May Policy Tracker: Spring Has Sprung

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If we see change as a naturally occurring event - much like the change of seasons - then we can embrace change and enhance our lives. Spring is considered the time of year where things are bursting into bloom and plans become action. States throughout the NEEP region are fully embracing the spirit of spring and showing that there’s no shortage of action.

The state of New York has been on a roll in securing a low-carbon future with various policies and announcements coming out this spring. To say New York is in full bloom is an understatement. I remember when Con Edison announced a moratorium on new gas hookups in Westchester, NY due to growing development projects bringing new customers to the area. The utility was concerned about meeting new demand coming to the area. Well, in response to this, Governor Cuomo announced a $250 million Clean Energy Investment Program in Westchester County, including local investment in clean energy alternatives including electric heat pumps, high-efficiency appliances, and equipment and building materials. An investment at this magnitude will lower energy costs for consumers and reduce demand in order to accommodate new customers.

Con Edison has since announced an agreement with a pipeline operator to provide additional natural gas to the Westchester County service area that could end Westchester's natural-gas moratorium in 2023. According to public filings, this includes two compressor stations in New Jersey and one in Pennsylvania would be upgraded to increase gas by 110,000 dekatherms per day. The project still needs state, local, and FERC approvals.

Since the Governor’s announcement to fund clean energy investment in Westchester, S5518, An Act to Amend the Environmental Conservation Law in Relation to placing a moratorium on fossil fuel infrastructure, was introduced. This bill places a moratorium on fossil fuel infrastructure projects. It does not apply to upgrades in existing infrastructure for the purposes of improving safety, public health, environmental protection, and increased energy efficiency. The moratorium will only be lifted when an act of the legislature is passed. In addition to preventing new fossil fuel infrastructure from being developed, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) adopted regulations that require all power plants to meet strict emissions limits. This monumental move is expected to phase out the state's remaining coal-fired power plants by 2020. The DEC is also working on proposed regulations that would restrict NOx emissions from power plants meeting peak demand. Combined, the rules would reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030.  

While there has been a lot happening surrounding energy resources in the state of New York, there has also been activity to advance energy efficiency. The joint utilities filed a report in collaboration with NYSERDA establishing energy efficiency targets and budgets for 2021-2025 to meet the incremental reduction of 31 trillion British Thermal Units (TBtu) of energy use and the energy efficiency target of 185 TBtu of end-use energy savings. This is a part of the state's new efficiency goal, which will deliver nearly one third of the state's broader greenhouse gas reduction target and sets New York on a path to achieve three percent annual electric efficiency savings in 2025. It also addresses accelerated introduction of heat pump technologies (with a requested budget of $289 million) and enhancement of programs for low and moderate income customers.

New York City is also making strides to decarbonize its buildings by creating a 10-year plan, One City Built to Last, making a commitment to achieve the greenhouse gas emissions reductions needed from buildings to put the city on the path to meet its ambitious climate goal of 80 percent by 2050. NYC will need to reduce GHG emissions from the energy used to heat, cool, and power our buildings by 30 percent from 2005 levels over the next decade. The graph below shows the potential for GHG reduction from buildings. Setting out to do just that, the city council just passed the Climate Mobilization Act, which includes a suite of bills addressing climate action. One in particular, Int. 1253, establishes greenhouse gas emissions limits for existing buildings with the goal of achieving a 40 percent overall reduction of emissions by 2030. The caps set limits for different types of buildings, such as apartment houses or office buildings. This bill also expands existing retro-commissioning requirements to certain buildings over 25,000 square feet.

Massachusetts has some similar activity going on this spring. New state regulation requires utilities to identify “super leaks”– grade three leaks of significant environmental impacts – within existing natural gas infrastructure and repair them within two years. This regulation rolled out in April. A report from HEET estimates that the leaked methane from grade three leaks is equivalent to four percent of the state’s carbon emissions, which makes repairing these leaks critical to reducing GHG emissions.

Massachusetts lawmakers are also targeting the built environment with various bills this session. H2919/S2011, modeled after the D.C. Omnibus Act of 2018, requires building energy benchmarking and building energy performance standards. It includes an energy use intensity, emissions, and prescriptive cost-effective energy efficiency pathways for compliance. This is an innovative approach to reducing energy consumption and GHG emissions in the built environment. By adopting a standard with clear compliance pathways, the policy holds building owners and managers accountable for helping achieve climate and carbon reduction goals.

On the residential side, S1922, To Require Home Energy Audits, requires DOER to develop and implement an energy scorecard program to promote the disclosure of energy scorecards following an energy assessment. It also requires scorecards to be provided to potential home buyers and renters when the home is listed for sale or rent. The bill also requires training for real estate brokers, appraisers, lenders, home inspectors, energy assessors etc. on the use of energy performance ratings and energy scorecards. The trainings will cover the requirements and best practices associated with providing energy scorecards to prospective buyers.

Rhode Island also has legislation proposed, H5774 and H5730, Real Estate Disclosures. These bills require real estate sellers to provide buyers with an annual building energy cost estimate and requires sellers to conduct real estate condition inspections. Home energy labeling policies provide reliable and transparent energy information that allow real estate markets to better account for the value of energy efficiency in a home. This can help transform the residential market and encourage investments in efficiency improvements.

Montpelier, Vermont is also taking the steps to adopt a residential labeling ordinance. Montpelier voters narrowly approved a charter change that will allow the city to set energy efficiency standards for residential and commercial rental properties. The charter change on energy efficiency will allow the city council to take action to help reduce energy usage in buildings, with the goal of achieving zero carbon emissions by 2030. Now, the Vermont legislature has to pass the charter change (H.547) and then the city can start working on the ordinance.

In Maine, the focus is on energy independence. LD658, To Increase Energy Independence for Maine, passed both chambers and was signed by the Governor. This bill requires the Governor's Energy Office to adopt a 10-year energy independence plan, including conservation and renewable energy strategies, for the state to become a net exporter of energy by 2030. The plan must include a comprehensive set of actionable policies to achieve energy independence. The plan, along with suggested legislation necessary to implement the plan, is due December 31, 2019 to the Joint Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Technology. Maine Governor Janet Mills also announced that she has introduced bipartisan legislation to create a Maine Climate Council. The Climate Council will develop an action plan and timetable to meet the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals, to promote jobs and economic benefits for Maine people in the transition to a lower carbon economy, and to support the climate resiliency of Maine’s communities.

As spring begins to look towards summer, states are clear and confident with the way their plans are taking action. I am excited to see what happens as more legislation makes its way through state legislatures this summer.

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