In 2008, Belmont voters made a strong commitment to climate action, but we are falling behind. The Board of Selectmen should be a driving force to fulfill the specific goals and plans passed by Town Meeting. We can do this in a way that benefits both the town and environment, and we need to move aggressively.
For example, the Belmont Goes Solar campaign has been the most successful residential solarize program in Massachusetts. Solar panels were added by 260 homeowners – from a starting point of only 30 homes. That is over an 800% increase. This 2MW of capacity translates to 2,200MWh of production relative to total town power of 122,800 MWh or 1.8% of total power.
This is a good start but Belmont should do more. Residential solar generates the most electricity during the sunny and hot summer hours – near the peak times when energy purchases by Belmont Light are at their highest cost, and dramatically so. The average price of electricity is $30/MWh but can rise over $1000/MWh on hot summer days, Last August it hit $1,500/MWh. The 2.2MW of installed free solar power supports the Belmont grid and, especially at peak times, can save money for all Belmont rate payers. Solar saves Belmont Light and the town in avoided distribution, transmission, capacity and energy costs. The town should work to increase that installed renewable capacity.
In today’s political climate, incentives for all forms of solar have dropped, on the state level and likely also on the national level. Belmont needs to continue to incentivize residential solar, both for environmental and fiscal reasons. There are many approaches that the town should pursue to offset the loss of those incentives, including reviewing and updating the tariff, participating in the Massachusetts’ new SMART incentive program, and “Time of Use” rate policies.
In many other areas, Belmont has been slow in adopting state and federal grant programs that could benefit the town – for example, the Community Preservation Act (which originally matched 100% of locally contributed funds) and the Safe Routes to School and Complete Streets grant programs (that could fund sidewalks when we rehabilitate roads). Delays cost real money, which is something our town cannot afford.
Leveraging solar energy – both small scale (residential) and large scale (Belmont Light owned power ) – should be pursued. There are many residents with expert knowledge of the subject, and I believe we must leverage their expertise in formulating better policies.
We have had too many issues in the recent past when residents felt left out of the process, and much acrimony resulted. The Selectmen need to facilitate community involvement. The decisions made by the town belong to the people, and in my experience, we could have better decisions as a result.
But it is not enough to discuss – we cannot talk and talk and talk. I have repeatedly seen studies put on the shelf when they could guide our decisions in a positive, forward-thinking way.
We must take action soon if we want to maintain the momentum created by the BelmontGoesSolar.org, BelmontDrivesElectric.org,and Belmont Light’s heat pump conversion and weatherization campaigns in order to get the town back on track to meet its 2007 Climate Action Plan goals