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Say "NO" to a Massachusetts Net Zero Building Code!

28 May 2020

Once again the Massachusetts Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS) is holding a vote that could pass a State-Wide Net Zero stretch code (now called "EZ" stretch code for "Energy Zero"). Please sign and submit this letter to the chair of the BBRS and help stop this new building code from passing and having a dramatic effect across Massachusetts!

There is a lot of support for this from environmental advocates and this type of policy has already passed at the city level in Brookline, MA. This means it's even more important for our industry to stand up and make our opposition heard. 

Click the link and fill out the form to send an email opposing this effort. 


US State Regulators Hear Notes of Caution on Municipal Gas Ban Movement

14 February 2020

John Crouch, HPBA Government Affairs, sent me this article and I found it interesting. It's long, but I've highlighted the sections that I found the most pertinent and interesting. Can common sense prevail? We'll see....

Washington — State regulators were served a strong dose of skepticism Sunday about municipal bans on natural gas hookups in new buildings from parties concerned about the consumer costs and the wisdom of setting key energy policies outside the state utility regulation construct.

Depending on how widespread it becomes, the wave of bans, as well as other incentives for building electrification, could have broad implications for the residential fuel mix and the future of gas distribution infrastructure and demand.

"My experience has been that the city councils aren't necessarily the source of balanced information, just and reasonable cost estimates, all the things that are part of the utility regulatory framework that makes determinations on the capital infrastructure investments," said Timothy Simon, a former California Public Utility Commission member.

Simon, who currently represents several local distribution companies, was among panelists urging caution about the bans during a staff gas subcommittee meeting at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners winter policy summit.

While residential energy use makes up only 7% of California's carbon dioxide emissions, "it's gaining the ire and the attack of city councils across my great state," he said. The "real culprit" in his view is transportation, which makes up 41% of CO2 emissions and is concentrated around big rig diesel trucks. Those trucks "generally don't run through Bel Air and Beverly Hills, he said. "They generally are running by black and brown communities that are in industrial sections near ports of entry and other areas."

Beginning with a ban in Berkeley, California, municipal gas bans have spread through California and appeared in the Boston area and Washington state.

AARP VIEW

Bill Malcolm, senior legislative representative from AARP, said that while his group does not favor one type of fuel over another, it has raised questions in several states about rate impacts for low and moderate income residents.

"I just checked the numbers and natural gas is now at $1.85/MMBtu, and just to put that in perspective, in 2012 it was actually $12/MMBtu," he said. "So where is the new power for the new load going to come from?" he said.

In Connecticut, for instance, AARP filed comments questioning whether incentives to install electric heat pumps over gas furnaces would benefit ratepayers and whether it would drive up peak power demand, he noted.

PUC ROLE

What role state regulators will play in the debate is "the multi-billion question that will most likely be settled by the courts," said Andreas Thanos, a Massachusetts regulator who chairs the NARUC gas staff subcommittee, when reached by email.

While PUCs grant the franchise allowing an LDC to go into a town or city, municipalities are using their bylaws to implement the bans. "So the PUCs will most likely not weigh in on the issue until the courts decide," he said.

Dianne Solomon, a New Jersey Board of Public Utilities commissioner, said she also sees a movement by states to empower their departments of environmental protection to "get into this space, take it out of the hands of the utility regulators and suggest that all projects going forward would have to have some environmental impact."

Several state regulators suggested green groups have had the more effective messaging thus far.

"I have heard a lot from the environmental advocates, Sierra Club and what have you, saying why we should have the natural gas bans," said Greer Gillis, a member of the Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia, adding it was important to get the views aired in the room out into the mainstream.

Judith Schwartz, a former utility commissioner from Palo Alto, where a municipal "reach code" encouraging all electric construction was adopted, contended "while the intentions are good, the reality of what [gas bans] are doing is minimal." During the winter "you have natural gas and imports making up the shortfall of every single hour of the day," she said.

Still, speaking from the audience, David Kolata with the Citizens Utility Board of Illinois, said he believed the issue was more complicated than the dialogue Sunday suggested.

