Next Up for Massachusetts Building Emissions Reductions: Tackling the Clean Heat Challenge

This week, the Massachusetts Commission on Clean Heat released its final report.  The report seeks to establish a framework for a long-term reduction in emissions from heating fuels, to align with the Commonwealth’s emissions reduction target of net zero by 2050 and the 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap.

According to the 2050 Roadmap, on-site combustion of fossil fuels in the residential and commercial building sectors presently accounts for about 27% of statewide greenhouse gas emissions, and the use of these fuels for building heat is the largest end-use contributor to emissions in the building sector.  But the barriers to converting to clean heat are significant, including capital investment and operating costs, public awareness, and availability of equipment and trained installers.   The Commission’s report includes a host of recommendations for the Commonwealth and underscores the urgency for action – without immediate action in the next year or two, we are unlikely to be able to achieve the pace and scale of change needed to meet the 2050 goals.

To achieve these goals, the Commission recommends the Commonwealth transition away from investing in new or increased natural gas infrastructure or capacity and instead deploy funds to support a net zero future.  Some of the key recommendations include:

  • implementing a Clean Heat Standard by 2024;
  • conducting joint energy system planning with the Department of Public Utilities, the Department of Energy Resources and the gas and electric utilities;
  • identifying ways to reduce electric operating costs for those who convert to clean heat

On the issue of whether to phase out new fossil fuel heating systems by law, the Commission was split, but recommended the issue be further analyzed.

Another key theme of the report is that the present rate-payer funded Mass Save program that provides incentives for building decarbonization is neither designed for nor capable of achieving the type, pace, and scale of change that are needed.  As the report notes,

there is an inherent conflict of interest within the program — which is likely to become more challenging moving forward — whereby investor-owned gas utilities are being asked to implement decarbonization measures that are designed to reduce their revenue base by switching customers to efficient electric appliances.

The Commission recommends a wholesale reform of the program and the establishment of a new Building Decarbonization Clearinghouse that would advance equitable decarbonization efforts, be accessible to all, and serve as a “one stop shop” for building owners, residents and businesses.

Although outside the scope of the Commission’s work, the Commission emphasized that the Commonwealth must work in parallel to expand the supply of clean energy and the capability of the grid over the long term so that the system can handle the resulting load growth.

The Commission was established by Governor Baker in 2021 and delivered its report to his Administration on the eve of their departure.  Governor-elect Healey has her work cut out for her!


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