Renewal OK'd for energy program, called highly successful

selectboard 052019
"I’m one of the 100-percent customers, which I’m proud of."

-- Dan Dunn

Arlington plans to renew its community choice aggregation (CCA) energy contract for the next three years.

The town’s goals are to maintain its savings over the length of the contract, increase the mix of renewables up to the best percentage the town manager finds feasible and sustain Arlington’s membership in the default rate. This decision was unanimously approved at the May 20 Select Board meeting.

CCA programs allow local governments to procure power from an alternative supplier while still receiving transmission and distribution service from their existing utility provider. By aggregating demand, communities gain leverage to negotiate better rates with competitive suppliers and choose greener power sources.

Program wildly successful

“We thought this would be successful at the outset, and it’s been successful beyond our wildest expectations, saving close to $2 1/2 million,” said Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine.

Philip Carr, New England regional director of Good Energy, said, “When we started this program, we didn’t expect Arlington’s default rate to beat the utility’s rate at every rate change, which is what it’s done, and we’re excited about that. The summer rate is going to be $10.83.”

“Of the originally eligible 18,500 accounts, we have an 88-percent enrollment rate of 16,147 accounts, which is excellent. These aggregation programs generally fade over time, yet Arlington’s has grown,” Carr added.

“Arlington has both a 50-percent option and a 100-percent option. “The 50-percent option is a good product to have, and I think more people will start enrolling in that. The town has 353 accounts enrolled in the 100 percent, which is quite high,” said Carr.

“From a renewable energy perspective, through November 2018 Arlington has used 9,000 Class 1 Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), the equivalent of eight megawatts of solar,” explained Carr.

“Arlington’s RECs supplier is the Green Energy Consumer’s Alliance, which takes title direct and signs contracts for new projects. By taking on that risk, and selling you those RECS, you can purchase from specific and identifiable projects, which is unique. Many towns and cities that do not have Green Energy Consumer’s Alliance can’t make claims that Arlington makes, and that’s a big deal,” said Carr.

Green Energy Consumer’s Alliance also has standards about what they believe is acceptable. For example, they use energy only from New England and won’t use any RECs that come from biomass, added Carr.

“Arlington’s contract expires at the end of the year, so now is a good time to go out to bid, and determine how much clean energy we want to include. May 29 is bid day, and we’re bidding now for December renewal. We can chose when to buy and how long to buy. Our biggest decision is to determine what additional percentage you want to have, finding the sweet spot between reflecting Arlington’s values and not go too far above the utility rate and lose money,” explained Carr.

“From a town perspective, they’re advising us that now is a good time to buy, based on what’s happening in the market. We want to make sure we’re locking in prudently, but without the risk of losing the program,” said Chapdelaine.

Select Vice Chair Dan Dunn said, “I’m been pleased with how the program has played out for the past two years. I’m one of the 100-percent customers, which I’m proud of.”

“The numbers speak for themselves. Obviously, we’re getting the message out, and people understand the concept of the program, said Select Chair Diane Mahon.

“They also provide good customer service,” said Chapdelaine.

Residents offer input

The Select Board made its decision after listening to several Arlington residents express support for community choice aggregation, and the need to increase renewable energy.

“These programs are great, but the bigger picture is a moral obligation to stand together to work for climate change,” said Tom Ehbrecht. “East Arlington is only a few feet above sea level, and even though protected by the Amelia Earhart Dam in Everett, storm surge got within 2 1/2 feet of going over that dam twice this year, and climate change will only get worse. And our fossil fuel use is still at 60 to 70 percent. My request is we use the CCA as a tool to get people to change their behavior.”

Amy Antczak, a member of Mothers out Front, said, “The U.N. has advised that we have only 11 years to prevent irreversible damage from climate change. Today’s young people will grow up in a climate that’s altered by our choices that we make today. If we want to make sure our children have a livable climate, we need to take bold action now. I urge you to consider raising the default rate for renewable energy to the highest rate feasible. If we’re to reach the goal of being carbon neutral in the near future, this is the best way.”

Resident Roger Rosen said: “We cannot solve this crisis as individuals, we must act on a larger scale. Raising the CCA rate to the highest feasible rate is one of the most effect and important actions we can take as a town to become part of the solution to the climate crisis.”

