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)

 

 

Giving Thanks: Progress Party for CCE Allies

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.

Report back: Climate Town Hall with Rep. Jeff Sánchez

Last Thursday, July 12 a crowd of constituents filled the First Church in JP for a “Climate Town Hall with Jeffrey Sánchez,” to urge Representative Sanchez as the House Ways and Means Chair to support passage of a strong climate action bill. The forum had been arranged by a coalition of local climate groups, including JP Forum, 350MA-Boston Node, Boston Climate Action Network, Mothers Out Front, Clean Water Action, Sierra Club Massachusetts, Our Climate, MA Interfaith Power & Light, and the Environmental League of Massachusetts.  

The assembled constituents were not in a happy mood to begin with. While the House had actually passed a climate bill, many were disappointed by its relatively weak language and the omission of important amendments in comparison to the Senate’s climate bill. Plus, Sánchez was busy with budget reconciliation and had to send his chief policy aide, Collin Fedor, to speak in his place.

Fedor did his best to defend Sánchez’ record on climate and his stand on various provisions of the bill. A particularly contentious point concerned the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). The Senate bill called for an increase from 1% to 3% in the rate of increase in renewable energy in our basic electricity mix, bringing the New England grid to 100% renewables by 2049. The House bill provision on the RPS, in contrast,  would only reach 100% renewables by 2095, according to an analysis by Better Future Project.

Sanchez 1

To voice their frustration many attendants held signs like “RPS WTF?” “Not Good Enough” and  “EJ FAIL”, the latter relating to the lack of action on environmental justice amendments. The fact that a low-income solar bill apparently was still sitting in Sanchez’ committee was called a “despicable situation.”

One of the highlights of the forum was when a sophomore from Brookline High handed Fedor a pile of petition signatures in support of carbon taxation. Eli from SunRise Boston put his finger right on one of the big problems of environmental legislation, nationally and locally: the political donations by the fossil fuel industry. He asked whether Sánchez will sign the no fossil fuel money pledge. In the same vein, a representative from the League of Women Voters asked whether Sánchez wanted to side with the energy industry or the renewable energy industry.

BCAN joined other organizations in asking Fedor questions. Dick Clapp from BCAN asked if the Rep. had supported the provision to more strictly regulate competitive electricity supplier, which often prey upon people who want either cheaper or greener electricity supply. Pastor Price from Second Church in Dorchester asked if the Rep. supported expanding solar net metering options. Price explained that the current restrictions on net metering resulted in his church being able to put up only one-third of the solar panels that it had hoped to install. The same restrictions similarly limited solar for Bethel AME and the Church of St. Augustine and St. Martin, both in Boston.

Fedor often deflected or went to some boilerplate statements about Sanchez’ past and his priorities. To his credit, when he encountered points he hadn’t heard before, he said he would look into the issues and pass the concerns and arguments along. He also gave out his business cards when requested.

For now, we’re keeping our fingers crossed that the Conference Committee can achieve a compromise. Committee members are Reps. Golden, Haddad, and Jones and Sens. Barrett, Pacheco and O’Connor. Contact these legislators through the State House switchboard at 617-722-2000. For detailed background on these bills, please read the Better Future Project analysis.  And join us in person for the Emergency Climate & Immigrant Justice Rally and Vigil this Thursday at the State House from noon till 1:30.

Massachusetts Green Energy Bill is Down to the Wire

With a 35–0 vote, the Massachusetts Senate passed a comprehensive bill on June 14 that would “promote a clean energy future” across the state. Here are some of the bill’s most important provisions:

  • Raising Massachusetts’ Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) by three percentage points a year. The RPS is the minimum percent of the electricity sold by utilities and competitive suppliers that is required to come from local renewable sources. Currently, the annual increase is one percentage point. Raising the RPS faster would stimulate the development of new renewable energy projects in our region.
  • Eliminating the net metering cap. Net metering means that when solar panels produce more energy than the owner uses immediately, the extra goes into the grid and the owner gets a credit on his or her bill. Not limiting the amount of electricity that can be credited makes “going solar” affordable for more people.
  • Getting more specific about reducing statewide carbon emissions. The Global Warming Solutions Act had already mandated 80% reduction below 1990 levels by 2050. The new bill sets interim targets for 2030 and 2040, and it instructs the state administration to produce specific plans for meeting all the goals.
  • Encouraging further development and use of offshore wind, energy storage, and electric vehicles. All of these technologies would reduce fossil fuel use.
  • Regulating competitive electricity suppliers more strictly. Allowing independent suppliers to compete for the business of individual residents was intended to help people save money. However, a study by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office shows that it does the opposite, and that vulnerable populations are hurt the most.

The next stop for the energy bill, now numbered S. 2545, is the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, time is tight: the current legislative session ends on July 31, and any bills that are still pending by then must start all over again next session.

Please contact your state representative now and ask him or her to pass the energy bill. If you can’t recall your rep’s name, here are three options:

  • Call (617) 722-2000, dial 2 for the House of Representatives, and speak with the operator.
  • Go to the Action Network website and compose an e-mail.
  • Go to the Massachusetts Legislature’s “Find My Legislator” page. Enter your address, then click on your rep’s picture to get contact info.

And while you’re at it, consider contacting your state senator, too, and thanking him or her for passing this important bill.

Join us for a Gas Leak Safari!

GAS-LEAK_84291

There are more than 3,300 natural gas leaks in the City of Boston, where miles of old corroded cast-iron pipes are badly in need of replacement with newer pipe material. The leaked natural gas is expensive for ratepayers who bear the costs. The methane in the gas is also a more potent greenhouse warming gas than CO2, meaning that the leaks represent a significant part of our collective carbon footprint. Natural gas leaks also harms trees and plantings, which has been documented along the Boston’s famed Arborway.

At 1pm, Sunday, Nov. 17, we will gather for a short briefing on the issue, and then depart to bike and caravan through Jamaica Plain, led by Boston University scientists, a professional detection team, and neighborhood leaders from Boston Climate Action Network and Clean Water Action. Please bring a bike or car, or plan to join a carpool. We will return to the Brewery by 3pm.

Who:  Concerned residents of Boston

BU scientist Nathan Phillips and his son Julian measuring gas leaks in Dorchester.
BU scientist Nathan Phillips and his son Julian measuring gas leaks in Dorchester.

What: Bike and car tour of natural gas leaks in Jamaica Plain

When: Sunday, November 17th at 1pm

Where: Meet at Bikes Not Bombs at the Jamaica Plain Brewery Complex

284 Amory Street, Jamaica Plain, MA02130

Entrance to Bikes Not Bombs is to the left of Ula Café entrance

RSVPs welcome or  to get involved in organizing this action and the on-going “Stop the Gas Leaks” campaign, contact: Becky Smith, Clean Water Action: bsmith<at>cleanwater.org, 617-314-2347 or Boston Climate Action Network: BostonClimateAction<at>gmail.com.