Architect; Director and co-founder, ZeroCarbonMA; Brookline resident
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently issued its latest stark warning: We need to quickly stop using fossil fuels — including gas and oil. Greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels are accelerating our path to a bleak climate future.
Massachusetts has a goal to reduce emissions by 50 percent from 1990 levels by 2030 to meet our legally binding climate targets. At present, we are missing critical deadlines toward that goal. State lawmakers can improve our chances of meeting the target by banning new construction of residential and commercial buildings — which consume 54 percent of our energy — from using fossil fuel systems.
Requiring all-electric systems in new construction is cost-effective and practical. Electric heat pumps are installed in many Massachusetts buildings, including my own home, and can operate efficiently in sub-zero temperatures. Using heat pumps in new buildings is a first step in reducing our carbon emissions. Electrifying reduces emissions about 25 percent immediately with our current grid, which is mandated to become more renewable by 2 percent annually.
Burning fossil fuels is reckless fiscal policy. Massachusetts has set a goal to remove fossil fuel systems in a million homes and 300 to 400 million square feet of commercial buildings by 2030, but the state continues to allow the construction of new buildings with dirty infrastructure.
Burning gas is also bad for our health. Children living in homes with gas stoves face a 42 percent increased rate of asthma. A just-released Harvard study found natural gas in homes across Greater Boston contains toxic pollutants linked to cancer. A Stanford University-led study cited significant climate impacts of methane leaking from gas stoves even when they are not in use.
Burning gas is also an equity issue, affecting low-income communities and communities of Blacks, Indigenous people, and people of color — those most at risk of living in buildings constructed with yesterday’s technology.
Many of us are anxious about the climate future facing our children and grandchildren. This anxiety is exacerbated by the fact that we have the tools to change our current trajectory — yet the fossil fuel industry continues to dig us into a deeper hole. State lawmakers should stop this madness and allow us to build a better future. Ensuring our future buildings are electrified is one way to start.
Michael S. Giaimo
Northeast Region Director, American Petroleum Institute; Andover resident
Banning natural gas and oil systems in new building construction is bad public policy. There are questions that need answers before turning to an outright prohibition.
Demand for electricity will likely rise as lawmakers continue to implement policies incentivizing electric vehicles and electric heating. Which begs the question: Where is all the electricity going to come from to power all the new EVs and the new homes and buildings that won’t have the option to choose oil or gas for heating, cooking, and hot water?
While we have high hopes for advancements in solar, wind, and battery storage, at present they cannot provide sustained output and the reserve requirements necessary to meet the demands on our electric grid. Our system relies on natural gas-fired power plants which — unlike intermittent resources — can in real-time throttle generation up and down to help balance wind and solar resources.
Because roughly half of our electricity in New England comes from natural gas-powered generators, it’s possible the additional power demanded to meet electrification goals may also increase and perpetuate the use of older, less efficient, power plants. This unintended consequence could negate the environmental benefits that building electrification is intended to achieve.
Then there’s cost, which raises the next question: What effect will a gas and oil prohibition have on our economy and cost of living if businesses and residents find the price of building properties is higher because they are limited to one fuel?
The National Association of Home Builders estimated the increased costs to construct an all-electric house compared to one using natural gas is $11,000 to $15,100. They conclude that consumers in colder climates will likely face higher upfront construction and operating costs throughout the equipment’s life.
None of this means meeting our carbon reduction goals is impossible.
Communities should leverage the benefits of existing energy infrastructure to help achieve greenhouse gas reduction goals while existing technologies improve and new ones emerge. Energy-efficient, low-carbon buildings could be powered by a combination of natural gas and carbon-free energy (such as hydrogen) to both lower emissions and utility bills. This is the type of all-of-the-above strategy the Commonwealth should embrace to make costs affordable while keeping the state on track to meet its emissions reduction goals.
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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