Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center
Across Massachusetts, cities and towns are leading the way to a future powered entirely by clean, renewable energy. Municipal officials and staff — working together with citizen activists, volunteers, nonprofit organizations, and businesses — are taking ambitious steps to reduce fossil fuel consumption and increase the use of renewable energy.
Municipal action on clean energy has a long history in Massachusetts. With the support of state initiatives like the Green Communities program, many cities and towns have made their municipal buildings more energy-efficient, encouraged residents and businesses to install rooftop solar panels, and taken other steps to increase renewable electricity generation and reduce energy waste. The first edition of Renewable Communities, released in 2016, described many of those efforts.
But in recent years, the pace of clean energy progress on the municipal level seems to have accelerated. Local leaders across the Commonwealth have adopted innovative programs for energy efficiency, renewable electricity, clean heating and transportation, and energy storage.
Familiar policies, such as municipal aggregation, have been expanded and reimagined to accelerate the deployment of clean energy. Technologies that once seemed far-fetched — like microgrids, net zero energy buildings, and electric transit buses — are becoming increasingly commonplace.
Renewable Communities 2019 chronicles some of the most innovative and exciting clean energy efforts in cities and towns over the last few years. Our report includes 19 case studies profiling 21 communities as well as three regional initiatives. The communities featured in our report range from Massachusetts’ most populous municipality, Boston, to its smallest, Gosnold — and across the Commonwealth, from the Berkshires to Martha’s Vineyard.
While not an exhaustive survey of municipal clean energy policies, these case studies illustrate ways in which forward-thinking cities and towns can accelerate clean energy progress in all sectors. We hope this report will inspire more communities to follow the example of the cities and towns featured here, accelerating Massachusetts’ progress toward obtaining 100% of our energy from clean, renewable resources.
- Amherst: The Net Zero Buildings Bylaw requires new and renovated municipal buildings to be powered and heated entirely with renewable energy.
- Boston: The Carbon Free Boston report identifies pathways to reach the city’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.
- Cambridge: The Cycling Safety Ordinance requires streets undergoing significant roadwork to include protected bike lanes in their design if they are part of the city’s priority bicycle route network.
- Cape Light Compact: The Cape Light Compact offers energy efficiency and renewable electricity programs to residents, businesses, and municipalities on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard.
- Concord, Amherst, and Cambridge: A pilot program demonstrated the viability of electric school buses to transport students to and from school without harmful emissions.
- Everett and Arlington: Bus-only lanes on major roads have decreased travel time and delays for transit riders, encouraging residents to commute by bus instead of driving.
- Gosnold: A solar microgrid, one of the first community-scale microgrids in the United States, is providing more than 50% of the electricity used on the island of Cuttyhunk during the peak summer season.
- Lexington: Two new school buildings will be powered entirely with solar panels and heated with air source heat pumps and a geothermal system.
- Lincoln, Sudbury, and Wayland: During a Solarize Mass Plus campaign, dozens of residents installed solar photovoltaic and solar hot water systems to provide their homes with renewable electricity and heating.
- Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority: The Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority has introduced 12 electric buses into its fleet and plans to replace its remaining diesel buses with electric models.
- New Bedford: More than 25% of the city’s passenger fleet has been converted to electric vehicles, believed to be the highest percentage of electric vehicles in any municipal fleet in Massachusetts.
- Newton: The Newton Power Choice program offers residents and businesses a default level of 60% renewable electricity, higher than any other municipal aggregation program in the Commonwealth.
- Northampton, Amherst, and Pelham: Local leaders are exploring a Community Choice Energy PLUS program that would provide residents and businesses with a higher percentage of renewable electricity while investing in local projects to reduce emissions.
- Pioneer Valley: The ValleyBike Share program offers an affordable and green alternative transportation network, with more than 500 bicycles available in six communities.
- Pittsfield: Leaders are studying the implementation of a microgrid in the downtown business district, which could combine solar installations with battery storage units and energy management systems.
- Somerville: The Climate Forward plan lays out a series of actions that can be implemented over the next 5–10 years to curb emissions from buildings, transportation, and electricity.
- Sterling and Ashburnham: Municipal utilities have installed battery storage systems to reduce energy costs, provide backup power to critical facilities, and facilitate the installation of more solar electricity generation.
- Watertown: An ordinance requires new commercial buildings greater than 10,000 square feet or residential buildings with more than 10 units to be built with rooftop solar panels.
- Worcester: An 8.1-megawatt municipal solar installation on a capped landfill generates enough electricity to power 1,340 homes annually.