It’s probably no coincidence that as world leaders at the climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, debate how to curtail air pollution on a grand scale, clean energy advocates and utility companies in Massachusetts are doing the work at the consumer level to help make it happen.
Statehouse reporter Christian Wade’s coverage this week focused on a plan by the Department of Public Utilities to update energy efficiency guidelines to push more homeowners and businesses to install heating and cooling systems that will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
The three-year plan for Mass Save – a program run by utilities and supported by a charge on consumers’ energy bills – aims to convert hundreds of thousands of homes to electric heating and cooling each year and away from natural gas and oil. The electricity to power this large number of homes – 100,000 per year, under the state’s recommendation – would come from solar, wind, nuclear and hydro power, all under the “clean energy” category.
Under the state’s Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2030, the Bay State must electrify one million homes by then to cut our greenhouse gas emissions by 50% below 1990 levels. That’s a daunting target. The Boston Globe reported in August that only 461 homes in the state were completely electrified last year, based on Mass Save’s data.
The plan discussed this week aims to change that.
“We believe that the plan puts the commonwealth on a pathway to achieving mandated reductions by 2030 and then ultimately net-zero by 2050,” Chris Porter, National Grid’s director of customer energy management, told members of the Senate’s Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change during a livestreamed hearing Monday.
The plan also targets customers who traditionally don’t participate in the weatherization and other energy efficiency efforts done by Mass Save.
Those include renters, low- and moderate-income households, immigrants with limited English skills and small businesses.
“We see some communities participating at levels over 50% of households, while in others it is less than 25%,” Patrick Woodcock, commissioner of the state Department of Energy Resources, told the panel. “We need to start a targeted effort to ensure that participation levels go up.”
Wade reported that Woodcock said the plan would include performance incentives to make sure the energy efficiency program is “distributing the benefits more equitably” across the state.
Skeptics question whether the plan by Mass Save – which is run by some utilities that rely at least partly on fossil fuels – can achieve its goals when the conversion to electricity from clean energy sources runs counter to the interests of some of those companies. And, given that the 100,000 homes electrified per year under Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2030 is seen as an important target in the fight against climate change, the Mass Save plan can’t just be pie in the sky.
Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, said at the hearing, “We need to see some real clear evidence of achievement here in terms of getting it done,” the Globe reported. “At the end of the day, if we don’t have it done, we’re going to have a huge problem because we can’t go back and reclaim that time.”
Part of the Mass Save plan would put $49 million toward training a workforce to electrify buildings, which is an essential part of this commitment.
The plan to move thousands of households away from oil and natural gas will go a long way to both move Massachusetts toward the 2030 greenhouse gas reduction goals and to create momentum that could push us to that million customer target — and net zero by 2050 — as well.