Three municipalities in western Massachusetts are exploring banding together to pick an electricity supplier for their residents and businesses. It is an idea that is being pushed by climate activists that has caught on in other parts of the country.
The mayor of Northampton and officials from the towns of Amherst and Pelham are expected to meet soon to discuss forming a joint municipal electricity aggregation, known as “Community Choice Energy.”
Proponents, including Stan Swiercz, chairman of the Pelham Energy Committee, say that under the program decisions about energy would be made at the local level as opposed to by a large utility company or for-profit energy producer. That could mean purchasing more electricity that is generated from renewable sources, and developing local power generation, energy storage, and efficiency programs.
"We are looking at municipal aggregation as a way to generate more resources to actually do more climate change mitigation," said Swiercz.
Since, 1997 cities and towns in Massachusetts have been able to designate an energy supplier that residents and businesses may purchase power from. But in this case, advocates propose to eliminate the energy broker from the mix and keep the portion of each electric bill that would go to the broker and use it to pay for the local energy projects.
Swiercz said Pelham endorsed energy aggregation a decade ago, but because the town is so small it was never able to pull it off. He said Northampton and Amherst, with their activism on climate change, would be good partners.
"I see this as a way of creating an organization responsible to the communities that can made solid investments in fighting climate change, does not rely on taxpayer funding and can grow over time," said Swiercz.
Chris Mason, the city of Northampton’s energy and sustainability officer, said talks about energy aggregation are very preliminary.
"We don't know how this is going to play out at the moment." said Mason. " The first thing is to have the meeting, and find out where the three municipalities stand. Is this something we want to look at? How would we structure it?"
The program would be an opt-out, meaning residents and businesses could chose to participate.
Swiercz said he hopes the mayor and town officials will agree to create a task force to work out details.
A multi-municipality energy aggregation program has operated since the late 1990s in Massachusetts in the form of the Cape Light Compact, which buys electricity and operates energy efficiency programs for all the towns on Cape Cod.
Lately, Community Choice Energy programs have been springing up throughout California. And, activists are promoting municipal energy aggregation in New York.