December 17, 2020
To get to zero, all paths must be considered. According to the 2018 Massachusetts Comprehensive Energy Report, the vast majority of our emissions come from three sectors: transportation, buildings and power generation. For zero carbon emissions to be achieved, the first two would need to be electrified and the third would need to generate that electricity using exclusively renewable sources, like the state’s growing offshore wind farms. The legislation currently on the table only begins to address building emissions.
According to sophomore Atlas Noubir, who is on the legislative team of the Environmental Action Club, the next steps towards zero will be much more drastic and the club expects they will call for political changes. The team, he said, has been working on promoting progressive causes both on the ballot and in Town Meeting itself.
“There’s a lot of things we’re looking to do in local town politics, to generally make our Town Meeting and Select Board more progressive. A lot of times we have issues because they don’t tend to support progressive policy,” Noubir said. “Elections aren’t happening for a while yet, but we’re probably going to start trying to get more progressives elected, particularly to the Select Board.”
One piece of legislation that may be particularly difficult without a political shift in Town Meeting is mandating the early replacement of functioning heating systems. If the current legislation, which only electrifies new construction and major renovations, is step one, and electrifying all simple heating system replacements is step two, that final step, according to Vitolo, will be a painful but inevitable one.
“We are going to have to get to step three, which is to say, ‘I know your gas heating system might only be 12 years old and probably has another 10 years left on it. We’re going to help you pay to replace it with an electric system now, because we’ve got to get it done,’” Vitolo said. “Realistically, we’re not going to get to step three soon. But that’s okay. It is an incredibly expensive way to reduce emissions. Let’s do the cheaper stuff first.”
But in the meantime, he said, the current legislation being discussed could give the construction industry a vital opportunity to adjust.
“Not only do you not make the problem worse, but now plumbers, architects, HVAC technicians, engineers and salespeople are working with more heat pumps. The supply chain gets better, people know how to do it, people get comfortable with it,” Vitolo said. “Doing step one primes the pump.”