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Wellesley no longer at odds over Clean Energy Standard regulations

By Jennifer Zarate

For months, Wellesley residents have been debating whether municipal utilities should be included in the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Clean Energy Standard (CES). One side believes that clean energy should be supported by all Massachusetts ratepayers, while the other argues that the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) does not give MassDEP authority to impose a CES on municipal utilities.

According to the state’s Climate Protection and Green Economy Act, section 2 (a)(5), municipal electric departments (MEDs) and municipal light boards (MLBs) are required to report greenhouse gas emissions from sources of electricity consumed or imported into the Commonwealth.

In August, the Baker-Polito Administration issued final regulations that ensure the Commonwealth meets the 2020 statewide emissions limit mandated by the GSWA. The
final CES does not include requirements for municipal utilities, like the Wellesley Municipal Light Plant (WMLP), beyond already-required emissions reporting, said Edmund J. Coletta Jr., press secretary and director of public affairs at MassDEP.

Coletta explained that in the proposed regulations, MEDs and MLBs were not required to comply until 2021, so their exclusion from the final CES will not affect compliance with the GSWA-mandated emission reductions by 2020.

Moreover, he said, MassDEP plans to address options for achieving reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from MEDs and MLBs in late 2017.

Future consideration of the inclusion of municipal utilities in the CES is appropriate, Coletta said, because many of them “currently own or contract with existing clean generators, as documented in the emission reports” that they must submit to MassDEP under state law.

Back in June,
Sustainable Wellesley, a group of volunteers who encourage sustainability in Wellesley and the surrounding area, circulated a petition urging the town’s Board of Selectmen and the board of the WMLP to accept MassDEP’s proposed CES regulations that required municipal light plants to purchase more power generated from renewable resources, or to make an alternative compliance payment in the event energy supplied by the MLP to its retail customers did not meet MassDEP standards.

The regulations, as published, said Coletta, requires a review to “examine options for including annual standards for MEDs and MLBs in the clean energy standard” in 2017, including accepting
public comment.

“This means that stakeholders will have an additional opportunity to weigh in on the issue later this year,” Coletta said.

But for now, WMLP’s Director Richard Joyce said, the department is pleased with MassDEP’s decision to not change the current governance of state public power systems.

“Local control provided by the Wellesley Municipal Light Board’s leadership has a proven track record of looking out for the best interests of Wellesley residents and businesses by providing reliable electric service at competitive rates while balancing the safety of the employees and public in addition to a multitude of other priorities,” said Joyce. “It was especially rewarding to see that the DEP recognized the progress Wellesley and the other 39 Massachusetts electric municipalities have made in the inclusion of renewable energy within the power supply portfolio.”

“In fact, this is a fabulous opportunity for Wellesley to lead Massachusetts with a goal of getting a significant proportion of our electricity from renewable sources, as well taking action on energy conservation and other measures,” said Jessica Stanton, a member of Sustainable Wellesley. “We look forward to learning about the MLP’s strategy to meet the carbon emission mandates set by our town and state, and know that Wellesley’s very active populace who have come forward to request an appropriate response to these new mandates are willing to assist.”

The Concord Municipal Light Plant is already on target to purchase 100 percent of its electricity from non-carbon emitting sources by 2020-2021, added Stanton, “so it is possible.”

“We are hopeful that the Wellesley Municipal Light Plant will stand by their commitment to further invest in clean, renewable energy,” said Stanton.

As for the stakeholder process planned for 2017, it will provide an opportunity for MassDEP to elaborate on its authority and to solicit input from affected stakeholders, concluded Coletta.