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.

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.

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.

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)