Town Looking at Joining Green Energy Program for All Residential Electric Customers

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Watertown may join a state program that would provide “greener” electricity to customers and would likely come at a lower rate than for regular Eversource customers.

Ed Lewis, the town’s Energy Manager, presented information about the Community Choice Aggregation program at a last week’s Town Council meeting. The town’s Energy Office and the Watertown Environment and Energy Efficiency Committee (WE3C) are asking the Town Council to consider signing Watertown to be part of the program.

More than 110 communities across the state have become a part of the program, Lewis said, including nearby communities of Arlington, Brookline, Cambridge, Somerville and Melrose. The program applies to residential customers, small businesses and non-profit groups. Those not wishing to be part of the program can opt out, Lewis said, and can do so at any time without a penalty.

Along with likely saving people money on electricity, the increased use of renewable energy sources in the program would reduce the town’s carbon footprint, Lewis said.

“It would decrease the town’s greenhouse gas production by about one percent,” Lewis said. “That doesn’t sound like much but it would remove 1,700 tons of greenhouse gases.”

The electricity is purchased in bulk, and communities must purchase more of its energy from local renewable sources that Eversource’s basic service, Lewis said. The utility is required to have at least 12 percent of its electricity produced by green producers and Lewis said Watertown would look at increasing that to 17 percent. Local, in terms of the renewable energy producers, means it is from Massachusetts or surrounding states, Lewis said.

Some towns have opted for more, Lewis said. For instance Brookline chose to have 37 percent come from renewable sources, which resulted in average residential bills being a few dollars more a month, and which was written about in a Boston Globe article. Lewis said Watertown would not seek to have that high a ratio, and said that Watertown residents would likely be less than a regular Eversource customer.

“Rates are typically lower, but not guaranteed,” Lewis said.

Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis asked how people would know if Watertown’s rate is lower than Eversource. Lewis said Eversource publishes its rates every 6 to 12 months. He said the Town’s Energy Office could publicize the rates to residents.

Residents will have three options:

The default Green rate, which electricity produced from 12-17 percent local renewable sources

The optional basic rate, which is the state mandated 12 percent local renewable sources

The Green Plus rate, which has much more from renewable sources (50-100 percent)

One confusion people have had with “green” energy is due to the spate of companies trying to get customers to switch to plans with more renewable energy. Councilor Susan Falkoff said she was approached by someone at the airport, and requests also come in the mail and even people going door-to-door.

Lewis said some of these programs are good, while others have steep fees to get out of them.

“Some are good, but many are bordering on criminal,” Lewis said. “I have seen ones with $100 opt-out fees.”

He stressed Watertown’s program would be different. Customers could opt out anytime without paying a fee. He added that if Watertown adopts the program anyone in town on Eversource’s basic plan would automatically be enrolled, unless they opt out.

“We will provide opt-out postcards. If people don’t want to join the program they can send it in,” Lewis said. “There will also be a number to call and a website.”

He added that people already signed up for a program through another source will not automatically switch over. They will have to call or contact Eversource to have their bill switched to the town’s green energy program.

Last week’s presentation about green energy was an informational one. For Watertown to join the program, the Town Council would have to approve it at a future meeting.

Once a community decides to join the Community Choice Aggregation program, it takes 14-18 months to implement, Lewis said. During this time, the town would hire a consultant to come up with a plan, public input would be collected, a plan would be sent to state Department of Energy Resources and the state Department of Public Utilities for approval, bids would be sought for energy providers and a bid must be accepted.

After a bid is accepted, the town would have 30 days for public education and to send people opt-out postcards to all residents. At the end of the 30 days, the town would switch to the green electricity program.

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