Physicist; member of Concord’s Sustainability and Energy Committee; board member of Massachusetts Climate Action Network; member of HeatSmart Alliance
As global climate change becomes an ever more urgent concern, one easy way for cities and towns to help fight the problem is by prohibiting new or substantially renovated homes from hooking up to natural gas lines. Berkeley, Calif. took that step last July and Brookline led the way in this state last November with a ban that now awaits Attorney General approval.
Other communities should follow that example, and some are moving to do so. My town, Concord, is considering a ban that like Brookline’s would encompass not only natural gas but other fossil fuel infrastructure. Each community can decide on the specifics of its ban — including what if any exceptions to allow — but the need for action is clear.
As a 2018 United Nations report details, we need to lower carbon emissions 45 percent by 2030 to avoid increases in global temperature of more than 1.5 degrees celsius and to avert catastrophic changes including extreme weather, floods, and growing misery for vulnerable people worldwide.
Reducing emissions drastically in our communities is a tall order, but within our means thanks to renewable power from solar and wind in combination with electric vehicles and electric heating.
As one-third of New England emissions come from heating buildings, a shift to efficient electric heating and cooling is essential to meet the reduction goal in a short time. Heat pump technology and building standards have matured to the point where this can be done at cost on par with that of gas or oil but with much lower emissions.
So if we care about the future, why are homes being built that will burn gas or oil for decades, when electric alternatives are practical, comfortable, and so much cleaner? Changing local regulations to require cleaner technology will not put homebuilders out of business but bring a technological shift that really drives emission reduction. Businesses that sell boilers and furnaces can adapt to offer high efficiency heat pumps, taking advantage of a huge retrofit market in existing buildings with many good jobs as a major benefit. But we need to accelerate this transition, and the time to do so has arrived.
Thomas M. Kiley
President and CEO of the Northeast Gas Association based in Needham; resident of MetroWest
As a highly affordable and reliable source of energy and one of the leading contributors to New England’s recent carbon emissions reductions, natural gas remains the preferred choice for heating and powering Massachusetts homes and businesses. At a time of economic uncertainty, it is an economical and stable option that helps keep energy bills low. For these reasons, we say “No” to any local bans on new gas hook-ups.
We all share the goal of a clean energy future that addresses climate change. But banning natural gas in new or substantially renovated buildings will not help us achieve those critical goals. The transition to clean energy is underway, but it requires a balanced approach. Reducing vehicle traffic, for instance, can have an unprecedented impact on emission reductions; and ongoing state efforts to address the transportation sector make sense.
Meanwhile, natural gas is playing an important role in the energy transition and can continue to help. Our member utilities are working with their communities to reduce carbon, including investing in energy efficiency, infrastructure, and clean, innovative technologies. While our state accounts for less than 3 percent of US natural gas deliveries, we invest 18 percent of the nation’s total gas efficiency program dollars. And despite strong customer growth, natural gas has reduced Massachusetts emissions by 68 percent in 25 years while playing a key part in the state’s improving clean air position by replacing dirtier fuels.
One of the issues with abruptly banning natural gas and going “all electric” for heating and cooking at homes and businesses is that the electricity people would be using would most likely come from the very fuel some seek to ban. While traditional base load plants like nuclear, coal, and oil have retired, three new power plants have come online in Massachusetts since 2018 — powered by natural gas. New offshore wind and electric transmission projects are in development, but are not here yet.
Natural gas is the backbone of New England’s energy system, today and for years ahead, in balance with renewables. From empowering the future use of renewables to providing stable, affordable energy prices, natural gas helps support the clean energy future we all want.
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.