Residents who dislike using electricity that has been generated by burning fossil fuels may soon have the opportunity to put their money where their principles are.

If Andover adopts the Community Choice Aggregation program, ratepayers will have the right to specify that more of their power will come from renewable sources, such as solar and wind, rather than oil, coal or natural gas.

Of the electricity used by Andover residents, 16% already comes from renewable sources. State law requires this.

About 50 people attended a forum on Community Choice Aggregation at Memorial Hall Library last week. Deputy Town Manager Michael Lindstrom pointed out that making Andover a "greener" community is among the "defined goals of the Select Board."

Here's how the program works:

If the town decides to adopt this approach, the Select Board will contract with a company that will arrange for the purchase of electricity from renewable sources.

National Grid will still deliver the electricity through its transmission lines, according to Patrick Roche of Good Energy, a consulting firm hired by the town. The electricity, however, will be generated by "green" sources along with the traditional fossil fuel operations.

Roche pointed out that National Grid does not generate power itself, but gets it from a variety of sources.

Community Choice Aggregation is managed by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.

If Town Meeting votes to adopt the program, the Select Board will set an additional percentage, beyond the mandatory 16%, that must be renewable. Individual ratepayers will be permitted to "opt up" and pay for more renewable electricity; or "opt down" and pay for less "green" current, according to Lindstrom and Roche.

Massachusetts' goal is to obtain at least 80% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050, according to Roche.

"Some states have more aggressive goals," he said.

The cities and towns that have adopted the Community Choice Aggregation program have saved more than $65 million, according to Roche.

"We can't guarantee savings," he said.

The 16% renewable energy required by the state must come from plants that were built after 1997. They must also be located in New England, New York or Canada, Roche said.

Besides wind and solar, low-impact hydro-electric power, anaerobic digestive systems and biomass qualify as renewable, he said. Nuclear power, which does not produce emissions, currently does not qualify, he said.

David Cook said the Merrimack River falls in Lawrence might be a source of renewable energy. Roche said that prospect is worth investigating.

Fred Snell asked how many of Massachusetts' 351 cities and towns have adopted Community Choice Aggregation. Roche said 120 of them have active aggregation programs.

Joyce Losick-Yang, recently hired as the town's sustainability coordinator, said Andover is "surrounded" by towns that have already adopted the program, including North Andover and Tewksbury.

"It is past time," she said, for Andover to follow suit.

Selectman Alex Vispoli said he likes the idea of giving ratepayers a choice as to how much renewable energy they wish to buy.

The annual Town Meeting will be asked to vote whether to authorize the Select Board to go forward with the program. The first night of Town Meeting is April 27. 

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