After weeks of back-and-forth between the Governor and the legislature, Massachusetts enacted An Act Driving Clean Energy and Offshore Wind. This act supports Massachusetts’ legally binding goals of achieving a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 from 1990 by targeting buildings, energy efficiency, and gas reductions, and builds on the 2021 Climate Law, An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts. Let’s take a look at how the bill changes the current landscape in the state.
Benchmarking and Building Efficiency
Benchmarking is an essential component of energy efficiency and energy use reduction. It is the process of measuring and analyzing the actual energy consumption in a building to compare it to similar buildings, and helps building owners learn about energy usage and take steps to reduce their energy consumption. In fact, according to the EPA, benchmarking decreases energy usage by 2.5 percent annually. The new law requires owners of large buildings, 20,000 square feet or more, to report energy usage to the Massachusetts’ Department of Energy Resources every year by June 30. In 2007, former Governor Deval Patrick had issued an executive order requiring state-owned buildings to reduce their energy consumption by 25 percent by 2020, but there was not benchmarking law in place. The new act makes Massachusetts one of five states to adopt a benchmarking law, creating a pathway to achieve its energy reduction goals.
Additionally, the bill requires The Massachusetts School Building Authority to conduct energy efficiency and building assessments for elementary and secondary school buildings. Following assessments, the Department of Health, the Massachusetts School Building Authority, a group comprised of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the Department of Energy Resources, must develop green and healthy school strategies that may include increasing energy efficiency and moving to fossil-free fuels.
Transitioning from Fossil Fuels
Massachusetts has a 2050 goal of net-zero carbon emissions. To reach this goal, that state is looking for ways to reduce the use of natural gas. The Act takes steps to begin this transition. First, it removes incentives and rebates for fossil fuel-powered heating and cooling systems through Mass Save, Massachusetts’ energy efficiency program, starting in 2025. There are exceptions for those systems if they serve as back up for heat pumps, support low-income housing, or are placed in hard-to-electrify buildings like big commercial and industrial spaces. Second, the law also requires the Department of Public Utilities to find ways to make it easier for residents and communities to install geothermal heating and cooling systems. This effort will build on two geothermal micro-district projects that are already occurring in the state.
Finally, the bill creates a pilot program for 10 municipalities to develop fossil fuel-free construction. This is a big step for energy codes in Massachusetts. In 2019, Brookline, Massachusetts became the first municipality on the east coast to ban gas for space and water heating. Unfortunately, the Massachusetts attorney general, who found that the state building code board must allow for municipalities to enact such bans before adopting them on a municipal level, struck down the bylaw. This pilot will allow for Brookline and other municipalities to finally enact such bans. The 10 pilot municipalities will report gas and utilities data, housing affordability, and other costs that the state will monitor. The pilot informs future actions as it allows the state to study a scenario in which specific areas do not rely on fossil fuel.
Investing in an Equitable Workforce
Underpinning every energy efficiency program is a community of companies and workers who have numerous new opportunities as these programs grow. Without proper policy, however, workforce programs may perpetuate inequities. Massachusetts has long been at the forefront of prioritizing an equitable workforce. The 2021 Climate Law created a $12 million dollar yearly investment in energy efficiency jobs. The current bill builds on the investment through creation of a clean energy equity workforce and market development program. This program must provide workforce training, educational and professional development, job placement, and start-up opportunities to marginalized groups such as minority-owned and women-owned small businesses, people living in environmental justice and low-income communities, federally-recognized tribes, and current and former workers from the fossil fuel industry. By providing these opportunities to marginalized groups, the Act addresses workforce equity and creates a transition from the fossil fuel industry to the clean energy and efficiency industries. Additionally, the program coordinator must publish an annual report to highlight the progress of the program in order to facilitate transparency and hold the program accountable.
The law creates a Grid Modernization Advisory Council to assist distribution companies in creating regular modernization plans. Some elements of modernization plans must include but is not limited to upgrades to transmission and distribution including grid reliability, adoption of renewable energy and distributed energy sources, and minimized impacts to rate-payers. The council must encourage least-cost investments in electric distribution systems, suggest alternative investments to meet the state’s GHG emissions goals, and increase transparency in the grid planning process. The council must also recommend actions for maximizing customer benefits, facilitate electrification of buildings, and improve grid reliability and resiliency.
Natural Gas Planning
In 2020, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities opened an investigation into the future of natural gas in light of the state’s greenhouse gas reduction targets in which gas companies hired an independent consultant to develop pathways to help the state achieve net zero in the future. This bill requires the DPU to conduct a public hearing for natural gas to create a more transparent process. The Act requires the Department of Public Utilities to convene a stakeholder working group in charge of creating regulatory and legislative recommendations to align gas system enhancement plans with Massachusetts’ climate goals. The group must consider the impacts of the gas enhancement plans on public health, safety, equity, affordability, reliability, and reductions in GHG emissions. Additionally, the working group must evaluate opportunities to advance utility-scale renewable thermal energy. By July 31, 2023, the working group must create a report for the Department of Public Utilities on these initiatives.
Massachusetts’ new bill is a landmark bill, targeting various aspects of building efficiency, fossil fuel reduction, and grid modernization. Its comprehensive approach to integrating and tackling climate solutions together creates a clear and strong path forward for the state’s goal of achieving 50 percent reductions in GHG emissions by 2030.