San Jose Bans Gas Pipelines for New Buildings by 2020

On September 18, San Jose, CA became the largest US city to ban construction of new gas pipelines. All new buildings will have to be electric starting January of 2020 (in less than 4 months!). With its aggressive move, the City of San Jose is displaying the sense of urgency experts and the public alike are calling for in fighting the climate crisis. The ban is remarkable not only because of the size of San Jose (it’s the 10th largest city in the US, with over 1 million inhabitants), but also because of the very short notice developers received. It is as if the city was telling the construction industry: “Get your act together. The technology is there and you can do this.” 

With its ban on new gas pipelines, San Jose cuts through two of the bigger obstacles to addressing the climate crisis adequately: (1) utilities that not only delay the transition to clean energy but plan to expand the use of fossil fuels and (2) parts of the construction industry that continue to do business as usual and fail to recognize their role and responsibility in fighting climate change. 

From the standpoint of developers, it may be a bit of a scramble to revise plans at such short notice, although alternative technologies such as electric heat pumps are available. However, from the standpoint of investors or building owners it should be a no-brainer, since US cities with climate goals are also beginning to mandate energy retrofits to existing buildings. Why pay for a gas heating system now if I will be required to replace it soon with electric heat? 

From the standpoint of a city, any new gas-heated building makes it harder to meet that city’s carbon reduction goals. But this is not the only problem to consider:  

  1. The generation of natural gas through fracking results in methane emissions which have been vastly underestimated in the past. While methane emissions at a production site are not counted towards a city’s carbon inventory, they nevertheless contribute to heating up the planet. 
  2. Fracking also generates considerable amounts of soil, water, and air pollution in addition to the methane release. 
  3. Gas leaks from aging pipeline infrastructures within cities result in additional methane emissions. A July 2019 study shows that for six big east coast cities, including Boston, methane emissions are twice as high as recent EPA estimates suggested. They contribute to global warming, create health problems, kill trees, and jeopardize safety.
  4. Some gas companies don’t cooperate when asked to fix their gas leaks (see National Grid vs. City of Boston
  5. An aging pipeline infrastructure can pose a massive, immediate safety risk, as seen from the recent incidents in the Merrimack Valley

Given the current building boom in Boston, the City needs to look into serious measures to stop the expansion of gas infrastructure, and do so quickly. San Jose has set an example of one way to accomplish this.  Locally BCAN is part of a group of organizations calling on the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) to revise Article 37, Boston’s Green Building Code, to enact a similar ban on gas hook-ups for new construction. The Boston node of 350-MA is among the leaders of that no-gas-in-new-construction campaign.

Community Choice Energy hearing at the DPU: Aug. 20

We have been pushing for the last 2 years to increase the renewable electricity coming to all Boston households and businesses through Community Choice Energy (CCE). Now we’ve reached a crucial milestone: a hearing at the Department of Public Utilities (DPU). This state agency has the power to speed up or slow down our progress. Please speak out to ask the DPU to support the prompt implementation of Boston’s plan for Community Choice Energy.

When: Tuesday, August 20th at 2:00 pm 

Where: Dept. of Public Utilities, One South Station, 5th Floor, Boston, MA, 02110

If you can’t attend the hearing, please take advantage of this opportunity to to express your support for CCE by submitting a short comment. Comments must be submitted by 5:00 pm on Aug. 20th.

If you would like to submit a comment to the DPU, please email it to these email addresses:

dpu.efiling@mass.gov and Sarah.Smegal@mass.gov
and CC javery@pierceatwood.com and BostonClimateAction@gmail.com

The text of your email must include:

  • The docket number of the proceeding D.P.U. 19-65
  • Your name and telephone number.
  • Your title if you represent a specific group or agency.
  • It may be useful to identify yourself as a resident of Boston, if you are one.

Please use a clear file name for the attached comment letter that does not exceed 50 characters in length, for instance D.P.U. 19-65 comment (and your name).

We suggest you refer to our CCE website and the City’s CCE website for reasons you might include in your letter to the DPU. It’s fine to include just one reason that’s important to you. Please keep your letter brief.

If you prefer to send a letter via the postal service, note that your letter must be received by Aug. 20 (not postmarked by that date). Mail your comment letter to:

Mark D. Marini
Department of Public Utilities
One South Station, 5th Floor
Boston, MA 02110

Also mail copies of your comment letter to the following two people:

Sarah A. Smegal
Department of Public Utilities
One South Station, 5th Floor
Boston, MA 02110

AND

James M. Avery, Esq.
Pierce Atwood LLP
100 Summer Street
Boston, MA 02110

Heat Wave Hits Boston – And the World

Following the hottest June in recorded history, temperatures smashed records again in July.

