(A set of porches in North Brookline, Massachusetts, by Jeff Egnaczyk on Flickr)
After years of back-and-forth between several towns in Massachusetts and the state government, Gov. Charlie Baker has signed a law that allows up to 10 cities to ban gas hookups in new construction: it's effectively a pilot project. Notwithstanding Boston's potential interest, the most likely towns to be authorized to do so are relatively small & wealthy. That's not an immediate problem, an expert in a recent Energy News Network story on the law mentions, but as Massachusetts' starts fully going down the road of decarbonizing its buildings, the state's least well-off residents could have a problem on their hands if the state doesn't proactively act.
Now signs suggest the reach of natural gas could actually be headed in the other direction. And if the bans become more widespread, they could create significant inequities if there are no policy interventions, [Dale Bryk, director of state and regional policies at the Harvard law School Environmental and Energy Law Program] said.
As households step away from the natural gas system, there will be fewer customers left to pay for the infrastructure. And that infrastructure is aging and leak-prone, and expected to require repairs costing as much as $16.6 billion in Massachusetts alone in coming years, according to a report from nonprofit consulting group the Applied Economics Clinic.
Statewide policies are necessary to make sure that financial burden isn’t put disproportionately on lower-income residents and people of color, advocates said. And policymakers and legislators need to start crafting these strategies immediately, they added.
“It’s not too soon,” Bryk said. “If we don’t start planning now, if we’re not thinking long-term as we start these steps, then we aren’t going to do it in the smartest way, we aren’t going to do it in the cheapest way.”
The story includes a number of potential ways to ameliorate the financial stress of transition off gas from hitting the most burdened by energy costs: retrofitting whole neighborhoods at a time, or prioritizing electrified affordable housing . But another element — how the state's regulatory agencies approve or adjust gas companies' distributing costs to their ratepayers — isn't included, and I'd be interested if any public service commission has broached this directly.
This concern also feels extremely relevant to what's happening to a new housing development in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The university town has declared a climate emergency and has a fairly developed climate action plan. But the city planning commissioners have only gotten so far in their efforts to get the developer to include some basic climate-friendly elements, reporter Ryan Stanton writes:
Ann Arbor planning commissioners expressed a mix of appreciation and frustration as they voted on a major housing development Wednesday night, Sept. 7.
They’re glad the developer of the Pontiac Trail site is at least agreeing to compromise and include some sustainability features and they welcome the hundreds of new homes and apartments proposed, but some are still frustrated the developer isn’t doing more — such as making apartments all-electric and solar-powered, in keeping with city carbon-neutrality goals.
“I’m frustrated that it takes like nine volunteer commissioners and amazing members of the public so much time,” said Commissioner Ellie Abrons, referring to the continued pleading and negotiating to try to get developers to voluntarily build sustainable buildings, which isn’t a code requirement.
“It’s like pulling teeth or like dragging the development community through the mud,” Abrons said, arguing the climate crisis is everybody’s problem and developers need to be responsible.
Abrons was the lone "no" vote but the rest of the commissioners weren't exactly pleased. As a compromise, the houses in this development will get all-electric construction, while the rented apartments get gas. A representative for the developer told the commission he understood their frustration, but argued other builders wouldn't agree to even that compromise.
The outcome has echoes of the same worries in Massachusetts: there are far more apartments (more than 300) than houses (more than 100) in the development. While living in smaller spaces has its climate benefits, the move means renters will be stuck with gas, and won't have the ability to change that, even if paying for gas infrastructure begins to get more costly, or if they're concerned about indoor air quality.
Perhaps whatever management company that takes on the apartment buildings will decide to switch out the appliances when gas prices get too high. Maybe Ann Arbor will use money from a potential climate property tax to take on mass retrofits in the town. But for now, the new residents who will move into this development will be living in two different energy worlds, and one won't have good options to change that.
That's the percentage of Americans who say they support a policy of placing renewable energy on public lands. But those same people think only 43% of their fellow Americans feel the same -- a huge gap in guessing what other people think about climate policy. This fascinating Q&A with the study's lead author explains why he thinks climate change actions are far more popular than people in U.S. realize
New Missouri law loomed over Kansas City’s work to design a climate plan Appalachian and indigenous pipeline opponents have come to DC to protest efforts to fast-track the Mountain Valley Pipeline. This local news outlet explains why the pipeline has faced such intense pushback and why it has gotten special attention from Sen. Joe Manchin
At a maritime training academy in Massachusetts, people who will build the first super-size offshore wind farm in the United States are learning the skills to stay safe while working around turbines at sea
New Mexico officials ask why the EPA failed to fine oil and gas polluters in the state.