Ben Butterworth, Director of Climate, Energy, and Equity Analysis, spoke at the Building Decarbonization Coalition’s National Policy Call for Massachusetts about the Clean Heat Standard (CHS) and gas system planning. A Clean Heat Standard (CHS) is a performance standard requiring heating energy providers to replace fossil fuel heating with clean heat over time. They can do this by implementing clean heat measures, such as high-efficiency electric heat pumps or purchasing credits. A CHS requires either a gradually increasing percentage of low-emission heating services to customers over time or credits that are allocated based on the number of tons of greenhouse gas reduced. Heating energy providers include natural gas utilities, delivered fuel providers like heating oil and propane, and potentially electric utilities.

How Could Massachusetts Benefit from a CHS?

The MA Global Warming Solutions Act requires economy-wide net zero emissions by 2050 and 50% below 1990 levels by 2030. The building heat and cooling sector itself has a goal of a 49% reduction by 2030. The state’s energy efficiency program has been one of the critical drivers of building decarbonization, but more is needed. Spreading the cost of the building energy transition to natural gas, propane, and heating oil customers rather than only electric heating customers is the only sustainable way forward. A Clean Heat Standard can provide a solid boost to other efforts to decarbonize buildings, such as energy efficiency incentives, public funding and taxes, updated building codes, and fossil gas bans that take time to work.

One core challenge Massachusetts faces is not having a comprehensive plan for the future of gas systems over the next three decades. Coordination with gas system planning is vital because it allows for long-term planning that supports the least-cost pathway to net zero instead of only permitting short-term strategies that produce marginal reductions in emissions. The Future of Gas docket (DPU 20-80) attempted to create that vision, and Acadia Center was heavily involved throughout that process. The DPU has failed to rule on this issue as of September 2023. The CHS would complement strategic, geographically targeted decommissioning of the gas distribution system in a least-cost, equitable manner.

So, how does the state create an equitable CHS?

Disadvantaged communities disproportionately live in older, less efficiently heated households. These communities must be involved in the design of the CHS program. To ensure equitable design of the CHS, a “just transition fee” can be imposed on projects that don’t support equitable outcomes, “carve out” requirements for disadvantaged communities, and generate higher program incentives for equitable projects. Additionally, coordination with policy solutions outside the scope of CHS, such as rate reform, is also essential.

A Clean Heat Standard must ensure that the right clean energy technologies are promoted and that there is a straightforward way to measure the emissions impacts of the program. For example, the CHS promotes biomass heating in some states, which is a high-emitting energy choice. To meet its goals, the MA CHS must advance those new heating measures to meet the state’s climate goals.

You can watch the full webinar below.