by Andrew DeAngelo
Energy efficiency is not a novel concept for the construction industry, especially in Massachusetts. Contractors across the state and the country have been striving to hit energy efficiency goals in the name of future cost savings for customers as well as for the intrinsic good that it holds for the planet, for decades. So, when the most ground-breaking and sweeping climate change legislation in recent history hit the Massachusetts State House and the industry was not consulted, many in this space were confounded.
The proven science and increasingly erratic and destructive weather across the globe certainly do not produce many detractors from the realities of climate change. However, in order to reach our ambitious goals of aggressively curbing carbon emissions while also not curtailing economic and social development, it is crucial to ensure that the perfect does not become the enemy of the good (or the realistic).
Experts from across all sectors of the economy must be engaged in productive conversations before this type of legislation is passed into law so as to mitigate its unintended negative consequences. The most recent climate legislation in Massachusetts was on the verge of codifying what could have been very harmful unintended consequences for the plumbing industry and construction industry as a whole, as well as equitable access to good paying jobs and housing for working class and lower income families, into law.
Senate Bill 2995, “An Act creating a next-generation roadmap for Massachusetts climate policy,” which was vetoed by Governor Baker during the final hours of the last Massachusetts legislative session and is now known under the same name in the current session (Bill number 9), is on its way to being passed into law (at the time of this article being published) with some crucial improvements by way of recommendations of Governor Baker.
For those who did not follow the original bill, if it were to be left as written it would have immediately implemented an undefined “Net Zero Stretch Energy Code” across the Commonwealth. That is, it would effectively allow each community in the state to design its own building codes on how to construct net zero buildings. While flexibility sounds good on its face, the result of not consulting with the industry experts on what “net zero” means and the negative consequences of relying exclusively on electricity to heat buildings, this code would significantly drive-up housing and building construction costs throughout Massachusetts, threatening good paying jobs and our economic recovery. What is even more worrying is it would allow communities a back door to get out of 40B affordable housing commitments.
After concentrated pressure from the building, labor, development and business communities to have a seat at the table to take reasonable steps toward the development of this stretch energy code, Governor Baker sent the new bill back to be amended with this issue among others being kept in mind. The legislature, seeing the merit of the different stakeholders’ concerns and the well thought out amendment put forth by the Baker Administration, agreed to make concessions.
Over the course of the next 18 months, public hearings will be held on the development of this new stretch energy code, and the Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS) will review what is developed by the Department of Energy Resources before it is adopted. These accommodations allow for the construction industry in Massachusetts to continue in the right direction.
The realities of climate change are undeniable. Swift action must be taken in order to mitigate the suffering of future generations. This action, however, must have equal input and garner buy-in from those creating the laws, those running local businesses, and the working families of the Commonwealth.
Andrew DeAngelo is director of public affairs at Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association.