Getting Boston ready for climate change

Climate change is here. Summers are getting hotter, sea levels are rising, storms are getting stronger and wetter, and there’s more flooding.

The City has been studying those changes with researchers at UMass Boston and a public advisory group (including BostonCAN) for over a year. Their final report is out and it includes:

  • Detailed projections, including climate change’s “equity impacts” — how low-income communities, people of color, and other vulnerable populations will be affected.
  • A detailed look at the neighborhoods that’ll be hit hardest: Charlestown, the Charles River, Dorchester, Downtown, East Boston, Roxbury, South Boston, and the South End.
  • Steps we can take.

Greenovate Boston is asking us to spread this climate change consciousness to our neighbors. Find a blog, article, image, or video about Climate Ready Boston that you can share to keep your friends and family up to date on climate change in Boston.

Push back on Trump’s climate deniers


San Francisco, December 13: scientists push back on Trump’s cabinet picks

Trump has appointed Big Oil representatives and climate deniers to lead four key agencies: the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department, and the State Department. Now national environmental groups are taking action. Here’s what they are doing and what you can do.

Rex Tillerson – Secretary of State rallies, calls, ads, and a petition

  • Tuesday Dec 20: Rally at Trump transition headquarters in Washington, DC.
  • January 3, when the new Senate takes office: make thousands of phone calls to every Senator telling them to vote against the Denier Cabinet.
  • The following week: take to the streets in all 50 states to oppose their nominations.
  • Fill the digital airwaves with ads calling out Senators who say they agree with climate science, but still support Trump’s climate denying cabinet.
  • Sign this petition. [Unclear whom it’s going to]

Sierra Club: Petition urging our senators to oppose Tillerson’s nomination.

Why push back on this nominee: Tillerson, a lifelong employee and CEO of ExxonMobil, has shaped its history as one of world’s biggest, most environmentally destructive fossil fuel corporations.

ExxonMobil deliberately concealed its knowledge of climate change while funding denialist groups for decades in order to prevent climate action from hurting their profits. [See Exxon’s decades of deceit: A timeline of what Exxon knew about climate science, and what they’ve done to deny, hide, and muddy the truth]

It was responsible for the Exxon Valdez oil spill, one of the costliest environmental disasters in history, and countless other spills. Elsewhere around the world, Exxon has supported violence and intimidation against communities where it operates.

As Secretary of State, Tillerson would oversee everything from negotiating international climate agreements to issuing annual human rights reports and reviewing the Keystone XL pipeline.

Rick Perry – Department of Energy

Friends of the Earth: Petition urging our senators to block Perry’s nomination

Why push back on this nominee: As governor of Texas until 2015, Perry championed fossil fuel production. He wrote that climate science is a “contrived phony mess” and accused climate scientists of manipulating data to get money.

He fought the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions because of the “devastating implications” for the energy industry. He opposes truly clean energy like wind and solar.

Perry has received some $2.5 million from polluters. As head of the Energy Department, Perry would have power to roll back climate progress.

Ryan Zinke: Interior Department

Friends of the Earth: Petition urging our senators to block Zinke’s nomination

Why push back on this nominee: Ryan Zinke is a freshman Congressman from Montana. In just two years he’s received a whopping $345,000 from fossil fuel interests.

Zinke has said that climate change is “not a settled science.” He’s opposed the most basic protections for our public lands. He thinks our national forests should be handed to the logging industry with no protections for the environment, and he’s been a leader in opposing the Obama administration’s attempts to keep coal in the ground.

As head of the Department of the Interior, Zinke would have a lot of power to roll back our progress. He would not keep fossil fuels in the ground on our public lands and waters. Instead, he’d work for a massive expansion of fossil fuel development. That would amount to billions of dollars of giveaways for Big Oil.

Scott Pruitt – EPA Administrator

Sierra Club: Petition urging our senators to block Pruitt’s nomination.

Why push back on this nominee: Climate denier Pruitt has taken more than $300,000 from fossil fuel interests since 2002. As Oklahoma’s Attorney General, he sued the EPA — the agency he’s slated to lead.

