Central Mass. should move to 100% renewable energy, local leaders say

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Ben Hellerstein

Former State Director, Environment Massachusetts

Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center and MASSPIRG Education Fund

Oakham, Mass. – Local leaders gathered today to discuss how Central Massachusetts can move to 100 percent renewable energy from sources like solar and wind.

The Central Massachusetts 100% Renewable Energy Summit, held at the Dismas Family Farm, featured speakers from local government, businesses, and community organizations sharing their perspectives on the pathway to a future powered entirely by renewable energy.

“Central Massachusetts can lead the way to 100 percent clean, renewable energy,” said Ben Hellerstein, State Director for the Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center. “Local communities, businesses, and institutions have already made so much progress on solar, wind, and energy efficiency. To protect our health and ensure a safe, livable future, we should charge ahead toward a 100 percent renewable future.”

“For our organization, switching to renewable energy has resulted in more financial stability and measurable savings on utilities so we can focus donor dollars on core programming to stabilize homeless former offenders,” said Dave McMahon, executive director of Dismas House. “Through our energy coalition with other nonprofits, we have helped others replicate this success, showing that adopting clean energy is an important tool for low-income housing sustainability.

“At RENEW, we are working to engage in renewable energy projects that are accessible to all, that will provide living wage jobs for Worcester residents and showcase pathways out of poverty in the clean energy industries that are expected to thrive in Massachusetts,” said Jeuji Diamondstone, a community organizer with Renewable Energy Worcester (RENEW). “We can create a 100 percent renewable energy future in Central Massachusetts that includes everyone and benefits everyone.”

In recent years, Central Massachusetts communities have made rapid progress in expanding clean energy and reducing fossil fuel consumption.

Recently, the City of Worcester completed the largest municipally-owned solar installation in New England, which will produce enough clean energy to power 1,340 homes.  The Town of Sutton joined the state’s Green Communities program in 2011, and has received more than $440,000 in grants for energy efficiency projects.

Local nonprofits have also taken big steps on clean energy. Dismas House is providing all of its electricity with solar energy. The Commonwealth Green Low-Income Housing Coalition has gone even further, enrolling over 20 buildings throughout the state for energy improvements, including full heating system replacements and community based solar.

Community groups are working to expand the benefits of clean energy to Central Massachusetts residents from all walks of life, including low-income families and non-English speakers. Renewable Energy Worcester (RENEW) is participating in the U.S. Department of Energy Sunshot initiative to install solar on houses of worship and other small nonprofits. RENEW organizes in linguistically diverse and marginalized Worcester communities to bring often overlooked perspectives to policy debates.

“I applaud Dismas House for becoming an energy-sustainable farm, and thank them for hosting this important discussion on how Massachusetts can lead the nation on clean energy policies,” said State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton). “Only bold policies will reverse the destructive effects of climate change, and I was proud to file S.1849, the 100% Renewable Energy Act, and S.1846, An Act relative to solar power and the green economy, this session. These bills would significantly increase our renewable energy portfolio to accelerate our transition away from dirty fossil fuels, boost our green economy, and protect our environment.”

The summit comes as state leaders consider whether to make Massachusetts the first state in the nation to commit to a goal of 100 percent clean, renewable energy economy-wide. The 100% Renewable Energy Act, filed by Senator Jamie Eldridge, Representative Sean Garballey, and Representative Marjorie Decker, would power Massachusetts with 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035, and require 100 percent renewable heating and transportation by 2050.

So far, 58 legislators have signed on in support of the 100% Renewable Energy Act. The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy will consider the bill at a hearing on September 19.

A growing number of U.S. cities, states, corporations and institutions are also considering commitments to 100 percent renewable energy. At least four cities and towns in Massachusetts — Cambridge, Salem, Leverett, and Framingham — have adopted a goal of 100 percent renewable energy. Nearly 100 major companies have made a similar commitment, including Apple, Walmart and LEGO.

“I am a supporter of the goal to make Massachusetts’ energy infrastructure 100 percent renewable,” said State Representative Daniel Donahue (D-Worcester). “Both the new City of Worcester solar farm and the steps taken by nonprofits such as Dismas, the Commonwealth Green Low-Income Housing Coalition, and RENEW will help us get closer to this goal, while also saving funding for services for nonprofits.”

Following President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, interest in climate action at the local level is growing. Hundreds of American cities, universities, and businesses have said they will continue to take action to meet the targets of the Paris agreement.

Global warming is already having a major impact on Central Massachusetts. Extreme snow and rain storms have become 81 percent more frequent in Massachusetts since the 1940s, a trend linked to climate change. At the same time, droughts are expected to become more severe as temperatures warm.

Air pollution from fossil fuels is also a major health concern. In 2015, the Worcester area experienced 33 days with unhealthy levels of smog pollution and 41 days with unhealthy particulate matter, which can contribute to asthma and other respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

“With federal officials moving in the wrong direction, it’s up to local communities to lead on clean energy,” said Hellerstein. “Our climate and our health can’t wait.”