Massachusetts Clean Heat Commission Report Delivers a Bold Vision for a Decarbonized Future
The much-anticipated Massachusetts Clean Heat Commission (CHC) report dropped yesterday and was a breath of fresh air. Despite the Commission’s composition with fossil fuel and business-focused Commissioners outnumbering consumer and environmental advocates, they have delivered a strong proposal for real progress on decarbonization. Acadia Center staff are thrilled to engage with the incoming administration on how to implement the recommendations of this report and excited for the potential impact on the Commonwealth and the clean energy future we strive to achieve.
Among the best parts:
- Finally Saying the Future is Electric: Despite not mentioning the DPU 20-80 “Future of Gas” docket or the gas utility business model at all, the report directly identifies that “[t]he Commonwealth’s long-term building decarbonization strategy requires transitioning customers from existing pipeline gas infrastructure to electric infrastructure and, where appropriate given technical and financial feasibility, networked geothermal districts.”
- Identifying the Need for Joint Energy System Planning: The CHC proposes that the Governor and Legislature direct the DPU and DOER to conduct statewide joint energy system planning across Massachusetts’ gas and electric utilities and municipal gas and electric companies and in conjunction with key stakeholders and communities. In other words, “agencies, go do RESPECT – Acadia Center’s framework to modernize energy planning.”
- Embedding Equity, Engagement, and Representation in Decision-Making: Centering equity, engagement, and representation in all aspects of our Commonwealth’s building decarbonization principles and practices is critical to ensuring that no ratepayer is left behind. The report recommends that these core principles inform the design of all programs and policies. Acadia Center wholeheartedly agrees.
- Focusing on Institutional Coordination and Alignment: As Acadia Center has been arguing across the region for years, our climate goals are only as strong as the agencies empowered (or not) to implement them. Without buy-in from every entity across our state government, we will not be able to achieve our net zero requirements. The CHC’s recommendation for cross-cutting coordination will be critical to the Commonwealth’s success.
- Ending Investment in New Gas Infrastructure: The report echoes what Acadia Center and other climate champions have been highlighting about natural gas infrastructure in a bold and powerful statement. “Investments that would support new or increased natural gas infrastructure or capacity should instead be deployed to advance measures that help support the net zero future.”
- Considering New Ideas Like a Clean Heat Standard: Although details on the specifics of the proposed Clean Heat Standard (CHS) remain sparse, if properly designed, the CHS could serve as another valuable policy tool for cost-effectively electrifying and improving the efficiency of buildings in the Commonwealth without driving up costs to electric ratepayers. The details of how biofuels and hydrogen are treated in the CHS will be of critical importance and Acadia Center is looking forward to engaging on this topic as the details of the CHS get fleshed out.
- Being More Realistic About the Decarbonization Potential of Alternative Fuels: Unlike the DPU 20-80 “Future of Gas” analysis – that completely ignored lifecycle emissions from biofuels – the CHC is clear about the need for a science-based, full lifecycle analysis of various biofuels to determine their carbon intensity. This is an essential step for determining whether supporting the use of specific biofuels in buildings via policy makes sense. The report also highlights that alternative fuels are “…not a long-term solution for most of Massachusetts’ building stock.”
- Creating One-Stop Shopping for Climate-Positive Projects: Acadia Center agrees that Mass Save could use some reforms and that the whole suite of building decarbonization programs should get pulled together under an umbrella that provides a single point of contact for consumers. But the devil is in the details on the Building Decarbonization Clearinghouse, and we would hate to lose the transparency and stakeholder leadership brought about through the Massachusetts Energy Efficiency Advisory Council (EEAC). We are excited to get to work on this issue further and have a lot to say about it.
- Expanding Building Benchmarking: Acadia Center has supported DOER’s work to expand building labeling and energy scorecards for years and continues to think it is one of the best ways to demonstrate the value of decarbonized buildings to owners and renters. The CHC’s recommendation to expand existing energy labeling programs to cover buildings under 20,000 feet is critical for driving rapid deployment of energy efficiency in residential and smaller commercial buildings.
- Funding the Transition with New Resources: The CHC recognizes that ratepayer funds, payments from regulated suppliers, and market-based funds may not be enough to finance the decarbonization of buildings that we need. Although the discussion of using taxpayer funds focuses on effective use of federal funds, rather than opening the state coffers, we appreciate the willingness of the Commission to think creatively about how we’re going to pay for this. The Climate Bank, too, has the potential to inject needed finance dollars into this cause.
- Creating Strategies for Decarbonizing the Affordable Housing Sector: Creating strategies for decarbonizing affordable housing represents an incredible opportunity for the next administration…or a potential for major failure if not properly centered. We simply cannot afford to leave our LMI households and environmental justice (EJ) populations behind, and the CHC astutely recognizes that fact.
- Additional Ideas Worthy of Merit:
o Workforce Training and Education
o Research and Development
o Public Outreach and Awareness
o Expanding Green Communities and Leading by Example
o Electric Operating Cost Reductions
Though this report represents exactly the kind of bold thinking necessary to drive Massachusetts toward its decarbonization requirements, some difficult questions are omitted, and others require additional detail. Acadia Center will tackle those in a separate piece.
Overall, the Massachusetts Commission on Clean Heat produced a visionary set of recommendations that show impressive foresight. Members of the Commission should be proud of their work, and we laud the administration for its dedication and output under an extremely tight deadline.
For more information:
Senior Advocate and Massachusetts Program Director
617-742-0054 ext. 106