"It's pretty clear that in every blue state, we're going to need to deliver a plan" that keeps the increase in temperatures due to climate change under 2 degrees Celsius, he said, with the modeling showing the need to decarbonize electricity, heating and transportation.

"Given that, how do we think about this from a consumer advocate point of view, where money spent on natural gas right now and natural gas infrastructure could very well be stranded?" he said.

spglobal.com


The True Cost of Electrification in New England, New York, and Across the Nation

5 February 2020

We are seeing an increasing number of jurisdictions seriously talking about converting their communities to all-electric homes. These efforts are failing to consider key issues.

1. Many communities reference solar energy as a viable option for homes without discussing the challenges. Solar electricity generation is great during the day, but without widespread electrical storage, taking advantage of that electricity is difficult. We don’t often see mention of the associated cost of not just the solar panels, but also necessary electrical storage.

There must be a discussion about the demand curve of electricity. This curve shows the modest demand for electricity in the day (people getting ready in the morning), the demand drop-off during the middle of the day (people are away from home, but solar is plentiful, weather permitting), and then the steep ramp-up in electricity demand in the evening (people return home, preparing meals, heating homes, etc.). The fluctuations of the demand curve will become steeper with a higher demand for electricity brought on by all-electric homes. Storage options will help mitigate this demand, but they are expensive, and history has shown that most people who opt for solar do not add storage, usually due to high costs.

Solar will be limited in its practicality depending on location and climate. In sunnier areas with clear lines of sight, solar is a good option for supplementing energy. In snow country, poor weather, or limited visibility (trees, nearby buildings, etc.), solar does not produce at optimal levels, if at all.

2. Electricity is not known for its resiliency during winter storms or other emergency situations. Without storage, if the power goes out, you have no power to heat, cook, or bathe if you depend on grid electricity, which the vast majority of consumers do. With natural gas or propane, you have much better resiliency for an energy source. Even if the gas-burning central furnace won’t run during a power outage because it relies on electricity to run the fan, your gas fireplaces, gas stovetops, and gas hot water heaters all continue to operate.

3. Related to the last point, we must think about the expected increased electrical rate costs. If everyone moves to a single fuel source, the demand is higher, which in-turn will very likely increase the cost. The electricity generated during the day via solar has minor value, as electricity is not in demand then. With most utilities having moved, or moving, to a Time Of Use (TOU) billing model for electricity, the highest energy in demand (during the evening) will also be the most expensive.

4. One of the primary reasons to move to all-electric homes is to lower carbon dioxide emissions. However, unless the electricity is coming directly from a renewable resource (solar panels, wind, hydro, etc.), it will be coming from a central power plant. Central power plants have very low efficiency rates – far lower than most residential furnaces or room heaters. On average, the highest efficiency rate for a natural gas-burning power plant is about 43%, with coal, oil, and nuclear efficiencies being even lower (31-33%)1. When you consider that residential gas-burning furnaces operate at a minimum of 80-82% efficiency, and then only as needed, it’s clear that fewer emissions are created from homes heated with natural gas than all-electric homes which draw from central power plants.

There is a bias evident in this effort to promote electrification. We’ve seen articles that say that 45% of carbon dioxide emissions are from electricity and heat in Canada, but if you look closer at the data, we find that only 6% is from homes using natural gas. The rest is from industrial, manufacturing, municipal and commercial. These sources will certainly be affected by changing to electrification, but the impact will be seen and felt differently. Focusing on converting homes to all-electric is an expensive proposition for the homeowner and not necessarily the best choice for the environment.

Studies show that electrification will cause price increases. It could be the increased cost to buy a new home due to new technologies will drive even more people out of the homebuyer market with five-figure increases. But electrification will also raise the cost for an average household by between $750 and $910 per year, just based on normal use of electricity from the grid.

Consumers deserve to be able to make their own decisions on how they heat their homes and cook their meals. Electrification not only removes that consumer choice, but also could shut the door to new and promising technological advances like renewable natural gas.

It’s time for everyone to understand the full cost of electrification.

For more information, contact NEHPBA.

