Fact check: net-zero stretch code is the right move for Massachusetts

Yesterday, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker vetoed S. 2995, “An act creating a next-generation roadmap for Massachusetts climate policy.” As the Boston Globe reported earlier this week, and as the Governor’s letter to the legislature confirms, opposition from the real estate industry played a significant role in the decision.

The section of the bill that has drawn the ire of real estate groups has to do with the energy efficiency parts of the building code. Currently, Massachusetts has both a standard (or “base”) building energy code and a “stretch” code. The stretch code allows cities and towns to opt in to requirements for higher levels of energy efficiency in new buildings.

The bill would require the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to strengthen the stretch code and to include a definition of “net-zero building.” Net-zero buildings either emit no greenhouse gases or generate enough renewable energy to offset the emissions they do cause. Although they sound like the far-off future, developers are building zero-energy buildings in Massachusetts right now at no extra cost.

Even so, real estate developers reportedly complained to the Governor that this part of the bill would be a burden. Their complaint is hard to understand. The bill’s approach is about as cautious and reasonable as one could expect, and here’s why:

The stretch code is optional. Cities and towns must opt-in to the current stretch code. To date, more than 80% of the Commonwealth’s municipalities have done so, ranging from urban Springfield to rural Colrain and suburban Rockland. An updated version of the code would be no different. Far from a hardship, the stretch code is a valuable tool which cities and towns use to reduce energy bills for their residents and businesses.

Flexibility is built into the stretch code. Today, Massachusetts’ stretch code is performance-based. This means that rather than dictating that different building components be built in a specific way, the stretch code requires a certain level of whole-building efficiency, which builders may achieve in whatever way they wish. Updating to a net-zero stretch code would entail higher levels of energy efficiency, but it would not alter this flexibility.

The Governor’s agencies would be in charge of developing the code. Notably, the bill does not define “net-zero building.” It assigns that task to the Governor’s own administration. Fortunately, the administration had already begun this work long before the final bill emerged: a recently-released draft of the state’s Clean Energy and Climate Plan (page 30) specifically proposes that the stretch code be updated in just the way that the bill proposes.

The bill provides for a gradual implementation timeline. The bill urges DOER to develop “a tiered implementation plan,” under which the revised code could be phased in over time and modulated to reflect different energy use characteristics between building types. The Governor’s administration would be empowered to make these decisions. And even under an aggressive timeline, years are likely to pass before a significant number of construction projects in the Commonwealth are built under the new code. The real estate industry’s depiction of the updated stretch code as sudden and onerous does not square with the facts.

Responsibility for the code would remain with the state. Campaigns to ban new gas hookups have gathered steam recently in several Massachusetts cities and towns. Real estate interests have opposed these common-sense climate measures as well, on the grounds that, since these ordinances would vary by town, they would add a layer of complexity to developers’ work. While Acadia Center agrees that the Commonwealth must rapidly wind down its use of gas if it expects to reach its climate targets, adopting a statewide net-zero stretch code would not create the labyrinthine landscape of different building codes that developers fear. It would simply update a building code pathway that has already existed in Massachusetts for years to include requirements that many builders in the state are already sticking to on their own.

In conclusion, the updated stretch energy code that S.2995 proposes is optional, flexible, efficient, and ultimately defined by the Governor’s own agencies. To find a more accommodating approach would be difficult indeed. Acadia Center thanks Speaker Mariano and Senate President Spilka for their intention to quickly pass the bill again and urges Governor Baker to sign it this time.

 

Maine Won’t Wait, A Four-Year Plan for Climate Action

On December 1, 2020, the Maine Climate Council released its report, “Maine Won’t Wait, A Four-Year Plan for Climate Action,” to Governor Janet Mills. The focus now turns to the governor and legislature to transition the Plan’s priorities and strategies into legislative and regulatory initiatives.