All four nominees

Friends of the Earth: Organize a Day of Action at your local congressional office

Hosting an action outside your Member of Congress’s local office will push them to hold Trump accountable. It’ll also connect you with other progressives who want to do more.  After you sign up, the Sierra Club will send you an Action Toolkit, a letter to deliver to the Congressional office, and they’ll invite you to a series of training calls. They recommend holding your action on January 23, Trump’s first work day as President.


Last month we urged BostonCAN members to resist Trump’s “cook the planet” agenda by taking three steps:

  • Call our senators and representatives, asking them to pull together a bipartisan force for climate progress.
  • Make that safe for their colleagues by writing letters to the editor in other states. Sample letters here.
  • Build national support by talking to your family and friends in red and purple states.

Boston City Council passes gas leak ordinance!

The Boston City Council passed our Gas Leak Ordinance on Wednesday December 14 by a vote of 12 to 1. (The holdout: Frank Baker.)

Thank you for supporting this multi-year, multi-organization campaign. Let’s celebrate — and call our city councilors to thank them. 617-635-3040 is the City Council number.

You can see a summary of the ordinance here. It will:

  • Speed up gas leak repairs.
  • Improve coordination between the City and National Grid.
  • Require National Grid to give the City more info about leaks and pipes.
  • Make sure leaks are repaired and pipes replaced correctly.
  • Increase safety for gas workers and the public.
  • Require contractors to follow the Boston Resident Jobs Policy.


Why ban plastic bags?

(Thanks to the ban the bag campaign for this writeup.)

WHY should you support a single use plastic bag ban in Boston?

  • 41 cities and towns across the state have adopted some form of banning plastic bags and Boston would be a tipping point for the state to adopt a statewide single use plastic bag ban

  • 95% percent of plastic bags are not recycled!

  • Plastic bags litter our communities, waters, and properties, just look around.

  • Many major cities in the US have also adopted ordinances and continue to thrive with a huge reduction in waste and decrease in money spent on dealing with the waste

Can I just stop here and say these should be reason enough? However there are tons more including…

  • The City of Boston deals with 20 tons of plastic bags per month that are disposed of improperly in Boston’s single stream recycling.

  • There are many ways to support low-income families with this ordinance, including bag drives.

  • Low-income areas are often hit the hardest with the plague of plastic bags littered everywhere.

  • Many farmer’s markets have stopped using plastic bags as the state moves to regulate a plastic bag ban at farmers markets and it has not stopped people from shopping at them; at farmers markets, you find community, amazing small businesses, and incredibly fresh produce.

  • Many plastic bags are used for minutes, but last 1000 years!

  • ExxonMobil was responsible for introducing the plastic shopping bag to the U.S., and the bag debuted in American grocery store checkout lines by the late 1970-80’s. That means that people were shopping at stores for centuries purchasing, buying, and trading without the plastic bag.

  • Healthier Habits; Boston aims to be zero waste  according to its Climate Action Plan.

  • There are Plastic Bag Bans in all over the world including entire countries, like Australia, Bangladesh, South Africa, Tanzania, Rwanda, Phillipines, Pakistan, Ireland, Mali, Ivory Coast, Italy, India, Haiti, China, and others and they do not inhibit purchasing local.

  • In 2007, SF was the first city to ban plastic bags in the US;  people and stores are still thriving.


Below is a list of what to do. Right now people whose job it is to push back on the ordinance are pushing hard. Last week they started making lots of calls to the City Councilors saying not to support the ban. City Councilors-At-Large are voting and they NEED to hear from you.

TAKE A FEW MINUTES TO HELP: in order from most impactful to least

  1. Calling your City Councilor, the three Councilors-At-Large and significantly, the Mayor has the greatest impact

  2. Writing a letter to the above mentioned

  3. Emailing: we know this is the most convenient, but if you are to do anything, CALL! Write too, if you have it in you.



They need to hear from us, as residents, business owners, and community members that policy matters; they can make a difference to the entire city with less waste.

