Hours after the Supreme Court dealt a devastating blow to the national climate effort, Massachusetts released an aggressive new blueprint that speeds up efforts to slash emissions by electrifying buildings and vehicles and transitioning the electricity supply rapidly from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.
The new plan offers a detailed path for what the state must achieve by 2025 and 2030, presenting a vision for accelerating climate action in Massachusetts.
“The Clean Energy and Climate Plan is a comprehensive and balanced plan that will serve as a guide for Massachusetts as we work to achieve ambitious emissions goals and reach Net Zero in 2050 in an equitable and affordable manner,” Governor Charlie Baker said in a statement.
The state plan calls for cutting emissions to 33 percent below 1990 levels in less than three years’ time, and getting to 50 percent by 2030. As it works toward those goals, the state envisions growing the economy, with modeling showing clean energy projects bringing a net gain of over 22,000 jobs by 2030.
The plan has been a project of the Baker Administration, but it will fall on the next governor, who will be elected in November, to implement it. Attorney General Maura Healey, whose office would help implement plans, and who is a gubernatorial candidate, said her office is looking forward to working with the state.
“The climate crisis is upon us, and this morning’s Supreme Court decision makes it even clearer states need to step up,” she said.
Buildings and transportation are the two largest sources of emissions in Massachusetts. In 2020, transportation accounted for 27 percent of the state’s emissions, while buildings heated with oil and gas accounted for 30 percent, according to the plan.
When it comes to transportation, the state plan hinges on convincing as many people as possible to stop driving — by making improvements to bike lanes and public transit — and switching any remaining cars from gas to electric. The plan calls for 200,000 electric vehicles to be on the road by 2025, and 900,000 by 2030.
At the same time, the state will work to get buildings off of oil and gas, mostly through the use of heat pumps, which use electricity to heat and cool buildings.
The state has struggled to keep up with even less ambitious goals on transportation and home heat; as of March, there were just 51,431 electric passenger vehicles on the road, far behind an earlier goal of having 169,000 by 2020, and it has converted homes to electric heat pumps at a rate of only hundreds a year, not 100,000 as required by previous goals.
Addressing those problems, Thursday’s report outlined plans to overhaul the state’s rebate program for electric vehicles, with key changes including rebates at the point-of-sale and additional incentives for low- and moderate-income car buyers. The plan encouraged zoning changes to promote more housing close to public transportation. Similarly, the report said the state will expand incentives and provide more financing assistance for heat pumps, building on a major reform of the Mass Save program earlier this year.
As the state works to turn progress on those fronts around, it will also have the big job of cleaning up the electricity sector, which was responsible for 20 percent of state emissions in 2020, when taking into account emissions from imported electricity as well as what’s generated in-state. Within Massachusetts, natural gas power plants are the main cause of those emissions.
“Investments in offshore wind, combined with imports of Canadian hydro and a rapidly growing solar and storage industry in Massachusetts, will put the state on the path to a decarbonized electricity grid,” the report notes, echoing past reports by the state.
But it’s unclear just how the state plans to access hydropower from Canada. A plan to bring that energy to Massachusetts via a transmission line through Maine is on hold — and possibly dead — after voters in Maine last year objected the line. A court case could still revive the plan, or the state could revisit alternative routes to bringing the energy here, however for now, there is not a clear path to accessing that energy.
The new plan was required by the ambitious climate law that was passed in 2021, and it updates an earlier, interim version that was released in 2020. The earlier version was based on less ambitious climate goals of cutting emissions 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and getting to 85 percent reduction by 2050. When the state ultimately adopted the loftier goals, it included a requirement to update the earlier version of the plan.
In a call with the media ahead of the plan’s release, Energy and Environment Secretary Beth Card announced that the state had successfully slashed emissions in 2020 by 31.4 percent below 1990 levels. “This is a great accomplishment, but we must continue to take an aggressive approach to combat the climate crisis,” she said.
The emissions reduction announced Thursday is an increase from an earlier, preliminary estimate by the state. But it also comes with a caveat — emissions worldwide saw a precipitous drop in 2020 due to the pandemic, but a March 2021 report by the International Energy Agency noted that carbon dioxide emissions were actually higher in December 2021 than in December 2019, as major economies began to bounce back and economic activity drove energy demand higher.
Upon release on the new plan, climate advocates noted that it’s one thing to release an ambitious plan — and another thing to act on it.
“It’s clear that the state is lagging behind where we need to be in slashing climate-damaging emissions,” said Caitlin Peale Sloan, vice president of CLF Massachusetts. “This Administration and the next one need to prioritize real movement on existing policies to match the analysis in this plan, which relies heavily on vague proposals for programs yet to be developed.”