8 - Renewable, Clean, Green Energy for Electricity
Electrify Brookline | How-To Guide #8
As you electrify more and more of the appliances and equipment in your home, to make the biggest impact on the climate you will need to ensure that the electricity you use comes from non-emitting, renewable sources like wind, solar and hydro.
What Is Renewable, Clean, Green Energy?
Renewable Energy: The US Department of Energy defines “renewable” as energy produced from sources like the sun and wind that are naturally replenished and do not run out. Non-renewable energy, in contrast, comes from finite sources that could get used up, such as fossil fuels like gas, coal and oil.
Clean Energy: Typically, the term “clean” or “green” energy is used to refer to the electricity that is generated by facilities that do not directly emit climate-damaging greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide. Though there is some overlap between the categories, “clean” energy is not always “renewable” energy. Clean/green energy refers to energy resources that provide the greatest environmental benefit. Most of these, such as wind and solar, are also renewable resources. Some, such as nuclear, however, are “clean” in that they have no greenhouse gas emissions but are not renewable.
How Can This Help the Climate?
Renewable, clean energy sources – which are available in abundance all around us – are replenished by nature and emit little to no harmful gasses or pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide into the air. Isn’t that what we all want?
What Choices Are There?
Homeowners, renters, condo-owners and landlords who pay their own electricity bills can support renewable, clean energy by ensuring that their electricity comes from certified green sources in one or more of the following ways. Combining two or three of these approaches can achieve even greater climate impact.
- Participate in Brookline’s own Brookline Green Electricity (BGE) program.
- Sign up to join a Community Shared Solar (CCS) project.
- Purchase or lease a solar panel system installed on your building.
1. Brookline Green Electricity (BGE)
Brookline has developed a program that is an official Community Choice Aggregation program (in Brookline, it’s called “Brookline Green Electricity” or BGE for short) whereby the Town negotiates with an electricity supplier to bulk purchase electricity for all Eversource account holders in the Town. The program was approved by the Select Board and the state’s Department of Public Utilities and has been in operation since 2017.
Some advantages of the BGE program:
- The program aims to negotiate the best terms and conditions for Brookline’s electricity users, and to leverage the Town’s bulk buying power to provide competitive rates. The program cannot guarantee prices will always be lower than Eversource, as future Eversource prices are not known.
- Rates remain fixed for the term of the contract, which currently goes through December 2024. In comparison, rates from Eversource change every six months. You can see how BGE’s rates compare to Eversource rates by visiting the program website.
- Brookline’s contract stipulates a higher percentage of Renewable Energy Certificates (MA Class I RECs) above that required by the Commonwealth, and those voluntary RECs come only from solar, wind, anaerobic digestion and low impact hydro located within New England. Brookline’s standard option, “Brookline Green”, adds voluntary renewable energy (MA Class l RECs) on top of the minimum state-mandated renewable energy requirements to total 90% renewable in 2023 and 100% in 2024.
- The Brookline program offers an option to Opt Up to “Brookline All Green”, which adds 100% voluntary renewable energy from MA Class I REC’s, in addition to meeting the minimum state-mandated renewable energy requirements. The program also offers “Brookline Basic” as the lowest cost option, which provides only the minimum state-mandated renewable energy.
Most residential and small business customers in the Town participate in BGE. You can confirm by comparing your Eversource bill with the information on the sample bill below. Not participating? Use the online form or call our supplier, NextEra Energy, at 877.960.5514 to join!
2. Community Shared Solar (CSS)
There has been a lot of interest in the Community Shared Solar projects that are being marketed around Brookline and in Massachusetts in general. BGE has put together information explaining the nuances of the interaction between Community Shared Solar (scroll down) programs and Brookline Green Electricity.
Community Shared Solar (CSS) is offered by solar developers and is not affiliated with the Town. CSS aims to provide a net discount on your electricity bills. The developer operates or builds a large solar array in Massachusetts, and you subscribe to receive a share of the value of the electricity it produces. 100% of that value appears on your Eversource bill as a bill credit. The developer then sends you a separate bill to recoup a portion of that bill credit, often 85-90%. This would result in a net reduction in your total electricity spending of 10-15%.
CSS, in most instances, is approved under the Massachusetts’ SMART Program, which provides incentives for solar development in the State. Updates and additional detail can be found at Smart Tariff Generation Units.
3. Solar Panels
Installing solar panels brings the possibility of generating all the electricity you need from your own roof and even of selling some excess electricity back to the grid. Whether solar panels will work for you depends on your location, the direction your roof faces, the amount of tree cover, and the type of roof material; in a multi-family building, you also need to consider the ownership of your roof.
The price of solar has fallen dramatically over the last decade while the efficiency has increased. In 2020, homeowners typically spend between $10,000 and $20,000 to buy a solar panel system, but it may cost you more or less depending on the size of your system, the type of equipment you install, and the company you move forward with. There are also accessible financing options for both leasing and ownership that allow you to install with no money down. And there are tax credits and rebates available from the State and Federal government.
An excellent resource for information on solar panels comes from Energy Sage. They provide information on cost, availability, different types of panels, as well as a service where you can receive and compare solar installation quotes.
BGE is Brookline’s ONLY official electricity program!
