Energy chief says net-zero carbon goal under review

Boston Statehouse

Rep. Sean Garballey, sponsor of a bill to move Massachusetts to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, contended Tuesday that it’s a “shame” Massachusetts lags behind California, New York, and Hawaii, which have all committed to achieving 100 percent renewable electric systems. [Photo: Sam Doran/SHNS]

(SHNS) – Energy Secretary Kathleen Theoharides said Tuesday that the Baker administration is exploring more aggressive carbon reduction targets for Massachusetts, including what it would take to go net-zero by 2050, but would not commit to lawmakers to speeding up the state’s emission reduction goals.

Theoharides testified before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy to update legislators on the administration’s “deep decarbonization analysis” that began this spring. The administration is working to identify the strategies and policies that will be necessary to meet its current requirement of an 80 percent reduction in emissions below 1990 levels by 2050.

“Our feeling is before we commit to any additional targets, we really have to look at where we’re going and how we’re getting there,” Theoharides said after the hearing. “We are looking at this net-zero emissions for 2050 and we will certainly be looking at the levels of ambitions that are required just to meet the 80 percent target.”

The idea of net-zero emission was first laid out by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that identified the goal as necessary worldwide to avoid catastrophic climate change impacts. The Baker administration’s study is expected to be completed by December 2020, and the secretary said that as part of that process the administration will be setting an interim target for emission reductions by 2030.

The review will examine policies to reduce the state’s emissions from a variety of sectors, including transportation, electric, building and land use, she said.

Massachusetts accounts for just 0.1 percent of emissions globally and 2 percent nationwide, Theoharides noted, meaning the state can have more of an impact in modeling policy and advancing new technologies than slowing climate change on its own.

“I would just encourage you given the leadership goals you have, to be bold,” said Rep. Joan Meschino, a Hull Democrat and member of the committee who asked Theorharides about updating the carbon reduction target.

Theoharides and Undersecretary for Energy Patrick Woodcock testified after a group of 25 lawmakers, led by Reps. Majorie Decker of Cambridge and Sean Garballey of Arlington, appeared in support of a Decker-Garballey bill to convert to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

The bill would also set a target of 100 percent renewable energy in the electricity sector by 2035.

“What has happened is we have states who now must lead on this issue because the federal government is not only doing nothing about it, but doing everything they can to deny science,” Garballey said.

Garballey called it “a shame” that states like California, New York and Hawaii have committed themselves to achieving a 100 percent renewable electric system and Massachusetts hasn’t. In addition to helping fight the effects of climate change, Garballey said the transition will be a huge engine for job growth.

“Massachusetts has a moral obligation to not just support renewable energy but to be a leader,” Garballey said.

Decker said she worried that policy makers are running out of time to act and setting up future generations for “a disaster that will continue to be more expensive and more dangerous to their health and to their well-being.”

“We can no longer hold back or delay due to fear,” she said.

Sen. Michael Barrett, the co-chair of the committee, said at one point that there are a lot of bills proposing to update carbon emission reduction goals that are “light on actual execution.”

The Lexington Democrat criticized the latest three-year energy efficiency plan put together by the administrators of the Mass Save program, calling it full of “marketing speak” and too dismissive of things like electric air pumps for home heating.

“I want you guys to take a stronger leadership role. I believe in the end my friends in the utility industry are going easy on themselves,” Barrett said.

Mass Save is a collaborative of Massachusetts’ natural gas and electric utilities and energy efficiency service providers to help consumers save on home energy costs by being more efficient.

Woodcock told Barrett that the administration shares his belief that the building sector must be a key component in the state’s strategy to reduce carbon.

After Barrett asked him whether the utilities or the administration were “driving the bus” on energy efficiency, Woodcock said, “Quite frankly, you and I will be holding the utilities accountable.”

The building-sector was also a major focus during the early part of the hearing when municipal leaders and environmental advocates urged the Legislature to update the state’s “stretch” building codes to allow cities and towns to set stricter energy efficiency standards.

“We will be unable to meet our legislated climate goal if we don’t change the way we build our homes and office buildings,” said Carol Oldham, executive director of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network.

Chris Cook, the chief of environment, energy and open space for the city of Boston, and Lexington Select Board member Mark Sandeen said municipalities need the state’s approval to exceed the standards in the existing stretch code.

Sandeen said Lexington is already building two net-zero emission, all-electric schools and has plans to build six net-zero homes for low-income resident.

“We are proving that net-zero homes can be built affordably in Lexington,” he said.

Paul Dale of the Sierra Club said 252 towns have already adopted the stretch code, but can’t go further without the Legislature’s intervention.

“The science is clear. We should not be building any more buildings that we need to retrofit later. We are literally out of time,” Dale said.


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