Somerville’s path to realizing carbon neutrality requires the concerted effort of City government and Somerville residents working together.
As we celebrate Earth Day this month, we remember that the greatest challenges facing humanity require the cooperation of the entire global community. As the heroic efforts of our public health and medical professionals to fight the pandemic continue, we must resolve to build a healthier, greener future. Massachusetts has the opportunity to lead given the historic climate legislation passed into law last month that empowers our Commonwealth to reduce fossil fuel emissions to combat the threat of glacial melting and sea level rise along our coastlines and waterways. Somerville and municipalities throughout the world must meet this challenge to combat the climate crisis by reducing our fossil fuel emissions by 50% in 2030 and to net zero by 2050 or sooner. Working with progressive activists and legislators throughout the Commonwealth, I co-authored the “Green New Deal for Massachusetts Now”, securing the Democratic Party’s endorsement of the climate legislation, now law, and engaging thousands of Somerville voters in support of it. Similarly, Somerville’s path to realizing carbon neutrality requires the concerted effort of City government and Somerville residents working together.
Somerville’s first step to carbon neutrality is transitioning to carbon-free, renewable energy. Somerville residents, businesses, and government can immediately take advantage of renewable energy transfer programs, such as CleanChoice Energy (cleanchoiceenergy.com), at costs comparable to fossil fuel derived energy. These opt-in programs power homes through 100% renewable wind and solar energy from regional sources and help finance construction of new wind turbines and solar farms while reducing fossil fuel emissions. Our new climate law also requires our local electric utilities to increase their share of renewable energy by at least 3% per year starting in 2025. Somerville non-profits in food security, homelessness, and emergency shelter can also take advantage of a newly created grant program to finance installation of solar energy technology on their buildings. It will take thirty years to build enough wind and solar to replace fossil fuel power altogether, so Somerville City government needs to do its part by incentivizing inclusion of solar panels in new construction.
Somerville needs to become more energy efficient too. The new climate law in Massachusetts will provide cities new standards for buildings with net-zero emissions and new efficiency standards for home appliances. Somerville residents and businesses can also take advantage of cost-saving energy efficiency improvements through programs such as Mass Save (masssave.com). Creation of new green and street-side open spaces throughout Somerville accessible to residents, businesses, and local artists also encourages greener local commerce supported by cyclists, pedestrian traffic, and public transit.
Somerville needs to transition to electric vehicles. Transportation is the largest source of fossil fuel emissions, so transitioning to electric vehicles can go a long way to reduce our carbon footprint. The new Massachusetts climate law requires that new electric vehicle charging stations be built and creates a rebate program to reduce the cost of electric vehicle purchases. The City of Somerville should lead the way by transitioning all of our City-owned vehicle fleets to electric by 2030. Somerville residents can do their part too by purchasing hybrid gas/electric or electric vehicles when buying a new car, taking advantage of the rebates when possible.
Somerville also needs buildings free of fossil fuels. The new Massachusetts climate law will create new building standards for net-zero emissions that encourage use of electric heating and appliances, phasing out use of natural gas, propane, and heating oil. Somerville residents can do their part by replacing their aging fossil fuel heating systems with electric furnaces and water heaters and by participating in a newly created pilot program to install geothermal heat pumps. The City of Somerville should lead the way by replacing all fossil fuel systems in City-owned buildings by 2030.
Lastly, Somerville needs more green jobs. The newly expanded Massachusetts Clean Energy Center provides job training and grants to residents of newly-defined environmental justice communities and local businesses to participate in clean energy programs. Somerville City government should actively engage and assist our business leaders and diverse communities in pursuit of those grants and vital job opportunities.
Creating a future free of climate crisis requires a thirty-year commitment of the entire global community. Somerville can lead the way by bringing its City-owned infrastructure to carbon neutral by 2030 and empower its residents through knowledge, grants, and close partnership to build a greener economy, one city at a time.
Justin Klekota is a candidate for Somerville City Council At-Large. You can learn more about him at electjustin.org.
Shira Laucharoen is a reporter based in Boston. She currently serves as the assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. In the past she has written for Sampan newspaper, The Somerville Times, Scout Magazine, Boston Magazine, and WBUR.