In a letter released today, two leaders on climate policy in the Massachusetts State Senate took sharp exception to particulars of a draft of a new net zero stretch energy code proposed by the Baker Administration. The Legislature ordered the Administration to write the new code to drive down greenhouse gas pollution in the building sector, second only to transportation as a generator of emissions in Massachusetts.
The Legislature’s Climate Act directs the Executive branch to promulgate a “municipal opt-in specialized stretch energy code” for newly constructed buildings that includes “net-zero building performance standards and a definition of net-zero building.”
In their letter to Pat Woodcock, head of the state Department of Energy Resources, Senators Mike Barrett and Cindy Creem wrote, “If implemented well, the new specialized stretch code will be a game changer — a leap forward for climate policy in Massachusetts. That’s why we’re so disappointed that the Baker Administration’s straw proposal comes up short.”
The Legislature ordered DOER to hold five hearings around the state in order to give exposure to the concept of net zero construction, the defining feature of the Act’s new stretch code provision. “By crowding all five hearings into a single seven-day period, beginning tomorrow and including this Friday evening,” Barrett and Creem wrote, “the Baker Administration is depriving the public of a full opportunity to participate.”
Barrett and Creem are also unhappy that the straw proposal would bar a city or town from mandating all-electric new construction, even after local officials allowed for vigorous analysis and debate. “For municipalities in Massachusetts and other progressive states, all-electric construction is the favored strategy for decarbonizing new buildings. Barring communities from employing it would be a significant setback.”
The senators wrote Woodcock, “We ask you to put into writing, early enough in the process to allow for public review, the legislatively mandated meaning of ‘net-zero building’ and key features of the legislatively mandated ‘net-zero building performance standards.'”
According to Barrett and Creem, the Baker draft would result in new buildings adding to the state’s problem with greenhouse gas emissions, “a dismaying prospect, and all the more so in light of the Administration’s emphasis on the difficulty of reducing emissions in the building sector.”
“We agree with the letter sent to you recently by Massachusetts municipal officials,” the two senators wrote. “Both the statute and the urgent need to combat climate change call for a true net-zero stretch code. This means the new code must, at the very least, provide interested municipalities with clear authority to prohibit on-site combustion in new construction and in major rehabilitation.”
“What the Legislature is mandating will be optional for cities and towns. No community will have to move forward. The municipalities that opt in will have chosen, after hearing from their citizens, to serve as climate laboratories for the Commonwealth. Please let them serve — ideally, with your agency supplying a framework.”
Barrett and Creem concluded, “We look forward to seeing substantial revisions to the net-zero stretch energy code promulgated by your agency.”
The schedule of the five hearings is as follows:
At the Thursday morning (March 3) hearing for Metro Boston and the northeastern suburbs, Barrett will testify, along with representatives of five towns that are seeking legislative authority to go further than the DOER draft would otherwise allow.