methane emissions.
Thirdly, the state aims to reduce emissions by 80 percent before 2050. The Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS), a state law and key policy toward that goal, requires all electricity suppliers operating here to source 11 percent of their electric load from new renewables in 2016 — and to bump that up by an additional one percent each year. The policy is designed to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources, create jobs, stabilize prices, and avoid greenhouse gas emissions.
Massachusetts consumers can add renewable energy to their power grid by buying Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). Created to help fund renewable energy projects, each REC represents one megawatt-hour of physical renewable energy (electrons), and is tagged with a track-able and certified identity number.
Erin Taylor, Mass Energy’s Marketing and Membership Director, explained during the bootcamp that RECS are divided into classes based on criteria specified by the RPS.
For example, Massachusetts Class 1 RECs come from specifically defined New England renewable energy generators that have been built since 1997. Because the state requires energy suppliers to source an ever-increasing percentage of their electric load each year from Massachusetts Class 1 RECs, the more of these RECs that consumers demand, the greater percentage of local, renewable energy gets pushed onto the Massachusetts power grid — beyond what is already required by law. Class 1 RECs displace fossil fuel on the state’s energy grid.
For these reasons, Taylor says,
“One Massachusetts Class 1 REC is better than 1000 non-Class 1 RECs — buying a REC from a hydro power plant in Texas has no impact on the Massachusetts energy grid. Massachusetts Class 1 RECs are the strongest and best in the country.”
I also found out that several Massachusetts communities are working to do better than the state law through green municipal aggregation. Massachusetts law allows its communities to choose their own electricity supplier for their residents. This is known as municipal aggregation or community choice aggregation, which, according to Mass Energy’s web site,
“[Is] a model that allows for important energy decisions to be made at the local level rather than by an investor-owned utility or by a for-profit competitive electricity supplier.”
Green municipal aggregation enables cities and towns to bundle Mass Energy’s Class 1 RECs into their community’s new aggregation electricity supply to provide five percent more green power than what is required by the state’s RPS.
Not only does that additional five percent of green power enable communities to leapfrog ahead of state law by five years, it also sends a message to policy makers that the state’s RPS is too slow. As Taylor pointed out during the bootcamp,
“Your town’s electricity mix could be 16 percent renewable. It adds only $1.50 a month to a customer’s payment, or five cents a day, while remaining cost-competitive with the utility’s basic service.”
My final bootcamp takeaway? As Taylor noted in her presentation, when it comes to sourcing the electrons traveling through the wires into our homes,
“In Massachusetts, People have a choice.”