Paris grabbed the headlines with an all-time high of 108.7 degrees, but the city of lights did not suffer alone. European weather maps showed much of the continent in the grip of a heat wave, along with the eastern United States from Texas to Chicago to Maine. In Boston, the temperature broke 90 degrees on 12 days in July, including two official heat waves (stretches of three or more consecutive days with highs in the ‘nineties). That compares with seven days last July, and an average of 4.3 days in July from 1981 through 2010.

As New York learned last month, our cities’ infrastructure was not built for such high temperatures. On July 13th, a blackout caused by a burning cable left 72,000 people in Manhattan without power for five hours. And on July 21st, as temperatures soared above 90 degrees for the third day in a row, ConEdison cut power to more than 30,000 customers in Brooklyn. The action was necessary, the company said, to prevent damage to transmission equipment overstressed by high demand for air conditioning.

Heat waves kill people, both directly and when air conditioning fails from loss of power. Expect many more blackouts—and heat-related deaths–in the future, unless we take immediate action to staunch the flow of greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere.

What can you do to help speed the transition to a low-carbon energy grid? Please join us at a public hearing on Tuesday, August 20, at 2pm at One Atlantic Ave., in South Station, Boston for a hearing at the Department of Public Utilities on Community Choice Energy. We’re organizing speakers from as many organizations as possible and need as many Boston residents as possible to show their support for the swift transition to fossil-fuel-free electricity.

New England waters warming quickly

A new study finds that New England’s coastal waters have warmed faster than anywhere else in the continental U.S. What does the future hold?

As satellite data show that June 2019 was the hottest June on record, a recent study has found that the coastal waters off New England have warmed more than those anywhere else in the continental United States. An analysis by the nonprofit Climate Central revealed that average sea surface temperatures off New England have risen by 2–3°F since 1901, compared to increases of less than 1.5°F elsewhere on the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Warming seas cause many changes to marine ecosystems, including acidification, reduced oxygen concentrations, increased incidence of toxic red tide algal blooms, and migration of marine species to cooler climes. In New England, many fish species are expected to move northeastward by 100 to 600 km over the course of the century, depending on how fast the climate warms. Such changes in marine life can ripple through the ecosystem, as when reduced foodstock may have led to the starvation of some 350 puffins and auklets on St. Paul Island in Alaska in 2016‒2017.

In New England, climate change has already led to the collapse of lobster populations and the lobster-fishing industry to the south, and the explosion of populations and catches farther north. Connecticut’s landings fell by 96% from 1996 through 2014, while Rhode Island’s declined by about 75% from 1999 through 2017. Maine’s landings, by contrast, have increased by more than 200%, and lobsters now bring the state over $450M annually.

What fish will be common in the waters of Massachusetts in 2050 or 2100? And how long will Maine’s lobster luck last? The answers to these questions depend on how quickly we can replace fossil fuels with cleaner sources of energy, staunching the flow of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Speak out in favor of speeding up the transition to renewably generated electricity for all Boston homes. Join BostonCAN as we practice giving testimony for the forthcoming a Department of Public Utilities hearing on Community Choice Energy. The hearing date is TBD, but we will start our practicing this coming Thursday, July 25, at 6:30pm at the  First Baptist Church, side entrance, 633 Centre St., Jamaica Plain. Or email Andy Wells-Bean to find out how you can get involved.

References

Copernicus Climate Change Service, “Record-breaking temperatures for June” (July 2, 2019). <https://climate.copernicus.eu/record-breaking-temperatures-june>

Climate Central, “In Hot Water: How Warming Waters Are Stressing Fish and the Fishing Industry” (June 26, 2019). <https://ccimgs-2019.s3.amazonaws.com/2019Fishing/2019Fishing.pdf>

Arnault Le Bris et al, “Climate vulnerability and resilience in the most valuable North American fishery” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 20, 2018). <https://www.pnas.org/content/115/8/1831>

James W. Morley et al, “Projecting shifts in thermal habitat for 686 species on the North American continental shelf” (PLOS One, May 16, 2018). <https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/file?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0196127&type=printable>

Jennifer Walter, “Climate change may have caused mass puffin die-off” (Discover Magazine, May 29, 2019). <http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2019/05/29/climate-change-may-have-caused-mass-puffin-die-off/>

Emily Greenhalgh, “Climate and lobsters” (NOAA Climate.gov, October 6, 2016). <https://www.climate.gov/news-features/climate-and/climate-lobsters>

Zoeann Murphy and Chris Mooney, “Gone in a generation: Across America, climate change is already disrupting lives” (The Washington Post, January 29, 2019). <https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/national/gone-in-a-generation/fishing-climate-change.html

New NYC Green Building Laws Offer Inspiration and Lessons for Boston

In April 2019, New York City passed the $14B Climate Mobilization Act. The new laws will reduce the city’s carbon emissions nearly 30% by 2030 and create thousands of green jobs. The most ambitious aspect of the new legislation regulates emissions from the city’s large buildings.

