Massachusetts has ambitious climate goals, and not a lot of time to achieve them, which has some clean energy and climate experts questioning why a state program continues to promote fossil fuels with cash incentives for oil and gas home heating systems.
The state’s climate plan demands that 1 million households be converted from fossil fuels to electric heat by the end of the decade, part of a sweeping transition meant to help stave off the worst of climate change’s consequences. And yet the state’s only incentive program, and its best tool for helping convince businesses and homeowners to make that switch, is sticking with rebates for new carbon-emitting systems likely to remain in service long past that deadline.
The program, Mass Save, is run by utility companies with oversight by the state, and hands out between $640 million and $700 million a year in rebates that are funded by a surcharge on utility customers’ bills. It is credited with successfully reducing carbon emissions from home heating across Massachusetts since its inception in 2008. But in the past, those cuts have come largely by encouraging conversions from oil to gas, a less-dirty fossil fuel that the state plans to phase out.
However, in a set of proposed new incentives that would take effect next year, Mass Save is again planning substantial incentives to install gas systems and, in some instances, oil. And at a time when record-breaking heatwaves are scorching the country and the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is at an all-time high, experts said incentives must now move sharply in the other direction.
Mass Save’s latest proposed incentives are being reviewed by the program’s advisory council, a governing body that includes representatives from clean energy groups, the attorney general’s office, housing organizations, and more, and engages in months of negotiations with the utilities over their proposed plans. The advisory council will vote on the plan. In years past it has approved incentive plans put forward by the utility companies with little or no dissent. But this year, it is hoping for major changes, said Amy Boyd, a council member.
She said the council will ask the utilities to move further away from fossil fuels and do more to incentivize the transition to heat pumps.
She said it will also push to make the new Mass Save offering more appealing to low- and middle-income consumers. In the past, Mass Save has been primarily used by those in wealthier communities, where usage can be seven times higher than in less affluent towns.
The state Department of Public Utilities will have final say on the plan in January 2022.
Read the full article in the Boston Globe here