Not everyone thought it possible to build a consensus-driven, aggressive roadmap to addressing the relentless effects of climate change. In fact, in the winter of 2020, the December 1 deadline for finalizing Maine’s Climate Action Plan seemed very far away. The enormity of Covid-19 was taking hold and so many were struggling to care for their families, adjust to working remotely and Zoom calls, and balance the immense stress and anxiety of this extraordinary time.  However, Governor Mills and her staff  assured the approximately 230 Council and Working Group Members, including Acadia Center, of how important our work was, and that despite the coronavirus was taking its toll on the health, welfare, and wallets of Mainers, the climate challenge wasn’t going away, and a climate plan must be a top priority. Now we are ready to implement the Maine Climate Action Plan in a way that maximizes investment in renewable energy, efficient buildings, clean transportation, healthier communities, and our most vulnerable citizens, while driving a clean energy economic recovery.

The Climate Action Plan confronts the extreme impacts of climate change on Maine’s coastal communities, public health, fishing and marine industries, forests, and low-income and other vulnerable populations. Not all strategies are created equal, and the state of Maine will want to focus on those that deliver the biggest bang for their buck. This Plan represents the most significant and comprehensive effort to map out the actions that are needed to reduce climate pollution and create new jobs as part of the transition to a clean energy economy. It sets out strategies based on scientific assessments of the reduction levels needed to help protect our economy, people, and environment from severe impacts of climate change. The final Climate Action Plan includes substantial increases in electric vehicles and residential heat pumps, additional support for renewable energy projects, and assistance to improve community resilience. There are also strong recommendations to protect natural and working lands and forests across the state, which absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

The Plan will not be successful without a robust political and financial commitment to implement its strategies. The federal government will also need to step up to support states like Maine in investing in clean energy, a modern transportation system, and resilient infrastructure. While the Plan has gaps, especially in its limited support of a regional Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) we believe this blueprint will lead to significantly lower greenhouse gas levels, and importantly, a diversity of opportunities for a diversity of Mainers. With a new federal administration coming into office in 2021 with a commitment to climate, state, regional and local work to advance a clean energy and transportation future, we are optimistic about the opportunities and vision Maine’s Climate Action Plan lays out.

There is no single silver bullet to address climate change. We need to attack it from multiple angles, try many approaches. Maine’s Climate Action Plan tackles this intractable challenge holistically and determinedly. With it, we will make the changes needed for a healthier planet and better lives for all Mainers.

Critical Elements of the Plan:

  • Significantly expanding beneficial electrification for heating and transportation.
  • Deploying high-speed broadband to 95% of Maine homes by 2025 and 99% by 2030.
  • Increasing public transportation funding to the national median of $5 per capita by 2024.
  • Increasing weatherization, especially for low-income and rural households.
  • Phasing in modern, energy efficient building codes to reach net zero carbon emissions for new construction by 2035 and incorporate mass timber and wood-fiber insulation into new building structures.
  • Leveraging additional procurements of clean energy supply with specific development targets for offshore wind, smaller distributed energy resources, and energy storage.
  • Minimizing environmental and community impacts of renewable energy siting by focusing on early engagement with key stakeholders and the public.
  • Initiating a power transformation stakeholder process to pursue utility innovation and grid modernization.
  • Marrying Maine’s natural resources and cleantech workforce and innovation to create and maintain good-paying, sustainable jobs.
  • Increasing investments in Maine forest conservation and carbon sequestration.

With the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy, and a transition to a more climate-friendly President, it is particularly critical now that the final Climate Action Plan spurs robust, sustainable, and equitable solutions for the economic, energy, and environmental benefit of all Mainers. Acadia Center will be working with partners and policymakers to pursue legislative, regulatory, and programmatic initiatives that mitigate emissions from buildings, electricity, and vehicles while ensuring that Maine’s most vulnerable and rural communities are not left behind in such challenging times.

