Crazy Idea #3: Cogeneration & demand-response electricity pricing

Note: This is the third installment of Eight Crazy Ideas for ’08, a multi-part posting that is looking at ideas, big and small, that could improve our community in Belmont.

In the first installment, I talked about introducing a resident parking permit program to help alleviate the tension between residents and non-residents on streets that are adjacent to shopping areas and municipal lots. Crazy Idea #2 talked about the possibility of (re) introducing multi-space “smart meters” on Trapelo Road and Leonard Street to start capturing revenue for the town from park and ride commuters and other shoppers.

For Crazy Idea #3, we’re moving on from parking. A comment from B2 reader Christine about an idea other towns are trying: town-branded refuse bags to raise money and reduce waste, put me in the mind of “reduce, reuse, recycle.” One of the great things about Belmont (in my mind anyway) is that we’re a town that owns its own electric utility. Not only are our rates generally lower, but in an age of Enron-esque market manipulations, it’s nice to have a utility with a friendly face that’s answerable to our town. The other nice thing is that, as energy conservation becomes our new religion, there’s a very small feedback loop between the efforts we make as a town towards conserving energy or producing it from renewable sources and the numbers we see in our monthly electric bills. That wouldn’t be the case were we just one small town served by a giant like NStar. With that in mind, my third crazy idea is plucked right from the most recent report from our own Belmont Municipal Light Department (BMLD): power cogeneration and demand-response power pricing.

The ideas are pretty simple, actually.

With cogeneration, BMLD customers install some form of renewable energy source at their home (say, solar panels on the roof). Customers who generate enough electricity to run their electric meters backwards can sell it back to BMLD, which pays the customers for their excess power generation (in addition to providing cash rebates to those who install renewable energy sources at $2/watt). Belmont then aggregates renewable energy credits from tens or hundreds of its residential customers, rather than (or in addition to) investing in its own green power facilities.

Solar Power

With demand-response pricing, BMLD provides cash incentives to town residents to cut their demand during peak hours (say, lowering the AC during those hot summer afternoons). Reduced demand from customers means less pressure to develop new capacity, saving the town money and helping the environment, to boot. According to their most recent report, BMLD is looking for 1,000 residential and commercial customers to participate in the program by agreeing to reduce electricity use during peak hours and/or shift it to non-peak hours. Contact BMLD Manager Tim Richardson if you’re interested. There’s also this link from the BMLD Web site to a presentation on Demand Side Management and Renewable Resources.