Massachusetts Takes a Step Closer to Its 2050 Decarbonization Goal: The Commission on Clean Heat Launch
On January 12, 2022, the newly formed Commission on Clean Heat held its first meeting. The Baker-Polito Administration formed the Commission on September 20, 2021 in order to bring the state closer to its goal to be net-zero in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and it is tasked with creating policy recommendations by November 2022 to advise the administration on sustainable methods to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings and heating fuels.
Previously, Governor Charlie Baker signed comprehensive climate change legislation that “updates the greenhouse gas emissions limits related to the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act, commits Massachusetts to achieve Net Zero emissions in 2050, and authorizes the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) to establish an emissions limit of no less than 50% for 2030, and no less than 75% for 2040.” The legislation builds upon the Massachusetts 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap, which is a technical analysis report commissioned by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs that identifies cost-effective and equitable strategies, policies, and implementation pathways to ensure the state achieves net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The report found that one-third of the state’s carbon emissions can be attributed to building HVAC systems that rely on natural gas. In order to combat the harm done by these emissions and meet the legislation’s net-zero timeline, Massachusetts is taking on the daunting task of decarbonizing buildings.
Today, Massachusetts building emission standards are set on a town-by-town basis and, despite decarbonization efforts and programs such as MassSave, there are common obstacles to residential and commercial building decarbonization, which standardized state guidelines could help towns overcome. One of the biggest obstacles when building and homeowners are decarbonizing their property is retrofitting existing buildings with appropriate energy efficient systems. In order to meet the Decarbonization Roadmap, millions of homes and businesses will have to undergo such energy efficiency retrofits. Replacing natural gas heating systems with electrical heating often requires additional building-wide infrastructure updates, which can render the project cost-prohibitive even despite the long-term benefits. Further, if building and home owners do elect to undertake these ambitious property upgrades, the cost of these endeavors threatens to further raise the price of housing and rent in an already expensive housing market.
The Massachusetts 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap acknowledges that the “ability of Massachusetts residents to participate in this thirty-year transition will differ as a result of income level, race, ability to access and benefit from available resources, location in urban and rural settings, proficiency in English, and previous marginalization.” Recognizing this potential for inequity, several Massachusetts communities have voiced their concerns and urged the Baker-Polito Administration to ensure that all Massachusetts communities are served.  The Decarbonization Roadmap emphasizes that a Net Zero future can only succeed when the entire Commonwealth is involved, and accordingly the Commission on Clean Heat has been tasked to focus on equitable means to decarbonize buildings. Its recommendations will be essential to an intersectional state approach that avoids inequitable outcomes.
The new Commission on Clean Heat demonstrates promise for Massachusetts’s role as a pioneer in combating climate change for a brighter future. The recommendations will be invaluable resources for stakeholders across the state to overcome barriers to decarbonization and to seize opportunities a net-zero Massachusetts has to offer as well as providing guidance to other states and the country as a whole as we strive towards decreasing our overall carbon emissions.