 

 

New Hampshire Must Continue to Push for Energy Efficiency Gains

This holiday season provides a chance for the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to deliver the gift that keeps on giving to Granite Staters: a strong energy efficiency program for 2021 and beyond. New Hampshire energy efficiency programs deliver a diverse set of benefits to consumers including lower overall energy system costs, individual cost savings, improved comfort, and lower overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, not to mention supporting almost 12,000 jobs in that state’s efficiency industry.

The PUC is set to vote on whether or not to approve the 2021-2023 Energy Efficiency Plan that implements the state’s Energy Efficiency Resource Standard. The Plan would require the state’s electric and gas utilities to reduce annual electric demand by 4.5% and fossil gas by 2.8% over 2019 sales. While the Acadia Center supported even more ambitious savings targets of 5% for electric utilities and 3% for gas utilities, we believe that the final Plan represents an effective energy efficiency strategy for action over the next three years. Acadia Center supports the continued progress toward acquisition of all cost-effective energy efficiency resources across all fuel types and sectors, helping New Hampshire residents, businesses, institutions, and low-income families meet their energy needs while reducing their cost of energy.

The Granite State lags its New England neighbors in overall energy efficiency policies and progress according to the recently published American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s 2020 national efficiency state scorecard. While Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont are in the top 10 for overall state-wide energy efficiency policies, with these states saving enough electricity in 2019 to power 250,000 homes for a year, New Hampshire remains stalled in the middle of the pack. While the state has seen improvements in recent years, it must do more to become a regional leader on energy efficiency. New Hampshire residents and businesses deserve to reap the full benefits of robust energy efficiency programs, which not only reduce energy use and costs, but improve public health, support economic growth and employment in energy efficiency sectors, and are consumer-friendly. Acadia Center research indicates that every $1 invested in regional energy efficiency investments yields an average of $3.75 in total benefits. Leaving that kind of money on the table doesn’t make sense for New Hampshire consumers who have some of the highest energy bills in the nation.

This has been a difficult year for all, and Acadia Center understands that residential and businesses customers should not be overburdened with increasing costs. However, as result of the 2019 Granite State test, a cost-benefit calculation that ensures that any and all energy efficiency programs provide benefit to all of the state’s energy consumers, the PUC and state lawmakers can be assured that long-term energy efficiency programs are a sound investment in the state’s future. This Plan allows goals, programs, and budgets to be adjusted during the triennium as needed, while recognizing that the cost-effectiveness savings needed to drive energy efficiency improvements ensures that consumers realize the benefits of these programs. And with a vigorous economic recovery expected in 2021 and beyond, it is essential that the state have in place as strong and robust of an energy efficiency program in place as possible.

Acadia Center applauds Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island Governors for regional action to reduce tailpipe pollution.

BOSTON — Today, three states and the District of Columbia announced their plan for a regional program to cut tailpipe pollution while delivering much-needed investments in clean, equitable, and modern transportation options. Working together through the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Washington, D.C. will participate in a cap-and-invest program to revitalize their transportation system and rein in pollution from vehicles, which are the country’s largest source of carbon emissions.

“Through their collaboration on TCI, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island will deliver cleaner, fairer and better transportation options for their residents and cleaner air in the most polluted communities, said Daniel Sosland, Acadia Center’s President. “These states are providing the kind of bipartisan leadership on climate change in the region that we all deserve. Acadia Center is committed to advancing a clean energy future that works for everyone, and major improvements in the transportation sector will help achieve this vision.”

The four jurisdictions participating in the program need to achieve significant emission reductions from the transportation sector to meet their ambitious climate targets. Transportation pollution accounts for 46% of the CO2 emissions across Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C., more than double the contribution to climate change from any other sector. By participating in the TCI program, these jurisdictions will be able to invest hundreds of millions of dollars each year in clean transportation projects that create jobs, boost the economy, improve mobility, and slash pollution.

