As the Western Massachusetts region makes its way through pandemic-fueled inflation, the consumer-owned, not-for-profit municipal utilities in the commonwealth and their state-designated joint action agency, the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC), forge ahead to continue to provide superior service while doing their part to reduce climate impacts.
After nearly three years of the COVID-19 pandemic and a time period of enormous change, the municipal light plant members (MLPs) and project participants of MMWEC, including the utilities in Holyoke, Chicopee, Russell, South Hadley and Westfield, strive to continue to do what they do best – maintain reliable electric service at a low cost.
Municipal utilities are not immune to the increasing energy costs and supply chain issues affecting the entire electric industry. Many of our members have had to raise their rates over the past several months, but generally, their customers are experiencing smaller increases to their bills.
With long-term planning, the municipal light plant members are able to implement rate stabilization measures to reduce the impacts of power cost volatility. While higher costs across the board affect everyone, their customers tend to have a lower energy cost burden than those served by investor-owned utilities.
Despite economic uncertainty and the ongoing pandemic, MLPs are busy ensuring that the lights stay on for their customers. They’re doing this with a focus on increasing the carbon-free energy sales in their power portfolios, in alignment with the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standard (GGES) that was signed into law in 2021. Even prior to the law, many MLPs were ahead of the curve when it came to incorporating renewable resources, dating back to the first wind turbines constructed by the Princeton light department in the 1980s.
Under the GGES, MLPs must have 50% carbon-free energy sales by 2030, 75% carbon-free energy sales by 2040, and “net zero” carbon emissions energy sales by 2050. MMWEC is helping its member light departments meet or exceed these targets by developing individual “roadmaps” to help guide their future planning, based on the needs and desires of each individual light department.
In 2022, MMWEC developed “pathway reports” for each of its members to highlight all of the steps they are taking to reach each of those milestone targets.
To that end, MMWEC has constructed a 6.9 megawatt solar project on its Ludlow campus – the largest single solar field in the commonwealth. The Master Sgt. Alexander Cotton Memorial Solar Project is named in honor of the late master sergeant Cotton, of the 439th Airlift Wing at neighboring Westover Air Reserve Base.
Built on 35 acres, the project will generate more than 13,800 megawatt hours per year, enough to power over 1,500 homes. It is also expected to displace nearly 13.2 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions from Massachusetts power plants per year.
Six MMWEC member utilities are participating in the project, which will come online this year. The project is ideal for MLPs looking to increase their carbon-free generation, but may not have adequate space within their own service territories to build a solar array.
Despite all of their progress, MMWEC and the MLPs are not resting on their laurels. They continue to investigate various technologies – both established and emerging – in an effort to continue to green their power portfolios. This includes offshore wind, energy storage, green hydrogen and advanced nuclear technology.
At the same time, the MLPs are increasing opportunities and incentives for forward-thinking customers looking to decarbonize and electrify. In 2022, MMWEC launched the NextZero program, a rebranded energy efficiency program with a focus on decarbonization and electrification for residential and commercial customers.
In 2023, several MMWEC member light departments will participate in a new residential battery incentive program in an effort to encourage more residents to reduce their carbon footprints at home. MMWEC will continue to investigate and develop programs under the NextZero umbrella that support the MLPs’ objectives of decarbonization.
The economy and the pandemic continue to present challenges to our industry, but MMWEC and the commonwealth’s municipal light departments will forge ahead in our mission today while keeping an eye on the future.
Ronald C. DeCurzio is the CEO of Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co., based in Ludlow. To learn more about MMWEC, go online to mmwec.org.