Aug 15, 2022 - News

How the Boston area is weaning off fossil fuels

An MBTA worker drives the bus on a center-running bus lane on Columbus Avenue in Boston.
The center-running bus lanes on Columbus Avenue were the first to appear in New England. Photo: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Massachusetts cities and towns are prioritizing bus lanes, offering EV chargers and installing solar panels. These and other steps are being taken to reduce their carbon footprints, according to an annual report on how local communities are going green.

What's happening: The Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center highlighted a handful of Boston-area communities that are leading the way to transition to clean energy in its "Renewable Communities" report, released last week.

Why it matters: Massachusetts has until 2050 to reduce its carbon emissions by 100% of its 1990 levels.

Here's what stood out.

Melrose: EV chargers on poles

City officials, working with National Grid, are adding 16 electric vehicle chargers to utility poles for curbside use this year.

  • It's the first project on the East Coast to install chargers on utility poles, which is less expensive than in-ground installations.
  • The new stations make EV charging accessible to motorists who live in apartments or condos, and thus might not have a driveway or garage where they could install a home charging system.

How it works: The chargers tap into the power lines overhead.

  • Drivers use the AmpUp smartphone app to check in and pay for the charging.
  • The average session costs $2.78, according to National Grid, though vehicles tend to cost $6 to fully charge.

Context: The chargers come as a new climate law, which the governor signed last week, offers rebates for EV purchases.

Price tag: City officials and National Grid did not disclose the cost, except to say that National Grid is helping cover it as part of its Electric Vehicle Charging Station program.

Boston: Center-running bus lanes

The MBTA and city officials introduced center-running bus lanes last October on Columbus Avenue — the first of their kind in New England.

  • The lanes give MBTA buses more room to travel, reducing traffic-related delays, in hopes that riders will opt for public transit instead of ridesharing or driving.
  • The red-coated bus lanes run between Walnut Street and Jackson Square, along part of the 22, 29 and 44 bus routes.

Price tag: $14 million (Boston paid $1 million and the MBTA paid the rest).

Yes, and: The city is looking into creating center-running bus lanes on Blue Hill Avenue.

Boston: Solar in Eastie

City officials in May announced a pilot program with the nonprofit Green Roots to increase rooftop solar energy and battery storage in East Boston, a majority-immigrant and working-class neighborhood.

  • Under the program, homeowners can get a 15% discount on installation costs, and certain homeowners can get subsidies.

Why it matters: Using rooftop solar panels reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and can reduce energy costs.

  • The panels can also produce extra electricity that can be used to help meet demand during peak energy hours.

So far, 38 households have expressed interest in solar panels as of early August, according to a presentation from Kate England, the city's director of green infrastructure. But most haven't signed contracts to move forward with installation.

Price tag: Neither the report nor city officials disclosed the cost of the pilot program.

Brookline: Geothermal pumps

Brookline updated the plans for its new District School, which is set to open in 2023, to include a geothermal pump system for heating and cooling.

  • Unlike air-source heat pumps, which use air from outside to heat or cool a building, geothermal pumps rely on groundwater and underground air.
  • Proponents say air temperatures underground tend to be more stable than outside air temperatures — especially during severe winter weather or heat waves — and need less energy to heat or cool a building.

Price tag: Town meeting members agreed to borrow $4.9 million last October to install the heating system.

Fun fact: The town estimates the heat pumps will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 188,000 kilograms a year.

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