The collaboration between Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Washington, D.C. represents action at a substantial scale. With a combined GDP of $1.09 trillion, the participating jurisdictions would be the world’s 15th largest economy, similar in output to Mexico. And the scale of this project is likely to grow. In a separate document released today, the four MOU signatories were joined by eight other TCI member states to assert that they are collaborating on the next steps of the cap-and-invest program’s development, suggesting that the program will expand beyond southern New England and D.C. Notably, that list includes a new TCI member, North Carolina, demonstrating the growing appeal of the TCI framework. All together, these jurisdictions would represent the world’s third largest economy.

As for the details, the TCI jurisdictions have incorporated stakeholder feedback to make the program more equitable and ambitious. Important new provisions have been added to last year’s draft MOU to ensure that overburdened and underserved communities receive at least their proportional share of TCI proceeds, that those communities are included in investment decisions and program design, and that air quality monitors will be deployed in the most polluted communities.

“These commitments represent significant progress at the regional level, but states have much more work to do to develop stakeholder processes and policy solutions that meet the needs of their communities,” said Jordan Stutt, Acadia Center’s Carbon Programs Director. “While an equitably-designed TCI program should benefit overburdened and underserved communities, TCI is just one piece of the puzzle: other action will still be necessary to deliver transportation justice.”

The MOU also charts an ambitious emission reduction trajectory. The emissions cap will decline by 30% from 2023 to 2032, consistent with recommendations Acadia Center submitted on behalf of 200 organizations in November. Reducing CO2 emissions from transportation fuels by 30% will help states achieve their climate targets while delivering critical improvements in air quality. The TCI program and additional transportation policies are key to realizing Acadia Center’s vision for a just and sustainable future.

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 Acadia Center is a regionally-focused, non-profit organization headquartered in Rockport, Maine, working to advance a clean energy future that benefits all.


Media Contacts

Massachusetts and Regional:
Jordan Stutt, Carbon Programs Director
jstutt@acadiacenter.org, 845-702- 5217

Connecticut:
Amy McLean Salls, Connecticut Director and Senior Policy Advocate
amcleansalls@acadiacenter.org, 860-246-7121 x204

Rhode Island:
Hank Webster, Rhode Island Director and Staff Attorney
hwebster@acadiacenter.org, 401-276-0600 x402

Maine:
Jeff Marks, Maine Director & Senior Policy Advocate
jmarks@acadiacenter.org, 207-236-6470 x304

Mold, asbestos may put Connecticut weatherization goal out of reach

State leaders are looking for funding sources for remediation work that needs to happen before many energy efficiency upgrades can be completed. 

Lorenzo Wyatt owns a Connecticut energy-efficiency contracting business focused almost exclusively on low-income residents — about 80% of his customers are eligible for no-cost energy savings services through the state’s residential efficiency programs.

But nearly a third of those customers are not able to weatherize their houses or apartments, and lose out on energy savings. That’s because mold, asbestos, and other health hazards discovered in their homes must be cleaned up before contractors can safely seal the space, an undertaking that easily runs into the thousands of dollars.

Those costs are not covered by the state’s efficiency programs. And very few of Wyatt’s customers can afford to pay themselves.

It’s a difficult problem that has hampered the state’s residential energy efficiency programs for years and prevents the most money-strapped households from obtaining services that could significantly reduce their energy bills.

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The barriers make it nearly impossible for the utilities to reach the weatherization target set by legislation: weatherize 80% of Connecticut residences by 2030.

To date, little has been done to deal with the barriers in any sustained way. But that may be changing. Last month, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), which oversees the ratepayer-funded efficiency programs, opened a proceeding on equitable energy efficiency. On the agenda is an exploration of funding sources for remediating health and safety barriers.

And on November 18, DEEP and the board that advises the state’s efficiency programs will co-host a workshop on weatherization barriers and possible resources for dealing with them.

“It’s very important to me that we change how we deal with these households that are not being served,” said Amy McLean, chair of the board’s residential subcommittee and Connecticut director at the Acadia Center, a clean energy advocacy organization. “We’re going to bring together stakeholders from all the different areas that serve residential customers — energy, housing, health — and identify some pots of money that are used separately that we might coordinate with.”