Brucie Moulton, a member of Sustainable Arlington and Mothers out Front, said, “Our community choice aggregation is a cheap and easy option for fighting climate change at the local level, but we need to include an option for a better rate, and to include more renewable energy at the default level, if that’s an option.”

Amos Meeks, cochair of Sustainable Arlington, said “While saving money is good, the majority of residents are willing to pay more for more renewable electricity. Plus this would set an example for towns across the state.”

Before voting, board member Dunn said, "I agree with the logic of wanting the project to be financially viable, but don't have any idea of what the right number should be." He then made a motion, open for discussion, to have the mix of renewables at 10 percent, before changing it to what the board eventually agreed to, after listening to residents’ concerns.

Small-cell wireless facility policy

The board voted unanimously to establish a baseline policy for small-cell wireless facilities, especially those attached to any town property. The Inspectional Services Department will be authorized to serve as the board’s designated agent, and to present proposed design guidelines to be promulgated later, with the maximum fees allowable.

In a draft memo to the board, Town Counsel Doug Heim wrote, “The goal of this policy and the application process shall be to ensure the safety, non-interference, and visual quality of the public right of way and the town generally, while also providing the benefits of improved cell service consistent with this Board’s grant of location practices.

“The FCC issued a rule that diminishes our local control over small-cell wireless facilities attached to utility and other poles that help provide 5G wireless. This rule diminished the local community’s ability to regulate small-cell wireless facilities in certain ways. They capped us at being able to assess only certain fees, and shortened the time for consideration of small-cell wireless facilities, which creates pressure on local decision makers and the opportunity to litigate with the FCC,” explained Heim.

“However, we can still regulate some things such as certain aesthetic aspects and assess some fees, yet we’re not allowed to engage in regulatory conduct that would be pre-emptive of small-cell wireless facilities. Verizon is allowing us time to develop regulations before they seek any small-cell wireless facilities, such as permits on town property,” added Heim.

Town Meeting member Jordan Weinstein asked whether the FCC, in the light of potential health hazards of 5G radio waves in close proximity to residential buildings, provides any leeway to use our Department of Public Health to provide regulations or investigate this.

Heim responded, “We can’t prohibit small-cell wireless based on a public health concern. However, we can require the utilities to submit certain information about the radio frequencies, and prohibit them from being within a certain radius of each other, and so regulate how many of them we have in a certain concentrated area.”

Redevelopment Board appointment

Architect Rachel Zsembery will join the Redevelopment Board, as unanimously approved by the board. Her term expires June 30, 2020. She fills the spot vacated earlier this year by Andrew West.

Zsembery wrote that she’s the vice president of Bergmeyer Associates Inc., a Boston-based architecture and interiors firm, overseeing architects and interior designers committed to balancing architectural design and commercial development with environment stewardship, economic viability and social equity, in a letter to Jennifer Raitt, director, Department of Planning and Community Development.

“I bring a long history of commercial, restaurant and retail development experience,” she wrote. “ I’ve worked across the country and met with quite a few redevelopment/zoning boards, and recently worked with the signage amendment to Arlington’s zoning bylaws, and am excited to join the Redevelopment Board.”

Dunn said, “You have great qualifications and we’re lucky to have you.”

Permits and licenses

Taxi operator permits

The board unanimously approved the following 2019 taxi operator permit renewals:

  • Arlington Transportation Co., 13 cabs (uses only four)
  • Arlington Veteran’s Taxi, two cabs
  • Boston Airport Express, one cab
  • Leo’s Taxi Service, one cab
  • Vernon Transpiration Service (VTS), one cab
Contractor/drainlayer licenses

The board unanimously approved the following contractor/drainlayer licenses:

  • Marchi Paving Inc., West Newton
  • StrongBack Systems, Billerica
Special requests

The Select Board unanimously approved:

  • Wine sales to the weekly Farmers’ Market, Pony Shack Cider, Inc., Boxborough; and
  • One-day beer and wine license, Robbins Memorial Town Hall, private event, June 7.

This news summary, by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert, was published Tuesday, May 28, 2019.

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