In 2009 the Town Meeting approved a plan calling for a 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
This lofty goal is similar to the goals set by other political entities—towns, states, and nations—and led many of them to set short term interim milestones to help them map a course to reach their long term goals. The state, for instance, set a goal for 2014 that 9% of all energy used by the Investor Owned Utilities come from renewable sources that were built after 1997 and that this number increase by 1% per year until 2020 where the goal would be that 15% of energy come from new renewable sources. The state also set a goal for 2020 that Massachusetts have 1600 MW of generating capacity from solar panels. These short term goals have resulted in an increase in the construction of new renewable energy generation capacity.
Belmont, and in particular our municipal utility, Belmont Light, has yet to set any specific milestones for meeting the 2050 goal of 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions or for increasing the purchases of energy from renewable resources. In fact the Selectmen have chosen instead to set policies that actively discourage the adoption of distributed solar by residents in Belmont.
Furthermore the Selectmen have chosen to make all renewable energy purchases secret. There is no way a Belmont resident can know whether energy purchased from a wind or hydro source includes the accompanying REC. According to both the state and federal government it is the REC that confers the “renewable” attribute to the energy. The EPA policy can be looked at here. Certainly we can all agree that it makes no sense for the Town of Belmont to have a definition of renewable energy that is completely at odds with both federal and state policies.
As a result of the Selectmen’s policies, Belmont residents are completely in the dark about how much—if any—renewable energy we currently purchase and setting renewable energy goals for the future is rendered impossible. Of course each of us will have his/her own opinion about renewable energy but there is no way we can rationally discuss our opinions if we are clueless about what we are doing. Thwarting public discussion about one of the most important issues of our time is simply unacceptable.
The irony here is that while we in Belmont have a lot of knowledge about how much renewable energy National Grid and NSTAR purchase (because they are required to meet the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard) none of us knows a thing about how much renewable energy our own utility purchases.
The way to begin to move forward is simple. The Selectmen should order a renewable energy audit to be done by the same state agency that audits the Investor Owned Utilities. We don’t need to meet the state Renewable Portfolio Standard but we do need to know how much renewable energy we are using so we can have a public discussion about policies we can enact to meet our environmental goals.
Massachusetts has been a state that has led the way on renewable energy policy nationally. Much of Europe has had policies to encourage renewable energy for over a decade. Even developing countries have been willing to set specific goals for dealing with greenhouse gas emissions during the latest meetings in Lima, Peru. But in Belmont the Selectmen have left us completely in the dark.