MA Passes Bill to Decarbonize Buildings


In an effort to meet a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions goal by 2050, legislators from both the Massachusetts House and Senate recently passed a compromise bill mandating several green incentives.

“Massachusetts needs to open up huge new sources of green electric power if it’s to stay on course for reducing emissions,” said Democratic State Rep. Jeff Roy and Sen. Mike Barrett in a joint statement. “Today’s compromise aims to ramp up clean power, especially offshore wind but also solar, storage and networked geothermal, and run it through cars, trucks, buses, and buildings, the biggest sources of emissions in the state.”

The legislation is currently being reviewed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.

About Bill H.4515

Also known as the “Act Driving Clean Energy and Offshore Wind,” Bill H.4515 sets a target date of 2027 for the state of Massachusetts to have a minimum of 5.6 GW offshore wind development. In addition, the legislation would also offer tax breaks to companies contributing substantially to the “manufacture, fabrication, and assembly” of domestic supply chain components of the offshore wind industry.

The legislation also seeks to reform rate-payer-funded efficiency programs focused on clean energy and low-income households. In that same thread, it would also remove market impediments for medium-sized solar developments and would allow agricultural and horticultural land be used for solar panels, so long as the panels didn’t impede on the continued use of the land.

Not stopping at the adoption of clean energy practices, Bill H.4515 also tackles emissions and electrification in buildings and transportation vessels.

To battle tailpipe emissions, the legislation intends to increase the rebate for qualifying purchases and leases of zero-emission passenger cars and light duty trucks costing $55,000 or less to $3,500. An additional $1,000 would be offered to purchasers trading in an internal combustion vehicle.

The sale of new, zero-emission vehicles is slated to start in 2035. Five years before that, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority would require that all bus purchases are zero-emission, with the entire fleet transitioning by 2040.

With these proposed mandates, the legislation encourages the creation of more charging stations.

Regarding buildings, the bill would allow 10 cities and towns to require fossil fuel-free new construction. However, the approved locations would have to first meet the 10% affordable and multifamily housing targets. Additionally, the legislation calls for annual energy usage reports from buildings that are 20,000 square feet or larger.

A full copy of the bill can be viewed here.

Strengthening Building Performance

At the beginning of the year, President Joe Biden announced that his Administration would be launching a Building Performance Standards Coalition dedicated to delivering cleaner, healthier and more affordable buildings.

The coalition is reportedly a first-of-its-kind partnership between 33 state and local governments, in addition to the states of Colorado and Washington, and builds upon the Department of Energy’s efforts to upgrade one million homes.

The progress made by the coalition will also aid President Biden’s efforts to retrofit four million buildings and two million homes during his first term.

According to reports, the coalition plans to outline new commitments to design and implement building performance standards at the state and local level, create good-paying, union jobs, lower energy bills for consumers, keep residents and workers safe from harmful pollution and cut emissions from the building sector.

The actions build on the $3.5 billion investment for home weatherization in President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law—which will make 700,000 homes more energy efficient and lower consumers’ electricity bills—and will make $1.8 billion available to expand building retrofits and policy implementation.

The White House reports that the New Buildings Performance Standards Coalition is supported by labor unions, philanthropy and non-governmental organizations. All those involved plan to come together to scale programs and policies to reduce emissions across the building sector.

Nearly 20% of the nation’s building footprint is located within the partnering jurisdictions, according to The White House. A full list of governments in the partnership include: the state of Colorado; state of Washington; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Annapolis, Maryland; Aspen, Colorado; Atlanta; Boston; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Chicago; Chula Vista, California; Columbus; Denver; Evanston, Illinois; Fort Collins, Colorado; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Ithaca, New York; Kansas City, Missouri; Los Angeles; Milwaukee; Montgomery County, Maryland; New York City; Orlando, Florida; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Portland, Oregon; Prince George’s County, Maryland; Reno, Nevada; Sacramento, California; St. Louis; San Francisco; Savannah, Georgia; Seattle; and Washington, D.C.

The ultimate goal of the coalition is to advance legislation or regulation in each of the committed jurisdictions by April 22, 2024.

Other Recent Actions

Back in September 2021, the Boston City Council approved a new ordinance, requiring all buildings larger than 20,000 square feet to eliminate carbon emissions by 2050.

According to reports, the new ordinance will affect roughly 3,500 commercial and residential buildings, or about 4% of all structures in the city. Boston officials report that the structures account for 60% of the city’s building emissions.

The Natural Resources Defense Council adds that the policy was developed with feedback from residents most impacted by pollution and climate change. The city convened a Resident Advisory Group with community organizations including Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE), the Chinese Progressive Association, City Life/Vida Urbana, and New England United for Justice and facilitated by One Square World, which leads community-centered planning and policy development rooted in equity and sustainability.

The process was also supported by NRDC, Building Electrification Institute, Institute for Market Transformation, and other partners in the American Cities Climate Challenge.

More recently, the Council of the District of Columbia joined several other major cities in the nation through the unanimous passing of two new pieces of legislation requiring that all new buildings and substantial renovations in Washington D.C. be net-zero construction and banning the use of natural gas in most new buildings.

The Clean Energy DC Building Code Amendment Act of 2021 (Bill 24-420) requires that all new construction be subject to the District’s voluntary net zero energy standard. While the legislation itself does not establish the new net-zero building codes, it does instruct the mayor to create them no later than Dec. 31, 2026.

Furthermore, the legislation requires that buildings will be prohibited from using onsite fuel combustion, most commonly natural gas, for furnaces and/or water heaters. Buildings essential to protecting public health and safety, however, will be exempt from the fuel combustion ban when using backup power generators.

The second piece of legislation passed by D.C. Council was the Climate Commitment Act of 2021 (Bill 24-0267). If signed into law by Mayor Bowser, the bill would codify the 2050 carbon neutrality commitment, as well as add interim targets for greenhouse gas reductions between 2025 and 2050.

In addition, the bill would also require the District to achieve carbon neutrality for emissions associated with District government operations by 2040, and prepare an inter-agency action plan for achieving this goal. The bill also seeks to achieve a 60% cut in carbon emissions by 2030.

Both bills were headed to the desk of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser at the end of July.

Around the same time, the Canadian government published a renewed version of its Federal Agenda regarding volatile organic compound (VOC) controls on industry products, signaling the country’s intent to take additional action between 2022 and 2030.

With Part 1, Volume 156, Number 28 recently published in Canada Gazette, the “Federal Agenda for the Reduction of Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) Emissions from Consumer and Commercial Products” aims to protect public health and the environment from the impacts of air pollution.

“The Government of Canada intends to move forward with taking action to improve air quality in order to reduce adverse impacts of air pollution on health and the environment. One element of the federal government’s air quality program is to further reduce volatile organic compound emissions from consumer and commercial products,” wrote the Department of Environment and the Department of Health in a joint rationale.

“Emissions from products are the second-largest VOC emission source in Canada, second only to the oil and gas sector. Products are a key source of VOCs in urban areas, where air quality is more likely to be of concern. Health risks could arise from exposure to some VOCs, as well as the secondary air pollutants (including ground-level ozone and particulate matter) that are formed when VOCs react in the atmosphere.”


Tagged categories: Building codes; Carbon dioxide; Carbon footprint; Emissions; Energy codes; Energy efficiency; Good Technical Practice; Government; Green building; Green design; Greenhouse gas; Laws and litigation; NA; North America; Projects - Commercial; Solar energy

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