HPBA


Latest Net Zero/Natural Gas Bans Update for New England and New York

23 January 2020

Here is an update on Net Zero/Gas Ban Events around New England and New York. Is Northeast HPBA missing anything? Is there anything we don't know about that is happening in your area that we need to know? Contact us!

Massachusetts:

There are 240 towns out of 311 towns in MA considering this stretch code. 

The Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS): 

  • Held a public hearing in October, prior to their vote to pass a state-wide Net Zero Stretch Code. 
  • NEHBA got the heads up about this public hearing through a building official in Sutton who is on the BBRS board.
  • NEHPBA Executive Director and President represented with talking points at that public hearing. 
  • There were over 100 people there in support of a Net-Zero Stretch code, including selectman from cities and towns across MA, along with organized protestors.
  • There were 11 board members in-total and 9 were in favor of the NZ stretch code. 
  • NEHPBA succeeded in converting 5 members of the BBRS to our side. 
  • They did NOT vote, and they have PUT OFF the vote indefinitely as a result of our talking points at the public hearing and the letter writing campaign NEHPBA implemented (over 300 letters sent to the board chair). 

Brookline, MA:

  • Selectmen held a Special Town Meeting in November to make the Net Zero code a law in Brookline. (The problem with a special town meeting is that they are not on the regular schedule and no one knows about them, can’t plan for them, which is how these agendas get passed).
  • There were 231 votes in favor and 11 opposed, only 242 people showed up to vote in the ENTIRE CITY OF BROOKLINE. Population 59,000 (one of largest Cities in MA.)
  • Brookline Net-Zero “law” is still at MA Attorney General’s office being reviewed for constitutionality.

Cambridge, MA:

  • Passed a Net-Zero Stretch Code. 
  • That hearing was much more bipartisan in its audience, 50/50 pro vs con regarding the stretch code. 
  • The council had their minds made up before the comments session even started. NEHPBA ED and President were present with talking points at this hearing.
  • Mayor of Cambridge was outgoing, he wanted a legacy. The stretch code passed in Cambridge 5 to 1.
  • Cambridge is expected to formally vote at their next City Council meeting on 1/27.

Somerville, MA:

  • NEHPBA found out on 12/12/19 that the vote was happening on 12/12/19 and that the public comments session was on 12/11. 
  • Somerville held their meeting in the evening on a weeknight and passed a natural gas ban. 

Governor Baker, State of the Commonwealth Address:

  • 1/21/20 State of the Commonwealth Address: Gov Baker committed to net-zero emissions goal by 2050 for Massachusetts.
  • Transportation and Climate Initiative is a cap-and-trade program that could increase gas prices (tax) up to $0.17/gallon to pay for NetZero.  

Senator Ed Markey Green New Deal Town Hall In Acton, MA:

  • Markey (Author of Green New Deal with AOC which was introduced LESS THAN 1 YEAR AGO in US Senate) wants MA to be a solely “Solar Economy.”
  • Over 800 people were present for this event, all in favor. NEHPBA ED, President and 1 dealer member were present.
  • MA Senate will be taking up a “Bold Climate Change Bill” Markey wants it to be “the boldest in the Country.” Wants the rest of the country to model and follow MA.
  • Markey is Pro Net-Zero building codes.
  • “We will bury the fossil fuel industry in the next 10 years” got a huge round of applause.
  • Markey wants “wind, solar and storage so we can say goodbye to Natural Gas.”

Other MA Towns/Communities:

  • NEHPBA is aware of discussions in the following MA towns/cities: Arlington, Ashland, Concord, Lexington, Newton and Wellesley. 
  • The mayors of Worcester, Somerville, New Bedford, and Easthampton have organized a coalition calling on state policymakers to transition MA to meet its heating, transportation, and electricity needs entirely through renewable energy, the group plans to extend invitations into other cities.

