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College Town Cuts Ties With TransCanada Over Keystone XL, Plans to Go 100 Percent Renewable

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College Town Cuts Ties With TransCanada Over Keystone XL, Plans to Go 100 Percent Renewable

The battle over building the Keystone XL pipeline is having an impact far from its proposed route. One of those places is the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, home to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a city of 100,000 known for its educated and engaged citizens.

Cambridge city councillor Dennis Carlone poses with members of Mothers Out Front following their testimony in support of terminating the city's contract with TransCanada. Photo credit: Dennis Carlone blog

The city currently purchases the electricity that powers its municipal buildings from TransCanada, Keystone XL's parent company. But now its city council has passed a unanimous resolution advising city manager Richard Rossi not to do business with the company once its current contract expires at the end of 2015 and to look at acquiring the city's electricity from clean, renewable sources. The measure was sponsored by councillor Dennis Carlone.

In the distinctive language of such resolutions, Policy Order 18 made clear what motivated the demand for change, stating:

"Whereas: the City of Cambridge obtains electricity for municipal operations through a contact with TransCanada Corporation; and Whereas: TransCanada is the driving force behind Keystone XL, a proposal to create a 1,179-mile pipeline to deliver tar sands oil to the U.S.; and Whereas: Jim Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has stated that the Keystone XL pipeline would mean 'game over' for the environment, because exploitation of tar sands oil would make it implausible to stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts; and Whereas: it has come to the attention of the city council that our contract with TransCanada is set to expire at the end of the year; now therefore be it Ordered: that the city manager be and hereby is requested not to enter into any future contracts to obtain electricity from TransCanada; and be it further Ordered: that the city manager be and hereby is requested to investigate the possibility of entering into an agreement to obtain up to 100 percent renewable power for all municipal electricity needs."

In an email to constituents, Carlone said, "Let's end our dealings with TransCanada. The same logic that applies to the fossil fuel divestment campaign applies here—if TransCanada is going to continue with its business of extracting oil from tar sands, then we shouldn't be buying our electricity from them."

Carlone was referring to the Divest Harvard campaign, in which hundreds of students and prominent alumni such as Natalie Portman, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Cornel West and Bill McKibben are pressuring the school's administration to remove its endowment money from fossil fuel investments.

The policy order came out of a series of discussions Carlone had with Mothers Out Front, a two-year-old Cambridge-based grassroots advocacy group describing themselves as "mothers, grandmothers, and other caregivers who can no longer be silent and still about the very real danger that climate change poses to our children’s and grandchildren’s future." The group provided testimony at city council on behalf of the resolution.

"Our organization has a strategy for creating a clean energy future but we need your help," said Beth Adams, the mother of two young boys, in her testimony. "We are working on the ground to get individuals to weatherize their homes, conserve their energy and to switch to clean electricity. My family has made the switch, along with 100 other people in Cambridge including councillor Carlone. I am here tonight to ask for more bold climate action and leadership from the city of Cambridge to help us ensure a livable climate for our children and for future generations."

"I am extremely proud that we have this possibility for the city to take this bold step to say no to continuing our contact with TransCanada which is actual the corporation that has brought us tar sands and the Keystone XL pipeline which I've been protesting for several years now," added Mothers Out Front member Rachel Wyon. "We have an opportunity now to close down that end of that contract and open a new contract in a new era with clean, renewable energy. We need for Cambridge to be a leader, not only for Cambridge, but for the state and for the nation."

TransCanada spokesperson Sharan Kaur minimized the company's climate impact, telling the Boston Globe, "Regardless of the type of product we are transporting or the kind of energy we are producing, we will continue to do so safely and in an environmentally sustainable way."

Cambridge residents clearly don't agree.

"As a lifelong Cambridge resident and clean energy entrepreneur, I'm thrilled to see the city potentially making a real change in our energy supply," said Eric Grunebaum. "I hope we can move towards the front of the pack of U.S. cities which recognize the grave risks that climate disruption and destabilization poses. It would be a great thing for Cambridge to use its buying power to spur new renewable power generation, while at the same time removing our financial support from TransCanada which has demonstrated itself to be a bad actor in the growing movement to reduce our dependence on planet-cooking fossil fuels."

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A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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