Find your District City Councilor here:

Mayor Walsh: 617.635.4500

Michael Flaherty (At-Large): 617-635-4205
Annissa Essaibi-George (At-Large): 617-635-4376
Ayanna Pressley (At-Large): 617-635-4217

Sal LaMattina (District 1): 617-635-3200
Bill Linehan (District 2): 617-635-3203
Frank Baker (District 3): 617-635-3455
Andrea Campbell (District 4): 617-635-3131
Tim McCarthy (District 5): 617-635-4210
Tito Jackson (District 7): 617-635-3510
Josh Zakim (District 8): 617-635-4225
Mark Ciommo (District 9): 617-635-3113

Councilors O’Malley and Wu’s public hearing regarding the reduction of plastic bags will take place on Tuesday, December 13th at 1 pm in the Iannella Chamber on the fifth floor of Boston City Hall.

The hearing is open to the public to attend and testify. Any written comments may be made part of the record and available to all Councilors by sending them by email, fax, or mail to arrive prior to the hearing.


Push back on Trump’s climate denier

Donald Trump’s transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency is headed by climate denier Myron Ebell. Funded by Marathon Petroleum and Koch Industries, Ebell could kill Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the Paris climate agreement, and all the land, water, and air protections the EPA provides.

But just before Thanksgiving, Trump announced that he might rethink his views on climate change and might not pull out of the Paris agreement. Our task now is to push him in that direction. Here’s how.

  • Write a letter to the editor of your local paper — or better, a paper in a purple or red state. Here are New Hampshire’s two biggest papers, the Concord Monitor and the Manchester Union Leader. Two sample letters are below — you can choose ideas you want to write your own.
  • Call your senators and congressperson. Ask them to speak with moderate Republicans and pull together a bipartisan call to Trump: no climate deniers — keep the EPA and climate work moving forward.
  • Call, text, tweet… your family and friends in purple and red states. Ask them to call their congresscritters, write local newspapers, and talk to their friends about saving the climate right now.

By doing these things we can head off the worst and build a mass constituency for climate action in the long term.

Okay, here are the letters. Please rewrite them with your own words and thoughts, and let us know what results you get!

Letter 1: conservative, pro-business appeal

To the editor:

Myron Ebell  is leading the Trump administration’s transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency. His organization’s mission statement is “dispelling the myths of global warming.”

This is bad policy for our economy and our standing in the world.

Climate change is real. It poses a significant and immediate threat to humans everywhere. This has become universal consensus. Russian and Chinese governments are among those who acknowledge climate change, and are committed to international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

At this point in history, to oppose the scientific consensus on climate change would be a source of national embarrassment. It would erode our standing as a technologically innovative nation, and limit our access to global markets that plan to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Ebell has also said that the US should back out of the Paris climate agreement. Besides violating international law, this would be catastrophic diplomatically. France has threatened export taxes, and statements from other nations have been equally severe; a rift is forming between us and the rest of the world.

Over 300 U.S. businesses have signed a statement calling on Trump to support the Paris agreement including General Mills, eBay, Intel, and other Fortune 500 companies. China, the heir apparent in the race to develop innovative renewable energy technology, has remained committed despite Ebell’s rhetoric.

Denying climate change is a bad deal for the US. We encourage readers to demand that the US remain committed to the Paris agreement and the global fight against climate change.

Letter 2: Anti-pollution, pro-environment appeal

To the editor:

Decades of environmental progress are being threatened by the Trump administration’s transition team. Myron Ebell, who’s responsible for the future of the Environmental Protection Agency, is funded by mega-polluters like Marathon Energy and the Koch Brothers, and he’s pushed to undo EPA regulations that protect our health every day.

The EPA does crucial work. The EPA enforces laws that keep the food, air and water we consume safe, protects endangered species, and funds scientific discoveries that support business and keep us healthy.

Over its 40+ year history, the EPA has made incredible advances for America. Not long ago, dumping toxic waste into waterways was standard practice. In just 10 years of regulating CFC chemicals, we have slowed the depletion of the ozone layer. When BP spilled 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, experts in science and technology were equipped with the resources needed to clean it up.

This is hard work. Because its mission often runs contrary to short-term business interests, the EPA is constantly subjected forces that seek to impede its ability to do that hard work.

