The problem is clear: Climate change. We have already seen life-threatening weather events in Massachusetts as the result of a warming climate, and can expect to suffer even more severe impacts in the years to come. The scientific community is aligned: We must take bold action to cut climate change-causing pollution and invest significantly in renewable energy.
Municipalities across the Commonwealth, including many in western Massachusetts, have taken action to be part of this solution, understanding that it will be utterly impossible to address climate change without changing the way we build buildings.
Buildings are responsible for over 40% of our climate change-causing pollution. That means that every inefficient, poorly insulated, and fossil fuel-dependent building that gets built today will be another building we’ll need to retrofit down the road.
Luckily, there’s a solution. “Net Zero” building technology is not only available today, but has also proven to make the places we live and work healthier and safer, while lowering utility bills. A Net Zero building is highly energy efficient, and fully powered by either on-site or off-site renewable energy. What’s more, the U.S. Green Buildings Council’s Massachusetts chapter released a report that debunked the myth that Net Zero buildings are more expensive to build. In fact, the report found that Net Zero buildings are being built throughout Massachusetts today with virtually no added upfront costs.
In Massachusetts, we have two building codes. The base code is the minimum efficiency standard for new construction, while the stretch code is a more demanding energy efficiency standard that towns and cities can require. Communities which opt in to the state’s Green Communities program use the stretch code when constructing residential and commercial buildings.
When the Board of Building Regulation and Standards (BBRS) first introduced the stretch energy code in 2009, it represented a major efficiency leap over the base code. Today, over 83% of Massachusetts residents live in a stretch code community. All but two of the 24 communities I represent, including Northampton, Amherst, Greenfield, Deerfield, New Salem, and Montague have formally become Green Communities and thus adopters of this stronger building code. However, over the past 10 years our base building code has continued to improve in terms of efficiency, while the stretch code has plateaued. Thus, the stretch code is no longer a significant “stretch.”
In order to ensure that we can meet our climate goals both as communities and as a Commonwealth, I filed S.1935: An act establishing a Net Zero stretch energy code with Rep. Tami Gouveia. Locally, Rep. Mindy Domb (D-Amherst) is one of 20 legislators who have signed on as a co-sponsor. This legislation is simple and would leap us forward. It directs the BBRS to phase in a Net Zero stretch building code in Massachusetts, allowing Green Communities to adopt a Net Zero standard for all new construction. The bill calls for a tiered implementation schedule over the next 10 years, with requirements phased-in based on building type, renewable energy generating sources, and extensive public input.
The science is definitive: Buildings that emit CO2 emissions are exacerbating the problem of climate change. We can either start building zero-emissions buildings now, or we can spend millions of dollars over the coming years to retrofit what we’re building currently. But one way or another we need to bring emissions from our building sector to Net Zero and starting now makes the most financial and climate sense.
My constituents are passionate about fighting climate change and urge me forward. In 2017, Amherst introduced a Net Zero by-law for all new municipal construction, and local energy committees like one in South Hadley are taking leadership by voting for a stronger base building code that will go into effect in 2021.
Amid a mounting climate crisis, the Commonwealth must also commit to common sense policy change. That’s why I hope you will join me in advocating for better, safer, and more efficient buildings for everyone — the mandate of a Net Zero Commonwealth.
State Sen. Jo Comerford represents 160,000 people living in 24 cities and towns in the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district in the Massachusetts Legislature.