Websites that can provide more information on renewable, clean, green energy include:
How Your Brookline Neighbors Have Made the Switch
Story #1: A Surprise Discovery
In the fall of 2022, the homeowners of a modest single-family house had added insulation to their home and installed heat pumps for heating and cooling. They were discouraged by very high electric bills over the winter, and asked a neighbor with some heat pump expertise to review their equipment and settings to see if they were operating their new systems correctly. The neighbor asked to see their Eversource bills and quickly discovered why their costs were so high – they were signed up with a competitive 3rd party electric supplier and paying an exorbitant rate of 55 cents per kWh, triple the rate of Brookline 100% Green! Beyond that, the 3rd party supplier was providing “green” energy from sources in the mid-Atlantic and midwest, where Brookline 100% Green supplies “Mass Class I RECs” – renewable energy from the highest quality sources in New England.
The homeowners felt embarrassed to find out that they – along with many other Brookline households – had fallen for the seemingly official-looking mailings from the 3rd party supplier when they thought that they were signing up for the official Brookline electricity program; they regretted having overspent a large sum of money that winter boosting the profits of a business with deceptive marketing tactics including a special low rate for the “introductory period” followed by a significant rate hike without notification. Once the homeowners discovered the reason for their high electric bills, they immediately called the supplier to cancel the contract and then signed up online for Brookline 100% Green!
The homeowners’ advice to their Brookline neighbors: “Check your electric bill – frequently!”
In 2018, the MA Attorney General’s Office released a report documenting that over a 2-year period MA residential consumers had paid competitive 3rd party electric suppliers $176.8 million more than they would have paid for electricity from their utility! Report updates from 2019 and 2021 confirmed that this unfortunate pattern was continuing. [Note: In cities and towns with municipal aggregation programs like Brookline Green Electricity, residential consumers likely could have saved money AND received greener electricity compared with the competitive 3rd party suppliers.] The AG’s webpage on Competitive Electric Supply includes details from these reports, as well as information about how to file a consumer complaint.
Story #2: Solar Panels for a Historic Home
This Brookline couple purchased their antique home in 2013, located in one of the town’s Local Historic Districts (LHD). Shortly after moving in, they had to replace their failing gas boiler with a high efficiency model that vented directly out the side of the house; they quickly learned about the requirements of reviewing any proposed modifications to the exterior of the house with the Town’s Preservation Planner and the Preservation Commission.
In 2019, they decided to research installing solar panels and found that they were good candidates. The roof on the front of their house had very good southern exposure, and the asphalt shingles were in good condition and were not the original roof material of the house. The roof plane was a single, broad expanse with no dormers or chimneys, so they could have solar panels across the entire area. They proceeded simultaneously on two fronts: finding and working with a solar installer and submitting the proposed exterior changes to the Brookline Preservation Commission for approval.
They asked their neighbors for recommendations on solar installers and got 3 or 4 bids before selecting the company and signing a contract. The installer performed a structural review of the roof framing, and determined that some additional bracing was required to support the weight of the solar panels. This added some time and expense to the project. The homeowners didn’t need any electrical upgrades, as they’d updated their electric panels during an earlier renovation project. The installer also recommended pruning back a tree on their property that was blocking some of the sun to the panels, which did indeed result in an increase in solar generation.
When the installers had prepared drawings of the solar panel system that showed the elements that would be visible on the exterior of the house, the homeowners brought these initial plans to Brookline’s Preservation Planner, a staff member in the Town’s Planning Department. The Planner gave them some very helpful advice and performed an initial review that was then presented in a public meeting of the Preservation Commission (a group of volunteers appointed by the Select Board). Once the Preservation Commission approved the project, the installers applied for a building permit and the interior work began with reinforcing the roof framing, where the inside beams were “sistered” with new lumber. Next was installing the roof-top solar panels themselves and providing wiring and conduits. This part took only a couple of days.
The installer they chose also partnered with a financing company and handled the paperwork to set up the loan, making it easy, and they took out a 15 year loan. (The loan payments are actually lower than their electric bills used to be.) The installer estimated a return on investment in about six years – and to the delight of the homeowners this ended up being an overestimate of the time needed. The project qualified for both federal and state tax credits, making the overall cost considerably lower than it would have been without these.
While Massachusetts strongly endorses the ability of any homeowner to install solar panels, the Preservation Commission still had to give their approval and they engaged in a discussion at one of their monthly meetings in order to secure approval on various design specifics such as the color of panels, elevation from the roof plane, and placement on the front-facing roof.
The Massachusetts law governing solar panel installation can be found In the General Laws, Title I, Chapter 184, Section 23C.
The Brookline Preservation Commission’s Design Guidelines document can be found on page 25 for solar panels.
The homeowners are extremely pleased with their solar project, which consists of 24 panels. Their electricity bills are frequently zero, and they also receive “SMART” incentive payments from the state via Eversource that is based on the amount of renewable electricity generated. They have an app that tracks their electricity production in real-time. They are now looking towards future projects including siding, windows, and additional insulation (which will be largely paid for through MassSave).
They want to convey to others considering adding solar panels in an Local Historic District that there are a wide variety of factors that will affect the complexity of the install and the timeline for breaking even on the investment. Overall however, a good installer will be able to walk you through the specifics of your case, taking into account all the details of your home, the requirements of the Preservation Commission, and the various incentives and financing options. It is generally well worth the effort.
About Electrify Brookline
Electrify Brookline is a collaboration between the Town of Brookline’s Zero Emissions Advisory Board (ZEAB), Mothers Out Front Brookline (MOF) and Climate Action Brookline (CAB.) Our goal is to provide clear information to guide the community on the path toward electrification — improving the energy efficiency, health and comfort of their living spaces while reducing climate-damaging emissions to preserve a livable future for all.
IMPORTANT: Verify with your installers that they have the proper licenses and insurance, and confirm that they have or will obtain all required permits and inspections from the Town of Brookline.
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