Re: DOER document entitled "Building Energy Code Straw Proposal: Updated Stretch Code and Specialized Opt-in Code," dated February 2022

February 28, 2021   Letter

Patrick C. Woodcock

Commissioner, Department of Energy Resources

100 Cambridge Street, Suite 1020

Boston, MA 02114

Re: DOER document entitled "Building Energy Code Straw Proposal: Updated Stretch

Code and Specialized Opt-in Code," dated February 2022

Dear Commissioner Woodcock,

As you know, the 2021 Climate Act directs the Executive branch to promulgate a municipal option specialized stretch energy code for newly constructed buildings that includes (to quote from the statute) "net-zero building performance standards and a definition of net-zero building." 

 

Massachusetts needs to begin constructing buildings that do not rely on fossil fuels for heating. 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, in three key respects:

1) The Legislature ordered five hearings around the state, anticipating considerable exposure for, and consideration of, the concept of net zero, the defining feature of the Act's new stretch code provision. By crowding all five hearings into a single seven-day period, beginning on

Wednesday and including this Friday evening, the Baker Administration is depriving the public of a full opportunity to participate.

2) The straw proposal bars a city or town from mandating all-electric new construction, even after local officials allow 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.

3) DOER entitles slide 23 of its straw proposal "Proposed Net Zero Definition" and then offers no definition, a disservice to both legislative intent and public discussion. 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.”

We're also concerned by the statement, "A building becomes net zero when MA electric grid is net zero." We respectfully disagree. If the code does not change for the better, many new buildings will not become net zero even after the grid becomes net zero; in cases in which solar is either absent or insufficient to offset onsite pollution, new buildings reliant on fossil fuels for heating, hot water, cooking, or clothes drying will be net emitters.

A new specialized stretch energy code that results in net emissions from new construction is a dismaying prospect, and all the more so in light of the Administration's emphasis on the difficulty of reducing emissions in the buildings sector. As it noted on page 33 of its draft Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2030, "While other sectors in this report are presented with an emissions range, … driving the most aggressive pace possible in the building sector represents a key element to position the Commonwealth to achieve Net Zero by 2050, given the slow pace of building equipment turnover."

 

Bottom line: Despite its unequivocal support of "net zero emissions" by 2050, despite the special challenges of reducing emissions in buildings, and despite having been given a full 18 months by the Legislature to do its work, the Baker Administration has proposed a municipal opt-in specialized stretch energy code that comes up short.

 

We agree with the letter sent to you recently by Massachusetts municipal officials. 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.

 

We appreciate your attention to this letter and the work you and your staff have put into the effort so far. We look forward to seeing substantial revisions to the net-zero stretch energy code promulgated by your agency.

Sincerely,

Cynthia Stone Creem

Chair, Senate Committee on Global Warming & Climate Change

Michael J. Barrett

Senate Chair, Chair, Joint Committee on Senate Committee on

Telecommunications, Utilities & Energy

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