When the EPA is unable to fulfill its mission, the result is injustice. We need only to ask the citizens of Flint, still struggling to find clean water, to know how dire the implications can be.

Myron Ebell, head of the EPA transition team, is not a scientist, and has included repeal of environmental and pollution regulations among his goals. He is an irresponsible steward of our planet, without the scientific expertise Americans expect of someone with his responsibilities.

Regardless of party, we have an obligation to leave this world better than we found it. Americans should demand that our nation remains the right side of history on important issues like climate change and environmental regulation.


Trump, the climate, and what we can do

Anyone who doubts that humans are causing climate change can just look at Donald J. Trump. A president who withdraws from the Paris climate accords, puts a climate denier in charge of the EPA, scuttles President Obama’s Clean Power Plan and approves the Keystone XL pipeline – can cook the planet all by himself.

Let’s see what we need to change through political action. Then let’s see what Boston Climate Action Network is doing locally and how you can get involved.

Analysis. The three best pieces we’ve seen on Trump’s surge are by my friend Kim Scipes, David Scharfenberg and Bill Fletcher. Scipes provides the background: four-fifths of the country has been falling behind economically for at least the last 15 years, and of course they’re mad. Scharfenberg says that white voters feared they were losing their status, not just their jobs, and went for someone who’d restore their “prime place in the American pecking order.” Fletcher deepens the analysis: “this segment of the white population was looking in terror at the erosion of the American Dream, but they were looking at it through the prism of race.” And gender: “The election represented the consolidation of a misogynistic white united front.”

What to do about that? People of color, immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ folks, women and everyone in the crosshairs of the right need to organize for their own defense. Allies can help by organizing “protection networks” that publicize right-wing attacks and broaden public support for those targeted.

White progressives can also use their skin privilege to talk with other white people, listen to what each person is saying and build the overlap where we agree. SURJ and the Knapsack Group are thinking about it, while Outreach to White Communities has actually been doing it. And Mayor Walsh is kicking off “a year-long project aimed at bringing small facilitated conversations about racism, healing and policy work out into all of the neighborhoods of Boston” next Saturday Nov. 19.

We also need to build progressive power in a couple of ways.*


What about the climate? Climate activism is a sprawling beast. Since action on the federal level will be greatly curtailed in the coming years, our position as a Boston-focused group gives us a way to keep making progress and set examples for other Massachusetts municipalities and beyond. As a climate justice group, we are committed to organizing that strengthens the most vulnerable and brings the benefits of the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy to every neighborhood. Right now we are:

  1. Kicking off “Renewables for All in Boston.” By passing a city ordinance, Boston can get every electric customer using more renewable energy at no added cost. This will
  • -quickly lower the city’s greenhouse gas footprint, and
  • -bring renewable power to communities that can’t afford rooftop solar panels, heat pumps, etc.

So it’s a climate mitigation project and a climate justice project. Come to our kickoff meeting Thursday, December 8, 7 pm at the First Baptist Church (633 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain, next to the post office). If you want to get involved right away and help build this event, email us today.

  1. Stopping Boston’s biggest greenhouse gas — methane. Leaks from aging natural gas pipes contribute over one-third to the city’s greenhouse gas footprint, by our rough calculations. We co-launched a Gas Leak Allies Working Group that is pressuring the gas utility and state government to plug the leaks now, starting with a few “super-emitters” that leak half of all the methane. In January, we expect Boston’s City Council to vote on a gas leak ordinance that will speed pipeline repair. Email us if you’d like to work on this.
  1. Blocking new gas supply pipelines. There’s a lot of gas to frack in Pennsylvania (and New York). We’re between that gas and ports that could ship it to Europe. Gas companies still want to build huge new pipelines across Massachusetts. And developers in Boston are building 25 million square feet of new construction in the next three years. If those buildings are heated by natural gas, they’ll lock us into fossil fuels for the next 50 years. BostonCAN and allies want to make sure the City pushes developers toward climate-friendlier heating systems – and we may be blocking a pipeline in Boston itself.
  1. Working with the City. Greenovate Neighborhoods is forming a network of climate organizers to learn from each other, support one another, help carry out and shape the city’s Climate Action Plan. We need energy, ideas, and people in more neighborhoods. And the city will soon launch “Climate Ready Boston,” which will involve more organizations in climate preparedness (dealing with the unavoidable impacts of climate change) and, we hope, prioritize the most vulnerable populations. Email us if either of these initiatives motivates you.

