Tough Nut to Crack: Reducing Emissions from Boston’s Existing Buildings

After a thorough process of research and deliberation, BostonCAN is excited to announce the focus of our next campaign: winning policy change to accelerate the conversion of Boston’s existing 86,000 buildings to clean energy for heat, cooling, lights, and all their energy needs.

Powering our homes and businesses with fossil fuels accounts for about 70% of our collective greenhouse gas emissions. The Carbon Free Boston report calls for “deep energy retrofits” within 30 years of all existing buildings in the city: installing deeper insulation in walls and roofs with heating and cooling supplied by highly efficient electrical heat pumps. As our grid becomes steadily greener, these heat pump systems will be responsible for fewer and fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Our top near-term goal is to strengthen the energy efficiency of  Boston’s largest buildings. Less than 3% of Boston’s buildings account for more than half of all greenhouse gas emissions from buildings. These largest buildings are already regulated by Boston’s Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO), which covers all buildings of 35,000 square feet and larger. Adding stronger enforcement mechanisms to BERDO will lead property owners to transition more quickly to cleaner energy. More retrofits will also lead to more jobs for Boston residents, as well as cleaner air, soil and water as we reduce our need to transport and combust fossil fuels.

Retrofitting existing buildings is one of the four top priorities that Boston has chosen for the update of its Climate Action Plan. Carbon Free Boston emphasized the importance of reducing carbon use in existing buildings, especially since “85 percent of projected building square footage in Boston in 2050 exists today.”

The goal is challenging. Many Boston buildings face barriers to even basic levels of insulation, let alone the deep energy retrofits they will need. Judy Kolligian, a BostonCAN member and landlord, has already upgraded heating systems for her own and her tenants’ apartments. “I’ve been improving my building as quickly as I learn how to, but my home has asbestos siding and my tenants’ has asphalt siding. I need the City and Mass Save to figure out more cost-effective ways to insulate buildings like these.”

BsotonCAN invites you to join our “Green Buildings, Not Greenhouse Gases” campaign, working with allies and city leaders to find urgent, equitable, and affordable solutions for retrofitting all buildings, from triple-deckers like Judy’s to the biggest buildings in the city.

Castle_Square_2

Pictured above is the deep energy retrofit in process in 2012, at Castle Square Apartments in Boston.

CCE Working Group Explores Green Energy Sourcing Alternatives

BostonCAN is a member of the Municipal Aggregation Working Group that the City’s Environment Department has formed to help ensure that Boston’s Community Choice Energy (CCE) program reflects community priorities. (Note: Municipal aggregation is the legal term for CCE.) Working group members represent City departments and other stakeholder organizations. Monthly meetings began last December and have served to educate the group about different aspects of aggregation design. The February 28 meeting addressed alternative ways that a program can acquire green energy. Guest speakers Megan Shaw from the Cambridge Energy Alliance and Ann Berwick from the City of Newton each described the option that her municipality chose.

Newton’s program goes live this month with a 22-month contract. The program gets green energy by purchasing Class I RECs. A REC (Renewable Energy Certificate) is earned by a renewable energy producer (for example, a solar or wind farm) for each 1,000 kilowatt hours that it generates. RECs are sold on an open market. When people (including aggregations) buy RECs, they help to repay up-front costs for existing renewable projects and to encourage investment in new ones. Class I RECs are for energy produced in New England, New York, or parts of Canada, where they help to green our regional grid and to create local jobs. Newton’s default offering is 60% green (46% more than the current state requirement, or RPS, of 14%). Newton customers may also opt up to 100% green or down to the RPS level.

Cambridge’s second CCE contract started last November. The previous 18-month contract relied on RECs, prioritizing new-vintage solar RECs (SRECs) in order to incentivize local solar development. When the incentive fell short of its goal, Cambridge designed its current, 24-month contract with an “operational adder” (customer surcharge) that will be used to finance a new, City-owned solar project. Cambridge’s program has an opt-up to 100%; these customers pay for Class I RECs in addition to the adder. The program is currently collecting more money than it can use, and the City is considering different options, such as adding battery storage.

Because recent market prices for electricity have been low, Newton and Cambridge now offer their customers both greener energy and lower prices compared to Eversource. However, prices fluctuate, and Berwick said that Newton was careful never to promise its customers cost savings. Alternative ways to set prices for an aggregation will be the topic of the next working group meeting.

In later meetings, the working group will set priorities for Boston’s CCE program and discuss what design alternatives support those priorities best. To help members prepare, the City provided the following questions about green energy sourcing alternatives:

  • Do we want to use RECS, direct investment in new renewables, or some combination of both?
  • If RECs, do we want to buy a fixed percentage above RPS or a varying percentage based on energy prices? In either case, what’s our target amount of renewables?
  • What types of RECs and/or renewable projects do we want to prioritize?
  • How might we want to change the aggregation over time and in response to new circumstances?
  • Do we want opt-up or opt-down options, and if so, what should these entail?

