Move Montclair toward 100% sustainable energy
By DAVID KORFHAGE
Special to Montclair Local
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently announced that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are the highest they have been in 4 million years.
Just to give you some sense of what that means: Back then, the ocean was 50 feet higher than it is today. So we have a pretty good idea where we are heading if we don’t take action to address the climate crisis.
But, truth be told, the climate crisis is not (just) a problem for our children. It’s here now. The effects of climate change — wildfires, heatwaves and flooding, here in town and around the world — are in the news all the time. It’s our problem, and we need to act. We need to cut our carbon emissions down to zero as fast as possible.
Electricity is a good place to start. For starters, electricity is one of the “big four” sources of emissions from our town (the others are transportation, buildings and consumption/waste). De-carbonizing our electricity would therefore be a big step to helping us meet our goals for climate action. Also, switching to renewable electricity is something we can do now. The technology — renewable electricity — is ready to go.
Even better, we already have a tool that will allow us to do that effectively: the Sustainable Essex Alliance energy aggregation program. By pooling our purchasing power with six other towns, we can drive a hard bargain and negotiate lower electricity rates, to smooth the transition to green energy. By coming together as a community, we can accomplish more than all of us acting as individuals.
This program has already had some successes. Our most recent SEA contract gave households enrolled in the program 40% renewable electricity, well above the state requirement. It also included an option to choose 100% renewable electricity for a marginally higher price. Over the course of the contract, those who opted up to 100% renewable electricity paid little more than they would have with PSE&G itself — about $5 a month more on average. A cup of coffee per month is a small price to pay for a better world.
Unfortunately, while a good start, this isn’t nearly enough. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the international body of scientists who study climate change, has said we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030. At the very least that will require us to switch to all renewable electricity no later than 2030.
The energy aggregation program is an important tool in Montclair's fight for a sustainable world, but it is one we have been timid about using. Now, as we head into negotiations about the next SEA contract, it is time for us to say it loudly: Saving the planet is important and we, as a community, want to do our part. We need to use the SEA to move us, as a town, to where we want to be — a town running on green energy.
For that reason, we at Montclair Climate Action are calling upon the mayor and the council to move toward 100% renewable electricity by 2030, and coordinate with other towns in the SEA to reach this goal. We can do this through a series of yearly increases in the percentage of renewable electricity, with the first step-up coming in the next contract, which is being worked on right now. By stepping up gradually, we can mitigate any disruption, but still meet our moral obligations to future generations and to the planet.
The township government should also make sure the energy aggregation program is running effectively. It is essential that Montclair and other towns in the SEA provide effective oversight around the program to ensure transparency and predictability in billing. Clear, timely communication is also key. Montclair residents want to do the right thing, but to make good choices, they need full information, well in advance. Finally, hiring a township sustainability coordinator to manage this process and help with the program would be key. As of this writing, there is still no township sustainability coordinator, even though Gray Russell, our previous coordinator, stepped down a year ago.
Montclair has long prided itself as an environmentally-minded town, and in many ways we have been. But our response to the current climate crisis has been inadequate. As a community, we need to come together and act. We can start by committing to 100% renewable electricity by 2030.
David Korfhage is president of Montclair Climate Action.
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