Both the structure of the new laws and their path from campaign to reality offer numerous lessons for Boston. As threatened coastal cities where building emissions comprise the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions, New York and Boston share many similarities. Politicians in the two liberal cities are also willing to act on climate issues (with sufficient activist pressure, of course). Examining New York’s success story provides insights for Boston activists seeking to frame a successful campaign and bring green building laws to Boston.

Ambitious Targets and Fines for Large Buildings

New York and Boston’s largest buildings overwhelmingly emit the most greenhouse gasses. In Boston, for example, less than 3% of the city’s buildings produce over half of the city’s building emissions. New York’s new emissions reduction requirements apply only to buildings over 25,000 square feet and some building types, such as affordable housing developments, are exempt from the new law. Emissions from qualifying buildings must be reduced 40% from 2005 levels by 2030 and 80% by 2050. Buildings that fail to meet these targets face significant fines ($1M or more per year for the largest buildings). Owners can reduce their buildings’ emissions with investments in energy efficiency upgrades and/or by purchasing offsets. The new requirements are estimated to create thousands of jobs – approximately 3,600 construction jobs and another 4,400 jobs in maintenance and operations.

Lessons for Boston Activists

Passing New York City’s new laws required years of advocacy, negotiation, and deliberation by the city’s activists, industry experts, politicians, and policy-makers. The laws’ success also hinged on obtaining the support and advocacy of diverse constituents.

Assemble and Train a Diverse Coalition: Following the 2014 People’s Climate March, environmental justice activists, labor groups, and community organizations formed a new coalition: Climate Works for All. The coalition published a report demanding investments in resiliency, emissions reductions, and green jobs for New York City. The group’s first priority was pressuring lawmakers to design and implement new green building laws. In addition to coordinating public actions and protests, the coalition trained New York City residents to meet individually with City Councilors and other decision-makers to ask them to support the proposed legislation.

Acquire Expertise: At the same time, the Urban Green Council independently assembled representatives from over 40 organizations, including real estate, energy efficiency, and labor representatives, to craft a detailed blueprint for reducing carbon emissions from New York City buildings. The resulting “Blueprint for Efficiency” informed the policy creation for the new laws.

Identify Champions: New York City Councilor Costa Constantinides, chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection, initiated the bill with support from City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. New York City activists, members of the Urban Green Council’s 80×50 Buildings Partnership, and others worked closely with Councilor Constantinides’s office to construct the bill.

Make the Enemy Tangible and the Consequences Real: Carbon is a climate change villain – but as an invisible gas, it makes a difficult campaign opponent. New York activists, with the privilege of numerous Trump and Kushner properties in their hometown, could easily point to “dirty building” enemies. Many New Yorkers, still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, also offered personal climate change stories to highlight the consequences of inaction. The legislation’s high job-creation numbers also appealed to many New York City residents.

Leverage Existing Resources: Boston has an existing system for tracking emissions from large buildings – the Building Energy and Reporting Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO). BERDO data is public and available through the City of Boston’s website. In New York, a similar mandated reporting system for buildings allowed activists to highlight the city’s major emitters and will soon provide the new Office of Building Energy and Emission Performance with the data to identify and fine noncompliant buildings. In Boston, a key challenge will be passing legislation to give “teeth” to BERDO in the form of fines or other penalties for high-emissions buildings.

Boston has the opportunity to become a climate leader like New York by introducing its own innovative new laws reducing emissions from large buildings. In the coming months, BCAN will continue to craft our new “Green Buildings, Not Greenhouse Gases” campaign. We’re seeking climate champions and advocates – please join us!

 

Further Reading

Want more? The following links offer additional detail on New York City’s new laws:

U.S. News and World Report: How NYC Passed Sweeping Climate Bills

City of New York Press Release: NYC’s Green New Deal

NPR: To Fight Climate Change, New York City Will Push Skyscrapers to Slash Emissions

Urban Green Council: NYC Building Emissions Law Summary

Progress on CCE program guidelines

Update: The City of Boston reports that it has submitted its CCE plan to the DPU on June 20!