Read the full article from Energy News Network here 

Transportation & Climate Initiative would be a win for Vermont

TCI is a cap-and-invest program similar to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) that Vermont participates in to reduce carbon pollution from electricity generation. In 2005, Republican Gov. Jim Douglas signed on together with six other Northeast states. Vermont is still a part of it today, and it has been successful in multiple ways. Analysis from Acadia Center shows that since 2008:

  • GDP of the RGGI states has grown by 47%, outpacing growth in the rest of the country by 31%;
  • Electricity prices in RGGI states have fallen by 5.7%, while prices have increased in the rest of the country by 8.6%;
  • RGGI states have generated $3.4 billion in allowance auction proceeds, the majority of which have been invested in energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, including incentives for advanced wood heat and solar panels;
  • CO2 emissions from RGGI power plants have fallen by 47%, outpacing the rest of the country by 90%.

Read the full article from VTDigger here.

Maine’s bold climate action plan will require money, commitment

Flooded buildings and eroded beaches. More illness from ticks, mosquitos and high heat. A reduced lobster harvest, with crustaceans moving northward to cooler water. Down East weather that resembles present-day Rhode Island.

Those are some of the ways scientists say Maine will change over the next 30 years unless substantial steps are taken now.

To help slow the change, they say Maine urgently needs to slash greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the myriad impacts of a climate that’s changing so quickly, it poses a cascading threat to the health, prosperity and way of life of every resident and enterprise.

The primary way to do it is to encourage a quick pivot from gasoline and heating oil, Maine’s dominant, longstanding energy options for fueling cars and warming homes. In their place, electricity from renewable generation such as wind and solar, coupled with evolving storage technology, will power electric vehicles and efficient heat pumps.

These areas get special attention because transportation accounts for 54 percent of Maine’s climate-warming emissions, followed by 19 percent for home heating.

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Notably, the plan demurred on endorsing a compact of East Coast states including Maine called the Transportation Climate Initiative. That approach would require fuel distributors to bid into a shrinking limit, or cap, of greenhouse gas emissions. Money raised through the process would go to states to help fund electric vehicles, mass transit and other priorities.

Environmental advocates are for it. Acadia Center, a clean-energy advocacy group with an office in Maine, is pushing for Maine to support what it calls “the only policy proposal that would reduce emissions while providing a stable and sustainable revenue source.”

Read the full article in the Portland Press Herald here

Northeast States Again Rank High in 2020 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, but Massachusetts’ Fall to Second Place Highlights Need for Continued Improvement

Rockport, ME – Massachusetts has lost its energy efficiency crown to California, after 9 years on top of the national rankings for efficiency, according to rankings released by the nonpartisan American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). As they have for the past decade, Northeast states performed well in the 2020 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, with Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, and New York filling out the top 5 spots, respectively. Connecticut ranked #7, Maine at #16, and New Hampshire at #18, a slight improvement from the 2019 Scorecard, which ranked New Hampshire at #20.

“Investing in energy efficiency is the best way to reduce the energy burdens faced by consumers in the Northeast,” said Daniel Sosland, Acadia Center’s President. “The region’s continued strong showing in the national rankings is due to the last decade of successful efficiency policies and programs in these states – helping the Northeast lower carbon pollution while providing over $49 billion in economic and public health benefits, region-wide.”

“Massachusetts’ falling to #2 highlights the need to not rest on past success, but instead keep innovating to ensure that the programs are helping to deliver clean, healthy buildings in our poorest neighborhoods, too,” Sosland continued.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on state budgets and policy agendas across the country and has forced hundreds of thousands of people in the clean energy sector out of wo rk, especially energy efficiency contractors. The pandemic has slowed progress on new energy efficiency legislation, and yet, existing efficiency policies and appliance standards continued to help reduce energy use and emissions and save consumers money.

