Boston – City leaders can take major steps to accelerate the transition to 100 percent renewable energy in Boston, according to a report released today by the Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center.
The report comes as cities across the country consider ambitious actions to expand clean energy and reduce global warming pollution, in response to President Donald Trump’s recent decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement.
“Dirty energy is a global problem, but some of the biggest solutions are local,” said Ben Hellerstein, State Director for the Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center. “Boston can be a national leader in the transition to 100 percent renewable energy, but only if local officials step up and seize the opportunity.”
The report, 100% Renewable Boston: How Boston can accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, describes how city officials can scale up renewable energy across 12 sectors, including rooftop solar installations, net zero carbon buildings, electric vehicles, mass transportation, and energy storage.
The report examines some of the most ambitious clean energy policies in cities across the country, such as San Francisco; Cleveland; Austin, Texas; and Sitka, Alaska.
“Renewable energy is safer and healthier than fossil fuels, and the transformation to renewables can make our communities more resilient, more just, and more democratic," said Jennie Stephens, Dean’s Professor of Sustainability Science and Policy at Northeastern University. “Local leaders play an essential role in accelerating clean energy growth in our cities.”
President Trump announced in June that he intended to take the United States out of the Paris agreement, which commits nearly every country in the world to reduce global warming pollution to a level necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Following President Trump’s decision, more than 200 U.S. mayors, including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, announced they would continue working to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement. Mayor Walsh has also committed Boston to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but the city has not yet created a plan to meet this target.
“Cambridge is committed to a net zero carbon, 100 percent renewable energy future,” said Meghan Shaw, Outreach Director for the Cambridge Energy Alliance. “Our net zero plan sets out a clear timeline for Cambridge to reduce carbon pollution from the building sector and transition to a renewable electricity supply.”
Without rapid reductions in carbon pollution, global warming could cause sea levels to rise by more than seven feet in Boston by the end of this century.
Pollution from fossil fuels is also linked to a wide range of health problems, including asthma and cardiovascular disease. A recent report from the Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center found that the Boston metropolitan area experienced 92 days with elevated levels of particulate pollution and 41 days with elevated smog pollution in 2015.
“Partners is committed to fighting climate change and reducing the impact of harmful emissions on the health of our communities,” said Dennis Villanueva, Senior Manager of Energy & Sustainability for Partners HealthCare System Inc. “Our recent commitment to purchase clean energy from the Antrim Wind Energy facility in New Hampshire brings us closer to sourcing all of our energy consumption from non-carbon sources by 2025. It will reduce carbon dioxide emissions and create demand for renewable energy while reducing our long-term energy costs.”
The report includes examples of climate leadership in the Boston area, such as the Cambridge net zero plan and a large renewable energy purchase recently completed by MIT, Boston Medical Center, and the Post Office Square Redevelopment Corporation. Other case studies of leading clean energy policies are drawn from large and small cities across the country:
- Las Vegas, Nevada is powering its municipal buildings with 100 percent renewable electricity.
- Lancaster, California is requiring new residential buildings to be built with solar panels on their roofs.
- Cleveland, Ohio has installed three bus rapid transit lines, boosting public transportation ridership and reducing air pollution.
- Fort Collins, Colorado has created a microgrid connecting local businesses, government buildings, and Colorado State University, allowing for increased renewable energy penetration.
“Transitioning to clean energy is great for business. That is why scores of leading companies across sectors and industries are publicly committing to 100 percent renewable energy, including more than a dozen of our member-clients,” said James F. Boyle, CEO of Sustainability Roundtable Inc. and a founding Board Member of the Alliance For Business Leadership. “Public leaders should look to the example of progressive businesses and map a path to collaborative success on climate goals.”
So far, at least four Massachusetts communities — Salem, Cambridge, Framingham, and Leverett — have committed to a goal of 100 percent renewable energy.
In January, Senator Jamie Eldridge, Representative Sean Garballey, and Representative Marjorie Decker filed the 100% Renewable Energy Act. The bill would put Massachusetts on track to source 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2035, and heat its buildings and power its transportation system entirely with renewable energy by 2050.
“It’s time to take big steps towards a 100 percent renewable energy future,” said Hellerstein. “Boston needs a plan to power every home, business, university, and hospital with renewable energy by mid-century.”
The Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center is dedicated to protecting Massachusetts’ air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help Bay Staters make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives.