Alana Melanson, Lowell Sun reporter, covered Chelmsford’s bulk electricity purchase program, Chelmsford Choice, almost 5 years ago when it was first introduced and caused quite a stir. Chelmsford residents aired their questions and grievances across social media: Who chose the supplier? What authority does the town have to choose my provider? Is this legal? Why was I automatically enrolled and have to opt out, instead of being asked to opt in?
Hopefully we have come a long way and people are beginning to question why they weren’t enrolled in an option supplying more clean electricity. To Opt Up for cleaner electricity, just go to ChelmsfordChoice.com
Municipal electricity aggregation is simple: A large pool of people together purchase electricity for a lower price than they could individually. State law requires municipal aggregation to be an “opt out” program rather than an “opt in.” That is necessary to guarantee a large enough pool to ensure a price better than the market rate price provided by the utilities. If people were asked to opt in, many would take no action; they tend to ignore it or forget to get around to it.
After two rounds, Chelmsford Choice has been highly successful in saving residents money. However, another objective of municipal aggregation is reducing carbon emissions and promoting renewable energy for which there has been little success. After almost 5 years, only 54 out of approximately 10,000 households have chosen to opt up to Chelmsford Choice Plus for 100% clean electricity from renewable sources. It turns out that opting up is just as unlikely as opting out!
As the third contract was going out to bid in March 2020, the Chelmsford Climate Action Team (CCAT) approached town manager Paul Cohen asking that the new contract have a green default, one delivering more electricity from clean renewable sources, instead of climate warming fossil fuels. Neighboring towns Lowell and Westford have green defaults in their aggregation programs. Paul Cohen and the select board deferred because they believed the original approval for Chelmsford Choice at Town Meeting in Spring 2014 was for only a cost-savings program.
However, Paul Cohen was able to add an additional mid-level green option to the available choices. The new contract that started this November now has a “Greener” option that guarantees 56% of the electricity will be generated by renewables. The intention is to give residents a voluntary choice to reduce carbon emissions and promote renewable energy that is less expensive than the 100% “Greenest” (formerly Plus) option.
CCAT is urging as many residents as possible to opt up to one of the green options for this current contract. In the long-term, CCAT plans to bring a warrant article before the Town Meeting (before the next contract comes up for bid in three years) to approve a green default.
Over the last five years the threat posed by climate change has become more apparent as shown by the record heat waves, catastrophic droughts and fires out West, and the hurricanes down South. Recently, Massachusetts has set a goal of net-zero green-house-gas emissions by 2050 and the newly elected Biden administration has announced climate change as one if its four top priorities. Also, on the local level, nearby communities recognize the urgency of climate change. Westford has passed a Climate Emergency Resolution and in Pepperell, a selectman, Anthony Beattie, has proposed the creation of a town Climate Change Council.
Chelmsford still leans conservative, but in the recent election, the 59% approval of Question 3, pushing for 100% Renewable Energy by 2040, shows many Chelmsford residents are concerned about climate change. When CCAT members (Bern, Julie, and Tom) handed out flyers at the Hazardous Waste and Leaf drop-off events in town recently, asking residents to opt up to one of the two green options offered by the new Chelmsford Choice contact, they got a good reception. Quite a few residents talked about installing solar panels, which is probably the most effective way to reduce one’s carbon footprint. However, opting up to greener electricity without any upfront costs may be a close second!
So, while Federal, State, and local governments are committing to net-zero emissions, individuals in Chelmsford have the power to be part of the solution right now. Residents can reduce their carbon emissions from dirty fossil fuels and promote the development of new renewable energy in New England, which creates local jobs and stimulates our economy. It is easy and takes less than 15 minutes. It costs only a few pennies more per kilowatt hour, but knowing you can lower carbon emissions and slow down climate change is priceless!
To Opt Up, just go to ChelmsfordChoice.com