MBTA officials say they are on track to reduce the authority’s greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent by 2024, six years ahead of schedule.
During a lengthy meeting on Thursday, the MBTA board approved a series of short- and long-range steps to begin electrifying the transit authority’s bus and commuter rail operations and to continue purchasing electricity from renewable sources.
The long-delayed bus procurement calls for the purchase of 80, 40-foot battery electric buses made by New Flyer with a heating system that runs on diesel fuel during the winter months to give the buses the 120-mile range they need. Deliveries will start with 10 buses in 2024, 32 in 2025, and 43 in 2026. The deliveries are expected to sync up with the development of new garages for electric buses in North Cambridge (scheduled to open in fall 2025) and Quincy (fall 2026).
Because of concern about lithium battery fires, T officials said the new buses and the bus garages will have fire detection and fire suppression equipment. They will also have technology alerting the driver if someone or some thing gets too close to the bus.
Bill Wolfgang, the T’s director of vehicle engineering, said the slow ramp-up in electric bus purchases – the T has more than 1,000 buses on the road now — will allow the transit authority to pivot to new technologies if they materialize.
The cost of the initial battery electric bus procurement is $119 million, which works out to roughly $1.5 million per bus. All but $3 million will come from federal funding the state received under the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
Moving on from the diesel locomotives used by the MBTA’s commuter rail system is going to be a much more complicated process, largely because the cost could be enormous. The board overseeing the T in 2019 approved a plan to electrify the Fairmount, Providence-Stoughton, and at least a portion of the Newburyport-Rockport line, but very little has been done since then. In the current five-year capital budget approved on Thursday, T officials said $120 million is set aside for hiring, planning, and early design work, but not for electric locomotives or electrification.
“We’ve not seen the progress we need,” said Sen. Brendan Crighton of Lynn, the co-chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee. “We need to pick up the pace.”
Electrifying buses and commuter rail will require more electricity. The T is already the largest consumer of electricity in the state and all of that power is renewable. The current electricity supply contract expires at the end of this year and the MBTA board on Thursday authorized the staff to secure a new contract for a period of up to five years with a total value not to exceed $120 million.
The contract price includes the cost of electricity plus renewable energy certificates, which verify the energy is green and also provide a subsidy to the producer. The cost of renewable energy credits, or RECs, has gone up substantially, and is expected to rise from $854,000 a year under the current contract to $6 million a year under the new deal. The current contract relies on RECs associated with older hydroelectric projects in Maine. The new contract will obtain 30 percent of the RECs from solar and wind projects in Massachusetts and the rest from hydro projects in Maine.
Construction to resume on power line: Avangrid is resuming construction on a Massachusetts-financed transmission line to carry hydroelectricity from Quebec into southern Maine, and the company’s CEO told financial analysts the $1.5 billion project is expected to yield revenue this year.
– The hydroelectricity, enough to power 1 million homes, is considered crucial to efforts by Massachusetts to decarbonize its electricity sector. The transmission line ran into a wall in 2021 when voters passed a law blocking it, but Avangrid succeeded in challenging the constitutionality of the new law in court and is now moving to finish the project.
– The $1.5 billion estimated cost is $500 million more than originally forecast, and Massachusetts ratepayers will have to pick up at least part of that cost. Legislation is moving forward at the State House that would allow Avangrid and the states three utilities to revise their earlier deal. Read more.
Eng starts restructuring: MBTA General Manager Phillip Eng recruits four new members of his management team who all previously worked for New York transportation agencies. “It is apparent that we need reinforcements,” Eng told the MBTA board of directors. “Today I’m pleased to announce we are starting to restructure our organization.” Read more.
There they go again: The Legislature and Gov. Maura Healey are pushing back the state budget deadline by another month, but there are indications the work could be completed next week. Read more.
End life without parole: Ashley Nellis of The Sentencing Project, pointing to recent court decisions that have ruled life without parole (LWOP) sentences unconstitutional for those who were under 18 at the time of a crime, says the Supreme Judicial Court, in a pending ruling, should extend that cutoff age further into young adulthood. She spotlights a Massachusetts man more than 30 years into a LWOP sentence for first-degree murder who was 18 at the time of the killing. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
The Senate unanimously approved two bills, one making it easier for homeless adults and youth to access state IDs, and the other allowing for IDs to accurately portray the holder’s gender. (GBH)
Legislators want to continue requiring hybrid meeting requirements for most government meetings, also proposing increased state funding for virtual access. (Worcester Telegram)
More than half of Boston’s municipal pools are closed for one reason or another amid the sweltering heat wave. (Boston Globe)
Former president Donald Trump is hit with additional charges in the Mar-a-Lago documents case, with prosecutors charging that he tried to have surveillance footage at the compound deleted so it could not be provided to a federal grand jury. (NPR)
Templeton, a rural town with less than 9,000 residents, will get its first multifamily affordable housing project in 25 years – a renovated 1923 school building. (MassLive)
Some 66 acres of former fairgrounds are among the last large undeveloped parcels in Brockton, and the city is considering spending more than $53 million to acquire the land. (The Enterprise of Brockton)
It’s almost back to business as usual at the Steamship Authority, which ferries passengers to and from the Cape and Islands, with ridership approaching pre-pandemic levels. (Cape Cod Times)
The Huntington Theatre announces a new executive director, Christopher Mannelli. (WBUR)
The state inspector general said the MBTA overpaid a Tennessee contractor more than $5 million for in-station “Transit Ambassadors” at T stations and failed to set clear metrics for their performance. (Boston Herald)
Watch those fins! A study and Massachusetts shark experts warn that sharks regularly swim into shallow waters. (MassLive)
A new study suggests the Atlantic current – which conveys warm water from the tropics to the North Atlantic and brings cold water southward – could collapse because of human-caused climate change. (Cape Cod Times)
A legal aid group is spending grant money on a billboard campaign to inform Western and Central Massachusetts residents about sealing their criminal records. (MassLive)