The ACEEE rankings, released annually, are based on scoring in categories including state government initiatives, building efficiency policies, utility and public benefits programs, transportation policies, and appliance standards. The Northeast’s success in the rankings is largely the result of a policy championed by Acadia Center that requires programs to pursue all energy efficiency that is cost-effective, rather than defining a prescribed level of funding, and to involve stakeholders in developing efficiency plans. ACEEE awarded Massachusetts and Rhode Island a near-perfect score in the utility program category, praising the programs for being the largest contributor to state greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals. And both Massachusetts and New York have begun to incorporate fuel-neutral savings goals that better align efficiency programs with electrification.

“Over the last ten years, Massachusetts’ strong customer-funded efficiency programs have grown the economy while lowering electric and gas bills and cutting emissions – and they’ll continue to do so.  Massachusetts lost its first-place rank largely because it has not adopted appliance efficiency standards – an area heavily weighted under the scoring rubric,” said Amy Boyd, Director of Policy at Acadia Center and a member of the Massachusetts Energy Efficiency Advisory Council. “Massachusetts should adopt appliance standards, but also take this shift in rankings as a wake-up call that even though our utility efficiency programs are among the best in the nation, they’re not perfect. We need to ensure that all communities and customers can access the efficiency programs and include climate as one of the program’s explicit statutory goals.”

The Northeast is a national leader in energy efficiency, but states can and must do more. Acadia Center is working with states in the Northeast to keep energy efficiency funding high, serve low- and moderate-income communities better, and align energy efficiency programs more closely with climate targets.

Most importantly, many households in the Northeast—particularly those living in older buildings in environmental justice communities—suffer from excessive indoor air pollution, unhealthy temperature swings, and other inadequate living conditions. The communities most impacted by this substandard housing disproportionately consist of people of color. These buildings also emit more climate pollutants than better-weatherized housing. Existing efficiency programs must embrace this chance to marry traditional energy savings with crucially important equity and climate goals. Acadia Center is working with a wide range of partner organizations on policy changes that will enable efficiency programs to seize this opportunity.

Gas or clean energy? How should Aquidneck Island stay warm?

If anything, the natural gas outage on Aquidneck Island in January 2019 exposed the vulnerabilities of an area that is literally at the end of the pipeline network that sends gas around New England.

The interruption, which left thousands of people without heat on some of the coldest days that winter, was the result of an extraordinary set of circumstances — a malfunctioning valve on a transmission line in Massachusetts, a spike in demand caused by the frigid weather and the failure of a liquefied natural gas plant in Providence to pump much-needed supplies into the system.

National Grid, the only utility that distributes gas in Rhode Island, is looking at ways to shore up the system on the island to try to prevent another outage from occurring.

It may seem a simple matter but many of the options proposed by the company rely on some type of expansion of the gas infrastructure on the island. Environmental advocates, meanwhile, argue that the last thing anyone should be doing in an era of climate change is ramping up use of a fossil fuel that would lead to more greenhouse-gas emissions.

“Every time you light a new fire with a new gas furnace, that’s a fire that’s going to burn for the next 20 or 30 years,” said Hank Webster, Rhode Island director for the Acadia Center, a Boston-based group that specializes in clean-energy issues.

Read the full article from the Providence Journal here

Massachusetts drivers are starting to buy electric cars again

Clean transportation activists are praising Massachusetts’ efforts to expand its electric vehicle incentives while also arguing for changes that would put vehicles within reach for more households.

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Electric vehicle sales are slowly rebounding in the state: In September, the number of new purchases submitted for an incentive payment more than doubled from the previous month, from 156 to 339. In October, the number edged up to 345.

These totals fall well short of the peaks reached in 2018, but those who follow the industry are cautiously optimistic, noting that vehicle sales across the board are starting to edge back up from COVID-driven slumps. And the electric vehicle market, they said, is recovering at a slightly faster rate than traditional internal combustion vehicles.

“There is some degree of recovery going on from COVID,” said Jordan Stutt, carbon programs director at the Acadia Center. “Obviously we have a long way to go there, but some people are buying cars again and a lot of those are [electric].”

Read the full article from the Energy News Network here