BOSTON — The state’s largest utilities are soliciting feedback from customers about Massachusetts’ ambitious efforts to reduce reliance on natural gas to blunt the impact of climate change.
The utilities — including National Grid, Eversource and Unitil — will be hosting webinars to gauge public opinion on a new order from the state Department of Public Utilities requiring power companies to pursue more clean energy.
National Grid, which serves more than 900,000 gas customers in Massachusetts, including tens of thousands North of Boston, said the state’s push to achieve net-zero carbon reductions by 2050 will require “new technologies” that will affect the appliances that consumers use to cook, dry clothes and heat their homes.
“These new technologies could impact home appliances like heating systems, boilers, gas stoves, and water heaters and a variety of commercial and industrial equipment that use natural gas,” the utility said in a email to customers. “That’s a big job, and one that needs the public’s support and input to succeed.”
Environmentalists say the state shouldn’t build new gas infrastructure as it moves away from use of fossil fuels, saddling ratepayers with the cost.
Besides environmental impacts, green groups point to concerns over the state’s aging gas infrastructure. Public concerns about the safety and reliability of the system were exacerbated by the September 2018 gas explosions and fires in the Merrimack Valley, which killed a teenager and injured dozens of others.
Several utilities are testing geothermal systems to determine if the renewable energy source — employed on a larger scale — could help reduce the state’s reliance on natural gas and oil to heat and cool Massachusetts homes.
Geothermal systems use underground wells and pumps installed inside a building to pull the earth’s heat out of the ground to warm buildings in winter, or to send heat from buildings into the ground in the summer.
But industry officials says the state will continue to use natural gas for a large portion of its energy, even as it turns to more renewable sources.
About half of New England’s energy comes from natural gas, according to ISO New England, which oversees the regional power grid.
A law signed by Gov. Charlie Baker requires the state to slash carbon emissions by at least 50% of 1990 levels by 2030 and 75% of 1990 levels by 2040.
The legislation requires the state to meet several benchmarks over the next three decades, effectively updating the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act.
Backers of the changes say the ultimate goal is to get the state to 100% below 1990 levels, or “net zero,” by 2050.
To do that, the plan calls for higher efficiency standards for household and commercial appliances, development of offshore wind and expanded solar energy use, as well as new emissions limits on electric power, transportation, commercial heating and cooling, and other sectors of the economy.
Last year, the Department of Public Utilities, which has regulatory authority over power companies operating in the state, begin investigating how natural gas companies can help meet those goals by restructuring their operations.
“This transition requires the department to consider new policies and structures that would protect ratepayers as the commonwealth reduces its reliance on natural gas, and it may require local distribution companies to make significant changes to their planning processes and business models,” the order states.
Under the DPU order, utilities were required to hire an independent consulting firm to determine what steps can be taken to reduce natural gas reliance. Each company must submit their formal plans to state regulators by next March.
The utilities will be holding two webinars on “The Future of Natural Gas” on Dec. 15 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., and Dec. 16 from noon to 1 p.m..
For more information and to register: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/3557563749292437261