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City Council Votes To Cut Ties with TransCanada, Explore Sustainability

Cambridge City Hall

A unanimous Cambridge City Council vote requesting not to renew the city’s energy contract with the TransCanada Corporation after this year might make Cambridge one of just a handful of cities across the United States to pursue total independence from non-renewable energy sources.

The Council’s policy order, approved Feb. 23, cited TransCanada’s proposal to build the KeyStone XL Pipeline as a primary motivation for severing the city’s relationship with the company.  The resolution, sponsored by City Councilor Dennis J. Carlone, specifically points to the environmental impacts of the extraction of tar sands oil as a reason for the move.

TransCanada currently provides electricity for many of Cambridge’s municipal buildings and is under contract with the city until the end of 2015.

Robert L. Paarlberg, an associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, said he believes Cambridge’s decision to cut ties with TransCanada is a feasible one.

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“Washing their hands of TransCanada, which was an important symbolic move, is something that [Cambridge] can certainly do,” he said.

The policy order also requests City Manager Richard C. Rossi to explore the possibility of “obtain[ing] up to 100% renewable power for all municipal electricity needs.”

City Councilor Nadeem A. Mazen said the legislation would not be an undue financial burden on the city in the short-term while also helping it become more sustainable and economically efficient in the long-term.

“We’ve learned as a city about the importance of switching to green energy,” he said. “Not only could we save money in the long term, and spend not too much more than we currently do in the short term, but it’s the obvious right thing to do.”

Paarlberg, for his part, expressed doubt that Cambridge would be able to follow through on its goal of 100 percent sustainability, saying that he thinks that “it’s highly unlikely the city of Cambridge is going to be able to wash its hands of all fossil fuels and go to 100 percent renewables or even anywhere close to 100 percent renewables.”

Mazen disagreed, citing a major Council effort to follow through on its legislation, though he admitted that the city’s timeline is uncertain.

“Enough people are behind this and looking into it in earnest, so the chances of success are quite high… How long it will take is something that we will be researching over the next few months,” he said.

Science and technology professor Sheila S. Jasanoff ’64 said she hopes that Cambridge’s commitment to sustainability could have a ripple effect across other cities in the United States and beyond.

“Innovations in cities can have quite a level of impact, especially technical sharing, like best-practice transfers,” she said. “The impact of a city should not be underestimated.”

According to nonprofit Go 100%’s website, if Cambridge is able to accomplish its goal of moving to 100 percent renewable energy, it will join about twelve American cities that have become or are in the process of becoming 100 percent renewable in terms of energy usage.

Palo Alto, home to Stanford University, is also on Go 100%’s list of renewable cities. Palo Alto began using 100 percent net renewable energy in 2013, meaning any non-renewable energy the city utilized was “offset” with purchase of renewable energy credits.

—Staff writer Samuel E. Stone can be reached at samuel.stone@thecrimson.com.

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