Join our Action Team. We meet alternate Thursdays at 5:30 at the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain (633 Centre Street). Next meeting is December 1. Email us to get on the Action Team list.

This is just a start. Working together, we and other activists can unify these three imperatives: working against white supremacy, organizing progressive political power, and saving the planet.

*Here is one roadmap for building a progressive political force.  Bob Wing, one of its authors, is keynoting “The Next Four Years: Building our Movements in Dangerous Times” conference December 3 in Boston. Jonathan Smucker also has good ideas about the shape of a progressive populist movement.

BostonCAN is hiring!

Job Description: Campaign Director for Boston Climate Action Network
What is BostonCAN?
BostonCAN is a group of Boston residents taking action in personal, social, and political ways to achieve climate justice.  Our organization is comprised of an 8-member Board, a larger ” action team” which implements our campaigns, and a contact list  of over 600 activists.
BostonCAN seeks a Consultant to help lead our new campaign focused on expanding access to renewable energy for Boston residents via Community Choice Aggregation.
  • coordinate bi-weekly meetings and campaign activities of our action team
  • help to implement the Community Choice Aggregation campaign by: building relationships with City officials and political knowledge about how to influence the Walsh administration and city council during an election year; strengthen relationships with partner groups and develop a shared action agenda; and help lead campaign to win approval of City ordinance and/or Mayoral executive action prior to international climate action meeting in Boston during summer 2017
  • recruit new members to our campaigns via monthly events organized with the action team in Winter 2016-17
  • plan and facilitate meetings and events with partner groups and with City and perhaps officials in order to further our campaign
  • organize and attend campaign-related events, including occasional public speaking
  • document activities and expenses regularly for BostonCAN Board and treasurer
  • excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • at least 2 years community organizing experience, including creating and implementing campaign strategies, recruiting new members, and developing organizational leadership
  • ability to work flexible hours, including some evenings and weekends, attending events throughout Boston
  • familiarity with the issues of energy policy, climate change, environmental justice; familiarity with issues of  public health and community development preferred
  • experience working with small, grassroots organizations
  • experience working with, and preferably coordinating, collaborative networks
  • experience working with diverse constituencies, preferably low-income communities of color, public officials, private sector partners, and non-native English speakers
  • knowledge of Boston neighborhoods and with the diverse array of groups working on climate change from a variety of perspectives
  • experience with social media and digital organizing tools
  • ability to communicate in a second language widely spoken in Boston (Spanish, Haitian, Cape Verdean or Haitian Creole, etc.) preferred
  • Experience writing grants preferred
BostonCAN’s board anticipates being able to fund either a full-time or part-time position, with rate per hour and hours per week to be decided collaboratively between the Consultant and Board.  Duration of contract is negotiable, with the opportunity of renewal contingent on funding.
Interested applicants should send a resume and cover letter to by Nov 11.  We plan on conducting interviews the week of Nov 14, and having the Coordinator start soon thereafter.



Green Power for Everyone in Boston

Join us December 8 to bring renewable power to everyone in Boston!

People want green energy, and there is a simple way for everyone to get it. Massachusetts law allows a city council to decide that all the electric customers in the city will get some of their power from clean, fossil fuel-free sources. That means everyone in Boston can get renewable electricity, even if they can’t put a solar panel on their roof or switch to wind power. And it means we’ll cut Boston’s greenhouse gas emissions – fast.(If a resident or business wants to opt out, they can.)

We just have to convince the City Council to vote “yes” for climate justice and clean energy. We’ll launch this new campaign on Thursday evening December 8, place to be announced. Save the date and pitch in!

