Amherst moves forward with green energy program

  • Amherst Town Hall FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/8/2020 9:24:29 AM
Modified: 1/8/2020 9:23:54 AM

AMHERST — Amherst has given the go-ahead for the creation of a community choice energy aggregation program with an aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and use more green energy sources.

The Town Council Monday voted to authorize Town Manager Paul Bockelman to work with Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, and to get permission from Pelham Town Meeting this spring, to bring more green sources of power for customers in the three communities.

The unanimous vote allows the town manager to work with others on “developing a municipal aggregation plan to be filed with the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) after it is developed in consultation with the Department of Energy Resources (DOER).”

District 5 Councilor Darcy DuMont said it was important to give the town manager this authority so any agreement is not held up by having the council sign off on it at a later time.

The vote comes after the Inter-Municipal Task Force on Community Choice Aggregation completed 18 months of study for the program that will encourage a more resilient local energy system, create competitive and more stable long-term electric rates and aim to bring broader and more equitable access to clean energy resources.

Northampton and Pelham had previously moved forward with authorization for the plan under the 1997 Massachusetts law that allows communities to choose the electricity supplier for residents and businesses within their town or city. Neighboring towns and cities can also coordinate to create aggregations between their municipalities.

In addition, the council gave Bockelman the ability, under a state law joint powers agreement, to “develop and administer the municipal aggregation herein authorized and provide additional energy-related products and services.”

But that vote was closer, with eight councilors in favor and three against, including At Large Councilor Alisa Brewer, District 4 Councilor Evan Ross and District 1 Councilor Sarah Swartz opposing the preauthorization. District 1 Councilor Cathy Schoen abstained from voting and District 5 Councilor Shalini Bahl-Milne was absent.

For Andra Rose, a member of Mothers Out Front, which is endorsing aggregation, the Amherst votes mean that the next two months can be spent preparing a submission to the state’s public utilities department.

The state budget already includes $50,000 for this project and additional money for start-up costs may be available from the Municipal Vulnerabilities Program. The money is needed for initial staff, including hiring a broker to identify and then negotiate with the green suppliers, and eventually create programs and other services to fight climate change.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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