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Newton weighs rules to reduce fossil fuel use in new or remodeled buildings

Newton city councilors are considering a proposal that would require new buildings and major renovation projects to use electricity instead of fossil fuels for heating, cooling, and hot water systems as officials seek to limit the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.

But the proposal raised concerns from the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber and Newton-Wellesley Hospital, which called for a delay in an anticipated Monday vote connected with the measure.

The rules would apply to new buildings, as well as any substantially remodeled or rehabilitated structures, according to the draft ordinance. The measure is meant to protect the health and welfare of residents and the environment by reducing emissions and other air pollutants, the ordinance says.

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Mayor Ruthanne Fuller has said she supports the proposed electrification ordinance.

“We want new and remodeled buildings, which will last for many decades, to be fueled with clean, modern, efficient technology,” Fuller said in a July 29 statement.

But the city’s process on the measure was criticized by Greg Reibman, the president of the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber. Reibman, in an e-mail to City Council President Susan Albright late Tuesday morning, said that the organization never received notice from the administration that the measure was under consideration.

Reibman said he first learned of the proposal from Fuller’s e-mail newsletter, along with many chamber members.

The City Council was initially expected to vote Monday, Aug. 9, on a home rule petition to the Massachusetts Legislature, which would have cleared the way for Newton to implement an ordinance. Reibman asked Albright to send the proposal back to committee and reopen the public hearing.

“The chamber appreciates the intentions of this proposal and we have not yet determined if we support or oppose this item,” Reibman said. “However, we do not believe the full impact of this specific measure, as written, has been fully vetted as it should before placing it in the hands of the Legislature.”

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In a statement to the Globe Tuesday afternoon, Newton-Wellesley Hospital and its parent system Mass General Brigham, said it fully supported the chamber’s call for a delay.

“While Newton-Wellesley Hospital is proud to support the City of Newton’s Climate Action Plan, this particular home rule petition as currently drafted raises very serious and practical operational concerns that could directly impact the delivery of patient care,” the hospital statement said. “We would welcome the opportunity to address those concerns with the Council in greater detail before any further action is taken.”

Albright, who supports the electrification proposal, said she has told colleagues that the measure should be brought back to committee to clarify that the proposal remains a draft ordinance.

“There will be time for all the voices to be heard,” she said.

Fuller, in a statement Tuesday afternoon, said the City Council’s Public Facilities Committee has been publicly discussing for two years the idea of asking the state Legislature to allow Newton to create the ordinance.

Councilors reached out to more than 200 developers, builders, architects and engineers involved in major renovations and new buildings in Newton for their input, she said.

“We welcome further discussion with our business and non-profit community both now and in the coming months,” Fuller said Tuesday.

The final ordinance will only be crafted after Newton receives permission to move forward from state lawmakers, according to Fuller. The City Council will be asking for input from residents and stakeholders as it writes the final ordinance, she said.

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More than 60 percent of Newton’s greenhouse gas emissions come from its homes, apartments, and commercial buildings, according to Fuller.

Greenhouse gases from human activities are the most significant driver of observed climate change since the mid-20th century, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

According to a copy of the draft ordinance from early July, the regulations would allow the city to withhold issuing a building permit for a new or remodeled building that does not use electricity for those uses, according to the proposal.

There are exceptions under the proposal, which would not eliminate fossil fuels entirely and allow uses including gas-powered stoves, other cooking appliances, and emergency generators.

In a statement, Fuller said familiarity with electric induction stoves in Newton is less widespread than electric heat pumps for heating, cooling, and hot water.

“While we understand the argument for requiring them, many people are deeply devoted to their gas stoves. On balance, we have decided to wait to require electric induction stoves in new buildings or major renovations,” Fuller said.

The city also may grant waivers to projects if the additional cost would make the work economically not viable, according to the draft ordinance. Fuller said the state intends to help make electrification more financially attractive by increasing the rebates for heat pump equipment, as well as other policies to decrease the cost of renewable power.



John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.