By George Harvey
Massachusetts started a ball rolling when it passed the nation’s first Community Choice Aggregation Bill in 1997. This gave market groups and communities the ability to combine purchasing to get better rates for their residents. Under the system, a community can get all its power from whatever power sellers it wants, at whatever rates it negotiates. Individual consumers have a right to opt out of the system, under Massachusetts Law.
With early successes for the program on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, other communities followed suit. Greenfield Mayor William Martin was especially interested, and he started working with Carole Collins, Greenfield’s Director of Energy and Sustainability, on the idea. She liked the idea, but wanted to go a step further. She told Martin she would be happy to work through setting up the program, but wanted to be sure the power purchased was as renewably produced as possible, up to 100%.
With some research and a bit of work, Collins was able to find enough renewable power providers who would sign contracts with Greenfield’s Community Choice Aggregation. Because they were able to sign on as a community, with combined buying power, they were able to get deals that reduced the costs to everyone. It is not a huge reduction, but it is a dollar or two less than people would otherwise pay. Thus, both Mayor Martin’s economic goals and the sustainability goals of Carole Collins were met.
Power providers are local, where that is possible. Solar systems in Greenfield and nearby wind turbines are among the sources. Getting renewable power required signing up with some producers at greater distances, however, including wind farms in Maine.
Collins does not claim that Greenfield’s electricity is 100% from renewable sources. She says there are non-renewable power sources that are required by state regulations to be included in the mix. Nevertheless, they are really minimal, and the city is practically 100% renewably powered. And it is so with a reduced cost.
Collins says there is still a lot of work to do. She does not like the idea of buying power from elsewhere, if it can be produced locally. She looks forward to seeing more solar power being produced and becoming part of Greenfield’s energy mix. She would also like to see progress on putting together one or more microgrids in the community for resilience in the future.
Greenfield has made a lot of progress. Given the history of the city and the dedication of the people living and working there, it is really not a surprise.