What do you think? BostonCAN represents its members at the working group, and we need to hear from you to do a good job. Send us a message at BostonClimateAction@gmail.com or at Facebook.com/BostonCAN with your opinions and questions.

Check out the City’s new CCE website for the latest progress indicators.

progress graphic

 

Carbon Pricing in Massachusetts

Please join BCAN for a forum on carbon pricing legislation on Wednesday, February 6 at the UU Church, in Jamaica Plain at 7pm.  

Carbon pricing bills have been filed in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the Senate in January. Rep. Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) is the lead sponsor on the House bill, with a list of more than 100 co-sponsors.  Representatives Nika Elugardo, Liz Malia, Chyna Tyler, Russell Holmes, Dan Hunt, Liz Miranda, and other Boston Reps are among those co-sponsoring HD.2370, An Act to Promote Green Infrastructure and Reduce Carbon Emissions.  The bill would establish a fee for each ton of carbon dioxide emissions produced by carbon-based fuels used in the State (excluding electricity generation, which is covered by another mechanism).  Seventy percent of the fees collected would be rebated to households and employers, organized so that low- and middle-income households would get more in rebates than they pay in increased fuel costs.  The other 30% of the funds would go to a new Green Infrastructure Fund, which would support clean transportation, resiliency, and renewable energy projects. It is estimated that $400-$600 million would be raised each year for this fund.  The bill also has a provision that would assess a carbon fee on gas leaks from gas pipelines and distribution networks in the State.

The Senate bill, SD.1817, An Act to Combat Climate Change, was filed by Senator Mike Barrett, along with 65 co-sponsors.  State Senators Sonia Chang-Diaz, Nick Collins, and Mike Rush are among the Boston co-sponsors. This bill recommends “market-based compliance” mechanisms, including “greenhouse gas emissions exchanges, banking, credits and other transactions . . .” and is less specific than the House bill about the percentage of funds that would be allocated to infrastructure or renewable energy projects.  The Senate bill also provides for rebates to households, and requires that low-income and rural residents not be disproportionately burdened by the market-based mechanisms.

Rep. Benson will present the House bill at the Feb 6 forum, along with a panel including Cindy Luppi, the New England Director of Clean Water Action and chair of the carbon pricing coalition; and Dr. Jonathan Buonocore from the Harvard School of Public Health.

BCAN Begins Design of New Campaign

As the City of Boston works to implement Community Choice Energy, BCAN has been striving to define our next campaign. On Saturday, January 26, we held a productive retreat to determine how best to support and push Boston to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Previously, we had studied Carbon Free Boston’s preliminary report, with selected members reporting to the group on possible priorities in the Energy, Transportation, and Buildings sectors. At the retreat, high-level options in each sector were summarized and discussed. (Here, “high-level” means generally defined, and “options” mean areas for possible concentration by the city as a whole. For example, high-level options in the Buildings sector included New Buildings, Existing Buildings, and District Heating and Cooling).

Our task was to choose options where BCAN could make a difference. As a first step, members voted, ranking their preferred campaigns. Five top vote-getters were identified. Then, members rated each of these on their suitability for a BCAN campaign, using a 1 to 5 scale on pre-selected criteria that included environmental impact, feasibility, environmental justice, “fit” with BCAN’s strengths, and opportunity to work with allies. Then, each member tallied their scores for each option and reported which one got the highest total. Winners from this round clustered around the topics of Net Zero Buildings (making all Boston’s buildings net-zero), Electrification (converting processes that now use fossil fuel directly, such as heating and cooking), and Green Energy (sourcing electricity from renewables).

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If that sounds very general, that is on purpose. We need more time and input to design the details of an effective campaign. We hope some of that input will come from you!

At BCAN’s next Action Team meeting, (6pm Thurs 2/14 at First Baptist Church, JP) you will have a chance to learn more about our proposed campaign and give us your thoughts on how best to move forward. For more information, contact Andy Wells-Bean at 617-971-8568.

Learning from Cambridge’s Net Zero plan

This Tuesday’s release of the Carbon Free Boston (CFB) report begins a political process for us to make hard choices to accomplish the necessary transition away from the fossil fuels devastating our global climate. The report will outline options that will be debated by stakeholders, incorporated into the City’s 2019 Climate Action Plan, and eventually codified in the ordinances and other policy instruments needed to implement its goals.

To give some context for the CFB report, this blog summarizes the City of Cambridge’s 2015 Getting to Net Zero report. Cambridge’s Net Zero plan exclusively targets energy use in  buildings ‒‒ both the amount of energy used and its source. (Emissions from transportation are addressed in other City of Cambridge documents.)