Our Action Team meets next Thursday
October 27, 5:30 at First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain (corner of Centre and Green/Myrtle Street, across from the post office). Join us for updates and action steps on the new clean energy campaign, our ongoing gas leaks campaign, and more.

Bill McKibben: A World at War

“It’s not that global warming is like a world war. It is a world war. And we are losing. [But] America needs 295 solar factories of a similar size to defeat climate change—roughly six per state—plus a similar effort for wind turbines. [And] Building these factories doesn’t require any new technology.”

What’s next for cross-Mass pipelines?

On August 17 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court killed the “pipeline tax.” It’s a watershed decision for energy and the environment and it brings up some interesting thoughts. Here are a few.

Free market ideology can bite both ways. During the free-market decade of the 1990s, the Mass. legislature opened up the electricity business to competition. Before 1997, electric utilities were vertically integrated. They owned everything from the power plants to the wires that bring electricity into your home, and they set the price of that electricity (under the watch of the Department of Public Utilities).* Now, utilities only own the regional distribution system in Boston or Cape Cod or the Berkshires. Other companies own the power plants; those companies compete with each other; and the competition is supposed to lower electricity prices. Utilities can’t own power plants because they could sell power to themselves and jack the price back up. And investors, not customers, have to shoulder the risk of building new infrastructure, which will keep expensive, unnecessary new plants (or pipelines) from being built. Competition = free markets = lower prices = good. Monopoly = unfree markets = higher prices = bad.

But profit trumps ideology, and the power distribution business isn’t very profitable. Utilities can make twice the return by investing in, say, new gas pipelines –if they can avoid the risk that they won’t sell all the gas. A couple of years ago they came to newly elected Governor Baker with a proposal for new gas pipelines. We need more gas, they said. The brutal winter of 2014-15 strained our pipeline capacity. Gas prices spiked and the power plants charged us so much for electricity, it’s killing the state’s economy. Baker bought it, and his DPU ruled last year that electric customers could be charged for building new pipelines.**

Wrong, said the SJC on August 17. The 1997 restructuring act said electric utilities have to stay out of the power generation business, and fuel is a big part of power generation – as much as 75% of the cost, the decision notes. “We agree with the plaintiffs that such activity would undermine the main object to be accomplished by the restructuring act, i.e., to move from a regulated electricity supply market to an open and competitive market for power,” said the SJC. Worse, the pipeline tax “would undermine the main objectives of the act and reexpose ratepayers to the types of financial risks from which the Legislature sought to protect them…. The department’s interpretation of the statute as permitting electric distribution companies to shift the entire risk of the investment to the ratepayers is unreasonable, as it is precisely this type of shift that the Legislature sought to preclude through the restructuring act.”

This episode is awash in ironies. Charlie Baker, who’s a free market guy, tried to end-run one of the state’s  biggest free market laws. His DPU, which is supposed to regulate utilities, bent the law to give them new powers. (See the DPU legal team’s pretzel logic in the SJC’s fascinating and history-filled decision.) And the Independent System Operator, which runs New England’s power grid, solved the gas supply problem last winter by, among other things, making the power plants stockpile liquified natural gas in case of cold snaps. New pipelines weren’t needed.

More fundamentally, the episode shows the limits of free market ideology. At their most radical, free marketeers say the government should get out of the economy and let private enterprise create the best of all possible worlds. But this free market administration’s DPU was trying to construct a market – set up rules that would make an area of economic activity safe for investors.

There’s hope for the Baker administration. Ideology clearly means less to them than a workable economy. Unless Spectra Energy wants to build pipelines on its own dime and risk (more on that below), Baker’s people now need to find other ways to satisfy the state’s energy appetite. That could mean energy conservation, demand management, local wind, local solar – or Canadian hydro, Maine wind (which many Mainers deeply oppose), maybe even nuclear power. Now is the moment to work on the Department of Energy Resources.

How can we block more pipelines? The SJC’s decision was a victory for a very broad climate movement. The Better Future Project thanked “the Conservation Law Foundation, who sued to stop the tax, our partners across the state (especially the Mass Power Forward coalition), and every one of you who took action and spoke out….we have unambiguously won a victory that the people’s money should be not used for private projects that further commit us to climate catastrophe.”


