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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
Later this year, the City of Boston and the Boston University Institute for Sustainable Energy plan to release the findings of the Carbon Free Boston (CFB) Initiative with concrete recommendations on how to achieve Boston’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2050. 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, BCANers have been educating each other through presentations and discussions during our bi-weekly Action Team meetings. The presentation about the energy sector was reviewed earlier (see the blog post from October 28 below). Here we summarize the presentation and discussions on the transportation sector.
In 2016 (latest data available) the transportation sector was responsible for about 29% of the greenhouse gas emissions from all sources in the city, up from 25% in 2015. It was also the sector with the least progress toward the 2020 goal of a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, it represents a major opportunity for progress toward achieving carbon reduction goals and eventually carbon neutrality.
The wide-ranging transportation policy options currently being considered by Carbon Free Boston include:
Incentives for adopting electric vehicles
Banning gasoline and diesel-fuel vehicles
Promoting more carpooling or ride-sharing
Improving bicycle and bus infrastructure
Converting public transit and government fleets to no-carbon or low-carbon vehicles
Requiring travel management plans for workplaces with more than 50 employees
BCAN has been discussing some of these options as we plan our areas of work in the coming year or two. At our October 11 action team meeting, one specific option we discussed was conversion to no-carbon (all-electric) buses on Boston bus routes.
Our discussion centered on using the following criteria for deciding which transportation policy options to support:
How achievable are they in the short term?
Who might be our allies?
Will they positively impact environmental justice communities in the City?
Might there be funding to support the planned policy?
We will continue this discussion at upcoming meetings, and will closely review the Carbon Free Boston plan when it is released. All of this work is now in the context of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which says “Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Centigrade would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes . . . .” BCAN stands ready to work on such changes in Boston.
Several dozen climate hawks, including three official representatives of the City of Boston, attended a joyous CCE Progress Party on Nov. 12 at Democracy Brewing in downtown Boston. City Councilors Matt O’Malley and Michelle Wu and the city’s Chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space, Chris Cook, thanked all the groups that helped push the Walsh administration to adopt our plan to make renewable energy more accessible to all Boston residents through Community Choice Energy.
Chief Cook reported that the Environment Department has concluded interviews with potential consultants to manage the planning and implementation of the CCE program, also known as green municipal aggregation. Councilor Wu pointed out the CCE is a counterweight to the doom and gloom of climate science, noting the opportunity within this crisis. “The steps that we have to take to make this transition to a fossil-free future successful are the only chance that we have to, not only think about the planet and green energy, but also to reduce income inequality and empower our communities.”
Many thanks to the groups that sent representatives, including Boston Student Advisory Council, Community Labor United, Eastie Farm, Greening Rozzie, Sierra Club, Mothers Out Front, 350 Boston Node, and the many other allies who attended. As Councilor O’Malley noted, there’s still much to do before we actually have a default electricity service that offers more renewables than is required by law. And Khalida Smalls pointed out, CCE is just one step to the sustainable and equitable society. We are committed to building climate justice every day and every way we can.
Thanks to guest blogger Andrea Nyamekye, of Neighbor to Neighbor, for co-authoring this post.
The Massachusetts legislature just concluded its 2-year law-making cycle. While it did succeed in making some progress on climate change policy, the state legislature severely missed the mark on justice and equity legislation. The climate change policy that passed was full of contradictions. And the bills that carried our hopes for climate justice — for addressing the ways communities of color and low-income communities have been considered sacrifice zones for pollution from landfills, gas compressor stations, pipelines, toxins in our homes, schools, and playgrounds — those bills were abandoned by legislative leaders in the process of finalizing energy and climate policy change.
BostonCAN is a member of the Green Justice Coalition (GJC), which has worked tirelessly over the past two years to promote equity in our state’s energy and environmental policies. This legislative session, GJC has prioritized environmental justice and access to solar energy as critical issues facing our communities, right now. The Environmental Justice bill would have addressed the fact that Massachusetts scored on the failing end of a scale created by the Center for Effective Government in 2016 to rate states based on the exposure of people of color and residents below the poverty line to hazardous facilities. Ours was one of just two states with an “F” grade.
The Solar Access bill would have encouraged developers to build solar energy in low-to-middle income communities, and environmental justice communities, and provide meaningful savings for these customers. We’ve already seen how current statutes limit the potential for community solar to benefits our Boston neighbors. Three churches in Boston — Bethel AME in Jamaica Plain, Second Church in Dorchester, and St. Augustine and St. Martin in Roxbury — all planned to use their roofs to generate affordable electricity for their congregants, but had to curtail their projects due to restrictions on the amount of electricity they could put into the grid at fair prices.
The State legislature has fallen short in its ability to push for effective climate and environmental legislation, leaving our black and brown communities left out, once again, in not only clean energy legislation, but in immigrant rights legislation, and wage theft as well. As Khalida Smalls of Community Labor United noted after the session closed, “This country, this state, and this city have a history steeped in racism and discrimination, and it continues to be true today. Moving these two legislative bills could have been major stepping stones in ensuring that all communities in our Commonwealth have the right to breathe deeply and live sustainably.”
While legislators boosted the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) annual increase to 2 percent (doubling its effectiveness), that change only continues through 2030, when it drops back to 1 percent. We had been pushing for an indefinitely increase to 3 percent. The law also set the goals for 1,000 megawatt hours of energy storage and 1,600 additional megawatts of offshore wind, and expanded energy efficiency, but it also created a new precedent that allows energy production from the burning of trash and biomass to be deemed “renewable.”
In an article published in Commonwealth Magazine, Khalida Smalls wrote, “inaction has consequences.” We will not rest as we seek to build a strong enough base to demand urgent and just climate change policy in the 2019-2010 legislature. And speaking of which, the deadline for registering to vote in time for the Sept. 4 primary is today, August 15. Voting may be far from sufficient, but it sure is necessary!
The City of Boston is considering a proposal to require all new buildings to produce as much energy as they consume. With thick insulation, controlled ventilation, and solar panels, these types of buildings are called “Net Zero” since they have zero greenhouse gas emissions from their operations. The Distillery North, an apartment building in South Boston, is one example of a Net Zero building that’s so efficient it even meets the rigorous standards of Passive House. Boston even has some that make more energy than they consume, termed “Energy Positive or E+,” such as these in the Fort Hill neighborhood of Roxbury.
If you want to know more about how we can build better buildings that make as much energy as they use while being light-filled, comfortable, and affordable to heat and cool, please join Mass Climate Action Network for a webinar this Wednesday.
This webinar discussion, which is a continuation of earlier Net Zero Roundtable discussions hosted by MCAN, will provide in-depth answers to questions you might have about Net Zero buildings, Passive House buildings, maximizing energy efficiency for buildings and finding new ways to make sure that our built environment is a source of clean and renewable energy.
What: Net Zero Webinar
When: Wednesday, August 15th from 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Where: RSVP here for information about the sign-in and log-on information.
The panel of speakers includes:
Michael Davis—Senior Program Officer for Lending and the Green Retrofit Initiative at Local Initiatives Support Corporation
Meredith Elbaum—Executive Director, US Green Building Council MA
Aaron Gunderson—Executive Director, Passive House Massachusetts
Nicole Sanches, Clean Energy Coordinator from Metropolitan Area Planning Council
Puja Vohra— Principal Consultant/Owner, Green Elements, LLC
We hope you can join us to learn more about the countless opportunities to make our buildings and built environment a source of renewable energy.