Cambridge’s plan makes some basic distinctions to guide its energy policy.  Energy reduction strategies for new construction are distinguished from those for existing buildings. Likewise, increasing renewable energy generation within city limits is distinguished from using renewable sources outside the city. In addition, it proposes a local offset mechanism for buildings that do not achieve net zero emissions through efficiency, on-site renewable sources, and a greener grid.

Energy efficiency in new construction is the easiest and least expensive route to net zero.  To take advantage of this streamlined approach, Cambridge set targets ranging from 2020 for municipal buildings to 2030 for labs, such as those in Cambridge’s well-known biotech industry.

cambridge net zero
Timeline for net zero new construction by sector, from Getting to Net Zero, City of Cambridge.

Reducing energy use in existing buildings is more complex and Cambridge’s plan lacks a comprehensive approach. The patchwork of policies proposed include retrofit pilot projects, stronger requirements for large building owners to report energy data and plans for improvements, and eventually a mandate to make energy efficiency upgrades at time of sale.

In tandem with buildings being made increasingly energy efficient, Cambridge expects to increase the generation of renewable or low-carbon electricity, heating, and cooling within the City’s boundaries. The primary sources discussed in Getting to Net Zero include solar, harvesting waste heat from large industrial and commercial buildings, and expanding district energy.  Cambridge will also lobby state government for raising the Renewable Portfolio Standard, thereby reducing the percentage of nonrenewable fuels used to generate the electricity throughout the state’s grid.

For cases where a building’s implementable efficiency measures and renewable sources do not achieve net zero, Cambridge has proposed a local “offset” fund.  In contrast to offsets that protect global carbon sinks such as tropical rain forests, this locally-managed but independently operated carbon fund would be used to support Cambridge-based greenhouse gas reduction and renewable/low-carbon energy projects. No timeline for this fund is included in the report.  This is an implicit acknowledgement that such a fund would require extensive engagement from all sectors of the real estate industry and other drivers of investment in Cambridge’s built environment.

The latest update on Cambridge’s plan can be found at https://www.cambridgema.gov/CDD/Projects/Climate/~/media/1CA864BB4D9E421E858D647D36C3FF76.ashx.

 

Boston’s Latest Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data

As the City of Boston begins the implementation of Community Choice Energy and prepares to release the Carbon Free Boston report, BCAN members are debating what we might do next to help reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Boston. To make the most impactful choices, we need to know which sources contribute the most to GHG emissions and how that distribution has been changing over time.

The following data and graphs are based on the City of Boston’s Community Greenhouse Gas Emissions dataset and the related report, “City of Boston Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory 2005–2016.”  The City tracks emissions in the following categories: large, commercial buildings (which includes residential buildings with 10 or more units); residential buildings; transportation; waste; and fugitive gas (from all sectors). As shown in Figure 1, the largest contributor to GHG emissions is the commercial buildings sector, followed by transportation, then residential buildings. Waste water and fugitive gases (gas leaking from pipelines in the city) contribute a negligible amount, according to the metrics used by City staff.

Between 2005 and 2016, the most progress in GHG reduction was made in the commercial buildings sector, followed by small residential buildings. The transportation sector barely managed to reduce emissions.

FIGURE 1

chart

In Figure 2, the contribution of each of the three largest sectors is further dissected into its various components (electricity, natural gas, fuel oil, and steam for buildings; vehicle fuel (for vehicles other than the municipal fleet), municipal fleet, and MBTA for transportation).

FIGURE 2

GHG Emissions in 2005 and 2016 for the Different Sectors
Note: Total emissions from the five categories (indicated above with capital letters) are broken down into their components by fuel source. Thus, the components of each category add up to the totals of the category.

Between 2005 and 2016, most of the GHG reduction from commercial buildings came from electricity, while emissions from natural gas increased slightly. Fuel oil and steam showed large proportional declines, but their contribution to overall emissions is relatively small. In small residential buildings, electricity and fuel oil made the highest contributions to the reduction. Over 90% of the emissions in the transportation sector come from vehicle fuel.

Some of the factors driving GHG emissions down are as follows:

  • Switching power plants from coal (and oil) to gas
  • Increasing the proportion of clean energy (solar, wind, hydro) in the electricity mix
  • Conversion of oil heat to gas heat
  • Better insulation of buildings
  • Saving electricity due to efficient appliances and lighting
  • Better fuel efficiency of cars in general and increased proportion of hybrids and electric vehicles

It should be pointed out that GHG emissions reductions from replacing coal and oil with natural gas will reach a plateau. According the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas emits 25% less CO2 than heating oil and 50% less CO2 than coal for the same amount of energy produced (although these calculations don’t take into account the leaking of methane during fracking and from pipelines, as pointed out by the Union of Concerned Scientists, among others). However, natural gas is still a fossil fuel that emits GHG.  

