MA Makes Strides Towards Clean Thermal Energy Policy

September 1, 2023

Exciting legislation and regulations are moving forward in Massachusetts that have the potential to significantly help the state meet its emission reduction mandates, reduce building carbon footprints, and create thermal utilities that can deliver clean, affordable heating and cooling year round.

The Clean Heat Standard
Bill H.3694, the Clean Heat Standard, would require heating energy suppliers to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions over time by either delivering heating with lower or no emissions,  or by purchasing credits. The bill makes explicit provisions for ensuring the delivery of clean heat to low- and moderate-income residents and includes financial penalties for heating companies that do not comply. Those funds would be used to provide clean heat measures to low-income customers.

Gas System Enhancement Plan Working Group
The Gas System Enhancement Plan, or GSEP, was designed to address the safety and environmental concerns of aging, methane-leaking gas pipes. However, GSEP’s estimated $40 billion sticker price gives gas companies a powerful incentive to replace old gas pipes, rather than repair, even as the state is mandated to move away from fossil fuels in order to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Section 57 of An Act Driving Clean Energy and Offshore Wind, passed in 2022, mandated that the state assemble a group of experts to figure out how to bring GSEP in line with the state’s climate goals. The group includes a representative from each of the state’s gas utilities, along with academics, union representatives, and local climate groups, including HEET Co-Executive Director Audrey Schulman. All will make recommendations on how to move the state towards a system that delivers heating in an affordable, safe, equitable and non-emitting way. The group’s recommendations will be put into a report by the Department of Public Utilities and presented to the legislature.

The Future of Clean Heat Act
The Future of Clean Heat Act lays out a long-range plan to transition off of natural gas—a combustible fuel that is harmful to our health and the planet—to a system where buildings are heated and cooled with clean, renewable thermal energy. The bill provides support for low- and moderate-income families, funds job retraining for gas utility workers, and opens up a competitive marketplace for thermal infrastructure, benefiting consumers.

In July, the legislature heard testimony on the bill, which has the support of Green Energy Consumers Alliance, 350Mass, the Sierra Club Massachusetts Chapter, and Mothers Out Front, among others.

The MATH Act (Making Methane Accounting Truthful Helps)
HEET newsletter readers are probably aware that not all greenhouse gasses have the same environmental impact. Methane is particularly harmful—it is roughly 85 times more potent than carbon dioxide in its first 20 years in the atmosphere. Under its current system of accounting—which spreads methane’s impact over 100 years—the MA Department of Environmental Protection is significantly underestimating the amount of methane emitted in the state as well as the impact of those emissions on our climate—also referred to as global warming potential, or GWP.

The MATH Act, short for Making Methane Accounting Truthful Helps (S.2092 H.873), aims to fix these problems. Public hearings were held in June, and the bill was referred to the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. Our friends at Gas Transition Allies created a great overview of the bill, and you can look for updates on their Current Legislation page.

Boston’s Building Emissions Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO)
We’re pleased to share that HEET’s Kai Palmer-Dunning, Director of Equitable Building Transition, was appointed to the BERDO review board, a nine-member independent board of volunteers who oversee BERDO’s implementation and work to ensure that environmental justice communities benefit from BERDO decarbonization efforts. Boston’s Building Emissions Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance—first passed in 2013 and strengthened in 2021—sets emissions reduction requirements for commercial buildings of more than 35,000 sq ft and residential buildings of 35+ units beginning in 2025.

In 2030, BERDO will cover commercial buildings of more than 20,000 sq ft and residential buildings with 15-34 units. This pathway sets Boston on course to reach its goal of net zero by 2050. While the ordinance targets only 4% of the City’s buildings, it will cut over 60% of citywide emissions. This presentation, from a City of Boston webinar in 2022, provides a great overview. Regulations setting the rules for implementing BERDO are in development. To stay informed, visit the BERDO Regulations Development site.