COMMUNITY CONVERSATIONS: New power supply policy: truly a big deal

Posted 3/23/18

On its face, the document may seem dreadfully boring at best. After all, even if one could fully understand Belmont Light’s new “Power Supply Policy,” why would anyone want to do so?

The policy, however, adopted last week by the Board of Selectmen, sitting as the Light Board, is one of the more important decisions Belmont’s chief policymakers have made recently. The decision affects our pocketbooks; our homes and businesses; our children and grandchildren. It affects us all, every day. People should take note.

The centerpiece of the new Power Supply Policy is the decision that Belmont Light “should seek out both least cost renewable and non-carbon-emitting energy sources in New England and surrounding regions.” That decision helps make Belmont part of the solution, not part of the problem, in responding to global climate change. What that means is that each person’s decision to turn on each electric appliance each day is now less likely to result in carbon emissions spewing into the air as power plants consume ever more fossil fuel to keep up with the consumer demand for electricity.

In contrast, the new Belmont Light policy also recognizes that one of the most effective ways to decrease carbon emissions from electricity is to avoid using that electricity in the first place. Programs to help Belmont customers reduce their electricity use through increased efficiency, think, new efficient light bulbs and, yes, old-fashioned conservation, turn off those unused lights for gosh sakes, are no less important to pursue than programs to clean-up the electricity we do use. Belmont Light is not simply in the business to sell electricity. It is in the business to sell the wise use of electricity. And, sometimes the best use of electricity is not to use it all.

However, and it is a big “however,” the Belmont Light policy also recognizes that “increased electricity use may be effective in reducing carbon emissions” in some circumstances. Called “strategic electrification,” the move from gasoline-powered automobiles to electric vehicles, for example, is a sound carbon reduction strategy even while leaving your car at home and walking into Belmont Center to shop is an even better idea. Taking advantage of Belmont Light’s program to help you install an electric heat pump in your home is another example. Belmont Light’s heat pump rebate program increases electricity use, but helps residents reduce, if not entirely eliminate, their use of much dirtier fuel oil heating.

Belmont Light’s new Power Supply Policy goes where most municipal light departments in Massachusetts have thus far declined to go. When the state proposed last spring to mandate the same “clean energy standards” for municipal electric utilities that it had imposed on private utilities, the municipal light departments around the state howled in protest. Now, however, Belmont has stepped forward to announce that “consistent with a moderate rate impact, Belmont Light shall meet” those very same state clean energy standards, even “though it is not otherwise legally obligated to do so.” In fact, Belmont Light says, it will annually assess whether to pursue “a more aggressive” use of clean energy than that required of the state’s private electric utilities.

All in all, the new Belmont Light Power Supply Policy commits our municipal electric utility to pursue activity “that provides Belmont customers with reliable electric service at the lowest possible cost consistent with the Town’s Climate Action Plan.” And that, folks, is neither boring nor inconsequential. Belmont’s Climate Action Plan commits the town to pursue an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by the year 2050.

What Belmont Light just did catapults our locally-owned electric light department into a leadership position among the state’s municipal utilities on clean energy policy. It is truly a big deal. And whether it be Steve Klionsky, chair of the Light Board Advisory Committee; Craig Spinale, interim general manager of Belmont Light; Adam Dash, chair of the Belmont Light Board; or the other members of the Board of Selectmen and Belmont Light staff, they should be congratulated and thanked for making the right decision.

Roger Colton has been a Belmont resident since 1985 living in the Cushing Square neighborhood. He is also the host of Belmont Media Center podcast , “Community Conversations” and a guest host of Belmont Media Center weekly news program “Belmont Journal.” He’s a Town Meeting Member and chair of the Belmont Energy Committee. Colton can be reached at