There are also some factors that tend to drive GHG emissions up:

  • Increase in population, requiring more residential buildings
  • Increase in economic output/GDP, requiring more commercial buildings
  • Increase in traffic (vehicle miles traveled)

These data and considerations would suggest that some of the most urgent and effective measures to bring down GHG emissions would be greening the electrical grid at a much faster pace (which is the goal of BCAN’s CCE campaign), replacing natural gas as a heating source with electrical heat pumps, better insulating old and new buildings, replacing gasoline as vehicle fuel (more electric vehicles), and reducing the miles traveled in cars by getting more people to use public transportation, bike, and walk.

Note: The data used to generate the graphs (plus more graphs and analysis) can all be found at this link: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1SWi9P4fyUvFZXOXSwqyFX5VvH-bS3afg_R-DOpmr2Gg/edit?usp=drivesdk

 

Carbon Free Boston – Buildings

Boston University’s Institute for Sustainable Energy plans to release its Carbon Free Boston (CFB) report later this year, outlining a menu of policy options that the City of Boston might adopt to reach its 2050 goal of carbon neutralityWritten at the behest of the Boston Green Ribbon Commission, the report will form the basis of discussion of measures to incorporate into the next update of Boston’s Climate Action Plan.

Last June, CFB researchers released a preliminary report listing a wide range of options under consideration in the areas of energy, buildings, transportation, and waste. To better understand and respond to the release of the Carbon Free Boston plan, BCAN has generated a series of introductions to the key elements of the plan. We have summarized the sections about energy and transportation in previous blog posts (energy on October 28 and transportation on December 8). Here we summarize our recent discussion on the buildings sector.

Carbon Free Boston (CFB) has determined that buildings — commercial and residential combined —  are Boston’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).  The age of our buildings, the lack of good insulation, and their often inefficient heating systems mean that we need to focus on existing buildings, not just try to build new super-efficient ones. And the most effective way to cut emissions from existing buildings is to do deep energy retrofits, according to CFB’s early research findings. Deep retrofits could include different steps such as:

  • Sealing the building “skin” completely so it doesn’t let heat or cold radiate in and out.
  • Installing super insulation.
  • Making buildings more resilient in the face of extreme weather.

Carbon Free Boston’s preliminary findings say deep retrofits would cut building energy use and emissions in half. These are a good beginning to get us to Net Zero Carbon or carbon-free buildings by 2050, Boston’s goal.

How do we get building owners to do deep retrofits, which are very expensive? CFB is looking at these approaches:

   – Requiring deep retrofits when a building changes hands or is sold.

   – Requiring smaller increases in building efficiency every five years.

A good way to reach these goals is to use Passive House principles in our retrofits and all new construction as well. Passive House techniques can be applied to any building type including skyscrapers, not just single-family homes. A passive building: 

  • Uses continuous insulation throughout its entire envelope without any thermal bridging. That means no piece of the building extends all the way from the inside to the outside, where it could conduct heat or cold.
  • Employs double or triple-paned windows and manages solar gain so the sun’s energy heats the building in the winter and not in the summer.
  • Makes the building envelope completely airtight, preventing infiltration of outside air and loss of conditioned air.
  • Uses some form of balanced heat- and moisture-recovery ventilation so this fully-sealed building doesn’t get moldy.

Ideally, Passive House construction is so efficient that no active heating system is required to maintain a comfortable temperature.  Even in less than ideal conditions, this type of building allows for the replacement of large fossil fuel heating systems with small electric ones so they can run on renewable power.

Passive House type buildings are also more resilient in extreme weather (if the power goes out they can maintain comfortable temperatures for days instead of hours) and more valuable because they’re better to work and live in. But that could mean landlords charge higher rents for them, which creates equity issues.

CFB’s early research also finds that we must start electrifying our heating and cooling systems. If we moved to all-electric systems, we would be cutting energy use and emissions, while pushing the energy industry to build 100% renewable sources. Water heating and cooking are two other common uses of gas that will have to be replaced with electric options. Especially in kitchens with inexpensive or poorly ventilated gas stoves, “fracked” methane leaks into the air we breathe every day, polluting us with toxic gases.

Finally, some other strategies that CFB is looking at are:

  • Saying “no new gas burners can be sold after x date.”
  • Requiring solar panels on all new buildings’ roofs.
  • Using cool roofs and cool pavements (painting them white to reflect the sun back off rather than absorb the heat).
  • Cutting the electricity our buildings use at peak demand times.

We will continue to look at and question these ideas as we move forward in our work.  Join us!

passive house principles
Passive House principles include an uninterrupted thermal barrier around the living space, roof overhangs to control the seasonal change in the sun’s position, and heat recovery ventilation.  This illustration also includes a ground-source heat exchanger. (Image courtesy of the Passive House Institute US)