The fuel fossils aren’t giving up. Check out this proposed new trans-Canada pipeline, a hugely expensive route from Alberta to the Atlantic. The fracked gas fields in Pennsylvania and New York are our regional tar sands, and the gas industry must find a way to the coast.

The SJC only barred a pipeline tax on August 17. They didn’t bar companies from building new pipelines on their own dime. How can we keep them from doing that?

Grassroots mobilization, engagement with Baker’s people, maybe more lawsuits – and keeping the Spectras from getting long-term contracts to use the gas.

When Kinder Morgan wanted to push its pipeline across the Berkshires, activists went to Dartmouth College and urged administrators not to take 20-year contracts for new natural gas. That is a key strategy for our movement now. Without the security of long-term contracts, billion-dollar pipelines are too risky for investors.


*In the words of the SJC’s decision:

Prior to the passage of the restructuring act, electric companies were vertically integrated monopolies, controlling the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity. See Northeast Energy Partners, LLC v. Mahar Regional Sch. Dist., 462 Mass. 687, 695 (2012). Recognizing that “the interests of consumers [could] best be served by an expedient and orderly transition from regulation to competition in the generation sector consisting of the unbundling of prices and services and the functional separation of generation services from transmission and distribution services,” St. 1997, c. 164, § 1 (m), the Legislature enacted the act to separate these three utility services and open the supply of generation services to competition. Northeast Energy Partners, LLC, supra at 696-697. This functional separation of services, which limited a “‘company’s ability to provide itself an undue advantage in buying or selling services in competitive markets,’ was regarded as a necessary first step in moving toward ‘a fully competitive generation market based on customer choice.'”

**The SJC’s decision spells out the contorted financing:

In 2015, the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) filed a petition asking the department to investigate the means by which new natural gas delivery capacity might be added to the New England market in order to mitigate price volatility experienced by ratepayers in the Commonwealth, especially in the winter months. See D.P.U. 15-37 (Oct. 2, 2015). The DOER specifically asked whether the department, pursuant to its authority under G. L. c. 164, § 94A, could approve long-term contracts by Massachusetts electric distribution companies for the purchase and resale of interstate natural gas pipeline capacity. The DOER stated that the ultimate goal of such purchases would be to lower “gas constraint-driven high prices” for electricity in New England by lowering the prices, particularly in the wintertime, of wholesale electricity across the region.

In support of its request, the DOER asserted that gas pipeline constraints have caused unreasonably high winter electric prices in New England. Unlike local natural gas distribution companies, which regularly contract for gas capacity, electric generators that use natural gas to produce electricity are generally unwilling or unable to enter into long-term contracts to secure firm gas capacity. For these generators, there is added risk for such contracting because there is no means by which they can be reasonably assured of receiving enough revenue to cover the cost of securing the gas capacity over the course of each year. Pipeline companies, on the other hand, are not willing to build new pipeline capacity without having long-term contracts in place. Thus, pipeline companies do not have sufficient assurances such that they are willing to build additional pipeline capacity for natural gas-fired electric generators, despite the increasing natural gas demand for heating and as a source of supply for electric power. The DOER characterized this situation as a “mismatch” of needs and incentives that requires a “solution.”

Under the DOER’s proposal, (1) the department would authorize, pursuant to G. L. c. 164, § 94A, electric distribution companies to enter into contracts to purchase gas pipeline transportation capacity to be funded by the Commonwealth’s ratepayers through rates set and approved by the department; (2) the pipeline owners (which in this case will include affiliates of electric distribution companies) will use those transportation contracts to help finance the construction of new gas pipeline capacity in the region; (3) after the pipelines are expanded, the electric distribution companies will release (resell) their contracted-for capacity to electric and (4) the release of that capacity will increase gas supply and thus lower the wholesale price of gas and electricity….The DOER stated that ratepayer-funded gas capacity contracts entered into by electric distribution companies would solve the “mismatch” problem by providing sufficient financial assurance to pipeline companies to build new pipelines and infrastructure in order to provide gas to natural gas-fired electric generators.