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The year 2020 has been defined by many things; an unprecedented pandemic, a presidential election, and a national reckoning with social and racial justice. In Massachusetts, while all of that has been going on, a growing coalition of building professionals, municipal staff, and energy advocates has been working tirelessly to push the envelope on zero energy building codes in the state.

In May 2020, NEEP submitted the first version of the Energy Zero (EZ) Stretch Code to the Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS). The EZ Code was a collaborative effort with input from over 40 building professionals and energy experts. During the public hearing presentation, there was an avalanche of support from building professionals and energy advocates alike. In spite of all the support the EZ Code received, it was voted down by the BBRS. Then, in a separate motion, it was voted to be passed to the Energy Advisory Committee (EAC) without clear instructions for consideration. Without clear instruction from the BBRS, the EZ Code languished for months with the EAC. At the time, the EZ Code prohibited on-site combustion, following the lead of Brookline’s Warrant Article 21 which passed at town meeting in November 2019 and was being vetted by the Attorney General’s office to determine if it was legal under Massachusetts law and state regulations.

In July 2020, the Attorney General’s office ruled that Brookline’s Warrant Article 21 was in conflict with the state building code, plumbing code, and Massachusetts law. NEEP and the other proponents decided it was time to revise the EZ Code and resubmit it to the BBRS following this decision. The EZ Code 2.0 was resubmitted to the BBRS at the November public hearing on behalf of the Massachusetts Zero Energy Buildings Coalition. The EZ Code 2.0 added a Passive House compliance path, removed the “no on-site combustion” provision, and added a minimum Coefficient of Performance (CoP) for building heating and service water. While not outright prohibiting on-site combustion, the minimum CoP heavily favored the use of high efficiency, all-electric systems like heat pumps and hot water heaters.

During the public hearing, over a dozen municipal representatives from cities and towns like Boston, Framingham, Worchester, and Williamstown (representing much of the geographical and economic diversity of Massachusetts) testified in support of the EZ Code 2.0 or a zero energy stretch code in general. Municipal support was so overwhelming that in an unexpected turn of events, one of the BBRS board members came out in support of zero energy mandates for all new municipal buildings in Massachusetts. This shift towards zero energy considerations for any building type marks an important turning point for the BBRS and sustained push for a zero energy stretch code.

Cities and towns like Boston, Lexington, Bedford, and Cambridge have already made commitments for all new municipal-owned buildings to be zero energy.  These types of commitments are important because they allow cities and towns to “lead by example” and demonstrate the feasibility and benefits of zero energy buildings. NEEP has published a report called Decarbonizing Public Sector Buildings, which makes recommendations to states and municipalities for how to decarbonize their public building stock in order to shift the entire building sector towards decarbonization.

The future is bright in Massachusetts. As more cities and towns come out in support of zero energy building codes, it will demonstrate a clear direction forward for the state. When the state and local jurisdictions feel empowered to decarbonize the built environment, rapid and holistic change will follow.

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