At the May 30th meeting of the Community Choice Energy (CCE) Working Group, the City of Boston reported that it is still waiting for the state Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to authorize the City to submit its CCE plan to the Department of Public Utilities (DPU). The City anticipated a quick turn-around with DOER, and had not been asked for any additional materials beyond the draft plan it submitted to DOER weeks ago. The City hoped to have its plan approved by DPU in time to make its first foray into the electricity market in January. That timeline now seems doubtful with the delay at DOER and DPU’s expectation that it will need as much as 8 months or more to review Boston’s plan. Eversource is also lobbying for a later start date so that it might have more time to prepare the data transfer to Boston.

Also on May 30th, BostonCAN and other working group participants dove deep into the Values and Principles statement that will guide decision-making as the program details are spelled out and the plan is implemented. In addition to the three values presented for discussion: additionality, preference for local generation, and affordability, the discussion generated 4 additional principles. BostonCAN led the drafting of language codifying a goal of rapid greenhouse gas reduction through CCE’s green power purchases. We also proposed a new principle that residents of Boston’s environmental justice (EJ) neighborhoods should have priority access to those jobs created by CCE. Our Green Justice Coalition allies Youth on Board (YOB) raised the important question of how “affordability” would be defined. YOB also put forward an idea to help make the green electricity even more affordable for low-income residents: a voluntary extra payment option for those who can afford more. We were just beginning to discuss a fourth new principle (meaningful engagement of residents of EJ neighborhoods in the details of the plan design) when the meeting had to end.

Due to the fruitful discussion, City staff announced that they would convene an additional working group session in July to finalize the Principles and Values document. We are excited to have this additional opportunity to work with the City and allies to craft this important document which will guide this program for years to come.

Speak out on Boston’s draft CCE plan!

The City of Boston wants public comments on its draft plan for Community Choice Energy (CCE). You can submit written comments until 5pm on Friday, May 17.

Please consider taking 15 minutes this week to send a short comment on the plan. Email david.musselman@boston.gov with “City of Boston’s Aggregation Plan” in the subject line.

In particular, we encourage you to comment on this section of the plan, which leaves open the possibility that Boston might look outside of New England for its renewable energy:

“The City will require that the RECs [Renewable Energy Certificates] either be created and recorded in the New England Power Pool [NEPOOL] Generation Information System or be certified by a third party such as Green-e.” (page 16)

Put simply, buying RECs is a way of paying for renewable energy. The “either…or be certified by a third party such as Green-e” in this sentence indicates that Boston is not committed to buying all its green energy from generators within our region (i.e. only those recorded by NEPOOL). We are concerned about this lack of commitment.

We see several advantages to keeping Boston’s electricity dollars within New England as much as possible. By supporting the local renewables industry, we encourage the development of more green generators in our own region. This will create jobs locally. It will also hopefully enable the retirement of some older, carbon-burning generators, which will reduce not only the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, but also other types of pollution that threaten local public health. Additionally, the City Council’s authorization for CCE specified that the renewable content should come from our region.

Some may argue that the retirement of carbon-fired plants in other states is still a win for us, since greenhouse gases produced anywhere affect climate globally. What complicates this issue is the fact that the environmental effectiveness of green energy purchases vary from state to state. The strength of a state’s energy regulations and other market conditions affects the value – both environmental and financial — of its RECs. If, to save money, Boston were to buy from a state where green energy purchases do not stimulate new development or shutter dirty plants, Boston might claim to be “green” without effecting much change. This is called “greenwashing.”

If local renewables ever become so expensive as to make it impossible to offer any additional renewable content in Boston’s default CCE rate and still keep prices comparable with Eversource’s, only then would we want the City to consider purchases from outside New England. In that event, we would want the City to ensure that any out-of-region RECs we buy would be effective in stimulating further development of green energy generators.

For more details on how RECs work, we recommend this short video from the EPA or this essay from journalist David Roberts. Roberts specifically discusses the difference between Green-e RECs and RECs sourced from generators in our region.

For more about NEPOOL, see nepoolgis.com/about.

For an example of “greenwashing,” consider this short video from Cascade Policy Institute.

bnef-recs-regions

An illustration of the relative higher value of RECs generated in New England, compared to other regions. Image source: https://www.vox.com/2015/11/9/9696820/renewable-energy-certificates.