Rhode Island:

  • Governor Raimondo signed executive order Executive Order 19-06 in July 2019 to reduce carbon emissions from Heating Sector by April 2020.
  • 1/20/20 Raimondo set 2030 as goal for Rhode Island to be 100% renewable energy.
  • National Grid (electric utility in RI) believes it may be possible that she is pushing renewable generation (solar, wind, storage) and not addressing gas heating and other uses at this time with this order. (She did refer to that Executive Order on 1/20/20).

Vermont:

  • Mayor Miro Weinberger wants Burlington to become a Net Zero Energy city by 2030.
  • Wants to reduce and eventually eliminate fossil fuel use in the “heating and ground transportation sectors, the two largest greenhouse gas emissions contributors in Burlington and in the state of Vermont.”
  • VT is actually passing legislation to allow their state to be sued if they don’t meet their mandates. 

Connecticut:

  • Gov. Ned Lamont’s signed executive order to reduce carbon emissions and sets the goal for a 100% carbon-free energy market in the state by 2040.

New York:

  • July, the state of New York (state Senate) passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, Carbon-free electricity by 2040 and a net-zero carbon economy by 2050.
  • Last month, NEHPBA member lost a 350 unit apartment community deal in upstate New York. Each home was to have a gas fireplace. The builder cancelled for fear that they would not be able to pipe in Natural Gas by the time construction began. 

Maine:

  • June 2019, Governor Mills Signs Major Renewable Energy and Climate Change Bills Into Law. Signed legislation to achieve goals of 80% renewable energy by 2030 and emissions reductions of 80% by 2050.

New Hampshire:

  • March 2019, Town of Derry, NH. Mission: To explore and achieve cost effective solutions for reduced energy use and sustainable energy development on town-controlled property, municipal buildings, vehicles, schools, while developing a comprehensive plan to achieve the goal of "Net Zero" compliance by all key Stakeholders by 2025. Additionally, to promote energy conservation, energy efficiency, and explore other ways to reduce carbon emissions among the Town's residents and businesses.  Lastly, to reduce water usage where feasible. 

What is NEHPBA doing?

    Right now NEHPBA is Networking with: Plumbers Union, VP of Government Affairs and VP of Communications with National Grid, Community Relations Specialist at Eversource, Director at Eversource, President of the Union for Eversource, New England Gas Workers Alliance, PROGANE (Propane Gas of New England), Regional AGA affiliate, Massachusetts Chimney Sweeps, BBRS, numerous building inspectors in MA, NAIOP, National Grid in RI. 

    If there are any introductions you can make in your area, no matter how big or small, please introduce me via email or phone. Contact NEHPBA with any questions. Like our Facebook page to stay up-to-date!

    Image: Sen Markey Green New Deal Town Hall 


    Gas is in the Past After Brookline, MA Special Town Meeting

    21 November 2019

    Fossil fuels are out following the second night of Brookline’s special Town Meeting.

    Town Meeting members  passed Article 21, which will prohibit the use of fossil fuel infrastructure in new construction and significant renovations in town.

    “This warrant article is not the whole answer, but it represents a start” in reaching Brookline’s stated 2050 carbon neutral goal, said Town Meeting member Cornelia van der Ziel.

    “When you’re in a hole, the first thing is to stop digging,” State Rep. Tommy Vitolo said; this warrant article takes away the shovel, he added.

    The bylaw passed overwhelmingly, with 210 votes in favor.

    “This is a historic day for the community of Brookline and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” TMM, architect and article co-sponsor Lisa Cunningham said in a Mothers Out Front press release following the vote.

    She added, “I hope this demonstrates to parents and citizens across the country that they also have the power to move their communities to a clean energy future.”

    The bylaw does include some exemptions, allowing fossil fuel infrastructure needed for backup generators, restaurant kitchens and medical offices, among other uses.

    The action was urgently needed, co-petitioner and architect Kathleen Scanlon said in the same Mothers Out Front press release.

    “We cannot install new gas infrastructure that will last 30 years, past the time that we have committed to achieving zero emissions,” Scanlon said. “This decision will move us away from new oil and gas infrastructure when it’s convenient and possible to do so. It’s a step in the right direction for Brookline and for our climate.”

    Town Meeting picks up again on Thursday, Nov. 21. 


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