With an ambitious climate goal already on the books, state officials took a big step toward making the dream of net-zero carbon emissions a reality on Monday with the announcement of a commission that will target a major emissions source: how we heat our buildings.

The Commission on Clean Heat — the first of its kind in the United States — will take on the climate-warming role that buildings play by setting caps for heating fuel emissions, as well as determining financing mechanisms that can help speed up the transition to clean energy.


Nearly a third of Massachusetts’ greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings; figuring out how to eliminate those emissions without placing an undue burden on home and business-owners, while addressing the state’s increasing reliance on natural gas as a heating fuel, represents a thorny challenge.

“We’re on track for natural gas emissions to represent 65 percent or so of all residential emissions by 2030, so I think it’s really important for the gas companies to be part of the solution,” said Matt Rusteika, who leads the buildings initiative at Acadia Center, a clean energy advocacy organization.

Earlier this year, the Baker administration signed legislation that calls for a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990s levels by 2030, and net zero emissions by 2050. The legislation also called for the formation of the commission, which will be chaired by Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides.

“By working directly with stakeholders and soliciting a variety of perspectives, Massachusetts will be in a stronger position to develop innovative policies and solutions to cost-effectively reduce emissions from heating homes and buildings,” Theoharides said in a statement.

Alongside Theoharides, the commission will comprise up to 22 additional members from a diverse set of backgrounds — affordable housing, energy efficient building design, heating fuel distribution, real estate, and more — who will be recommended by the secretary and appointed by the governor. They will have until Nov. 30, 2022, to come up with a set of policy recommendations that will reduce the use of heating fuels and cut building sector emissions.

Across the country, a handful of states are addressing the challenge of decarbonizing buildings in different ways. New York State, for instance, is working on a Carbon Neutral Buildings Roadmap that will be finalized by the end of the year and will set short- and long-term goals to reduce emissions in the building sector. In Maine, the state is guided by a goal of installing 100,000 heat pumps — which rely on electricity to heat and cool homes — by 2025.

“The advantage of an approach like that, and it’s something I hope to see in the Massachusetts process, is a real commitment to electrification as the only solution that’s going to really permanently displace emissions from buildings,” said Rusteika.

Read the full article in The Boston Globe here