Clean energy, equity, and innovation within municipal utilities

Submitted by Jerry Halberstadt on Sat, 09/30/2023 - 15:50
Mother and child: Bonnie Bain and Peyton Massie look into their future during their participation in a demonstration against the Peabody peaker plant. They are the Danversport Bridge, in sight of the designated location of the plant.e

To the Honorable Chairs and Members of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy

I write to support H3150/S2117 “An Act advancing clean energy, equity, and innovation within municipal utilities.” This bill is supported by 30 climate organizations in the Commonwealth.

Municipal light plants (MLPs) lag behind on clean energy. An analysis of 2020 data found that, while the rest of the state was legally required to have 16% clean renewable energy in their energy mix, MLPs had only 2%. We must encourage a significant increase in the use of new, clean renewable energy by MLPs.

H3150/S2117 will help MLPs to address the needs of their environmental justice rate-payers and to broaden their mission to include health and the environment.

I am Jerry Halberstadt. I live in a subsidized apartment building in Peabody within a mile from the Waters River Facility of the Peabody Municipal Light Plant. That is the site of the partially constructed “Peabody Peaker” plant as well as two existing peakers in a facility surrounded by environmental justice residents. [The peaker plants are contracted with ISO-NE, the regional manager of electric power, to generate electricity when other resources are not adequate.] 

The lack of accountability or incentives for MLPs to clean the energy that is used to meet peak energy demand has resulted in investments like the “Peabody Peaker” plant that would harm health and hasten climate warming for decades to come.

I protested against the Peabody Peaker as a founding member of Breathe Clean North Shore (BCNS), a chapter of Mass Climate Action Network (MCAN). I am the Coordinator of the Clean Power Coalition and also Coordinator of Healthy Air, a community educational effort to protect ourselves from pollution and to advocate for new policies to reduce pollution. Today, I testify on behalf of the Clean Power Coalition.

On May 26, 2022, people from all across the Commonwealth protested against the Peabody peaker at the Danversport Bridge. Then a contingent of those protesters gathered at the offices of the Peabody Municipal Light Plant to continue their action.
At the Danversport Bridge on May 26, 2022, people from all across the Commonwealth protested against the Peabody peaker. Then a contingent of the protesters gathered at the offices of the Peabody Municipal Light Plant to continue their action.

Peabody is a city with one of the highest rates of death due to air pollution in the Commonwealth, and the environmental justice areas have higher than average health burdens related to pollution. There are many sources of airborne particulate pollution—measured as PM2.5 (2.5 microns of particulate matter per cubic meter)—including transportation, the built environment, homes, offices, farms, and industry, as well as pollution caused by burning fossil fuel to generate electricity.

Our local electric facility is the Peabody Municipal Light Plant. Their stated mission is to provide low-cost reliable power. But despite the problems of pollution, which contribute to climate warming as well as health burdens, PMLP joined as a major partner with the Mass Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC) to install a new peak power generator fired by gas and oil in Peabody. We have found both MMWEC and PMLP to be opaque organizations, reluctant to provide transparency to the public and their ratepayers, and oblivious to the impacts of their actions on health and climate.

In order for us to meet our state’s climate targets and equitably transition to a clean energy future, the 41 municipal light plants (MLPs) across the Commonwealth must be held to the same standards for clean energy requirements as investor-owned utilities (IOUs). The bill requires MLPs to meet the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and Clean Portfolio Standard (CPS) by 2030—requirements that the investor-owned utilities are already required to meet.

H3150/S2117 will ensure the equitable distribution of the benefits and burdens of the clean energy transition. A $50 million fund will enable MLPs to accelerate the transition to clean energy for environmental justice communities, low- or moderate-income housing, and elderly housing that they serve.

I welcome language modifications to accommodate the varied circumstances of MLPs, consistent with equity concerns and the need to increase renewable clean energy in MLP portfolios and avoid the vulnerability of excessive reliance on one source, such as nuclear. I call on this committee to vote favorably and advance this bill.

Thank you for your consideration.

Jerry Halberstadt