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Mass Save initiative will expand to help state meet emission targets. Legislators say it's not enough.

Two triple-deckers that were recently renovated with energy efficiency in mind on Stanton Street in Worcester. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Two triple-deckers that were recently renovated with energy efficiency in mind on Stanton Street in Worcester. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Mass Save is prepared to align its mission with the state's new law requiring that greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 be at least 50% lower than 1990 emissions, and that Massachusetts achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Utility executives said on Monday, speaking to the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, that the changes would amount to "a significant pivot and expansion" of their energy efficiency program, but senators said that the latest three-year plan for the Mass Save program isn't ambitious enough.

The greater emphasis at Mass Save, an initiative sponsored by the state's natural gas and electric utilities and energy efficiency service providers, on driving emissions reductions is a direct result of the climate law that Gov. Charlie Baker signed in March. Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides in July outlined a statewide goal of cutting 504,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from electric companies and 341,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from gas companies in the three-year period from 2022 to 2024.

While traditional energy efficiency measures like weatherization will remain at the core of the Mass Save program, representatives of program administrators National Grid and Eversource said that electrification is a core tenet of the program's 2022-2024 three-year plan, which was submitted to the Department of Public Utilities earlier this month.

An electric charging station in Montpelier, Vt. (Toby Talbot/AP)
An electric charging station in Montpelier, Vt. (Toby Talbot/AP)

"The [program administrators] recognize the importance of decarbonizing the building sector, and this Plan represents a necessary and measurable shift to electrification and away from traditional fossil-fuel based heating and cooling measures," the utilities that run Mass Save with funding from Massachusetts utility customers wrote in the proposed plan. "The PAs will execute this shift in a measured, data-driven manner to ensure they continue to fulfill statutory requirements to pursue all cost-effective savings that benefit customers and provide opportunities for customers to engage in energy efficiency."

Energy officials have said that in order to reduce emissions fast enough to comply with the new net-zero emissions climate law, the state will have to retrofit about one million homes in the next decade, or about 100,000 homes each year. Fewer than 500 homes actually made that shift in 2020 and the plan that Mass Save administrators presented to senators on Monday would still fall short of that target.

Sens. Cynthia Creem and Marc Pacheco each raised concerns with the decision of Mass Save to retain incentives for people switching from one fossil fuel-powered heating source to another more efficient fossil fuel-based source, arguing that it is counterproductive to the goal of compelling the adoption of electric heat sources.

"That's not heading us towards where the goal is in terms of decarbonization. We end up subsidizing a fossil fuel system, now you're talking about another 10 years at that home, at a minimum, where we're having a new HVAC system or heating system subsidized to do exactly the opposite of what our end goal is, and that's to move to a system statewide that is fossil fuel-free," Pacheco said.

A Gap Mountain Drilling truck in Brookline in the process of drilling for geothermal heating and cooling. (Bruce Gellerman/WBUR)
A Gap Mountain Drilling truck in Brookline in the process of drilling for geothermal heating and cooling. (Bruce Gellerman/WBUR)

Christopher Porter, who leads energy efficiency strategy planning and policy for National Grid, told senators that electrification will be a process and that the three-year plan that DPU is expected to rule on by February represents the first step.

"We believe that the plan puts the commonwealth on a pathway to achieving mandated reductions by 2030 and then ultimately net-zero by 2050. If you look at the specific number of residential heat pump conversions that we're proposing, we don't in these three years hit that run rate," Porter said, referring to the rough goal of 100,000 conversions per year. But what the plan does do, is align emission targets with the state, and begin a "very deliberate, considered market transformation effort that will really set up the market within Massachusetts for longer-term sustainable growth on electrification."

Part of that plan to educate people on electrification is getting people more comfortable with the idea of something that has traditionally run on gas being powered instead by electricity. To do that, the Mass Save administrators are proposing incentives to get people to switch from gas-powered lawn equipment to electric models.

"You might not have a customer who is ready for an air source heat pump or is ready for an electric vehicle, but demonstrating the benefits of electrification through the incentivized purchase of a different form of equipment that has traditionally been powered through gasoline that can now be electrified, we think, is just another tool in our toolkit in order to help drive customer engagement and awareness around the benefits of electrification generally," Porter said.

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