Renew Boston

April 4, 2014 Boston


In December 2007, then-Mayor Thomas M. Menino directed the Office of Environmental and Energy Services to develop a program to engage more Boston residents and businesses in energy efficiency and alternative energy. Building‐related GHG emissions represent two thirds of the community’s inventory, and building energy efficiency constitutes the single most important mitigation element in the City’s Climate Action Plan.

After examining several models, the City of Boston decided to partner directly with local electric and natural gas utilities to implement energy efficiency. This decision coincided with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’s enactment of the Green Communities Act (GCA), which confirmed the Commonwealth’s  primary reliance on utilities to provide energy efficiency services funded through system benefit charges, proceeds of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and other resources. The GCA directed electric and natural gas utilities to help customers take all cost-effective measures for energy efficiency.

Renew Boston 1.0 was the City’s pilot residential program. With $200,000 of City funds in 2009, Renew Boston procured the services of an innovative home performance contractor and a local energy-consumers alliance and provided 169 median-income residents with comprehensive energy efficiency services.


In 2009, Renew Boston and its advisory committee developed the programs first comprehensive plan. Starting in September 2010, Renew Boston 2.0 administered the City’s $6.5 million energy efficiency grant under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: $2 million served 1,750 residents within 60‐120% median income with no‐cost weatherization, $1 million served 700 small businesses, and $1.1 million funded six low‐income multi‐family efficiency projects. Renew Boston then obtained additional funds to extend the no‐cost offer to 510 more families. Boston also used the federal grant to establish a two-person energy office, install a 94.5 kW photo‐voltaic facility, support a residential solar program, and provide $600,000 towards converting streetlights to LEDs. Renew Boston succeeded in driving the demand for green jobs: the City’s home performance contractor grew from 25 employees in 2009 to over 400 in 2013.

Renew Boston’s key innovation is the partnership with its electric utility, which loans the program a full-time manager, and its natural gas utility. Both utilities support Renew Boston’s community outreach and the City’s internal energy goals, and serve on its Strategy Board.

Renew Boston demonstrated the importance of municipal programs to achieving state-wide goals. The City worked with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to ensure that Renew Boston and similar programs are supported in state-wide plans.

Key Findings

By 2011, Renew Boston achieved significant results:

  • Renew Boston doubled the level of residential participation in utility efficiency programs (6.8% per year for 2010–2012 from about 3% in 2007–2009).
  • Over 8.5% of Boston households signed up with Renew Boston to discuss arranging a home energy assessment.
  • Residential insulation and air sealing rose from 600 housing units in 2010 to an average of 2,050 units in 2011 and 2012.

For the commercial and industrial sectors, the utilities reported more energy savings in Boston, with a 64 percent increase in electric savings from 2010 to 2012, and natural gas savings 54 percent above the 2011 annual target. The Renew Boston Small Business initiative increased the number of participants by 550 customers in 2011, an increase of 73%, with annual savings of 2.6 GWh.

With the end of federal funding, Renew Boston needed to develop new initiatives to maintain the high level of participation. Furthermore, despite progress in participation and energy savings in 2011 and 2012, citywide electricity usage in 2012 was above target levels. There are at least two reasons for this:

  • Load growth resumed after the Great Recession in 2009 and 2010. Energy savings must cover those load increases in addition to meeting savings goals.
  • There is a lag between installation of energy saving measures and reduction in energy use.

Reductions in total electricity usage must improve to 2.6%/year to reach the 2020 target. To also cover 1.5% potential load growth, electricity savings must reach 4.1% in 2013 or 293 GWh, more than the best savings achieved to date: 200 GWh in 2012.

Citywide natural gas use was below the City’s target in 2011. Analysis is underway of the potential contributions of oil conversions and CHP (combined heat and power) to GHG reductions, and of the effect of weather, before annual gas targets are adjusted to reach the 2020 goals.

Read more about Renew Boston's 2013 Strategic Plan, which includes updated goals for the program, here.


For more information, contact: 

Brad Swing
Director of Energy Policy and Programs
City of Boston