In August of this year, the utility-run Mass Save program said it was impossible to create a housing weatherization and electrification program that would meet the state's climate protection goals. State officials said that funding wasn’t available, even though building-based greenhouse gas emissions are the state’s second-largest source of climate-change pollution and a major cause of asthma and other public health problems. 

Now, three months later, as a result of the victory of climate advocates and their legislative allies in passing the state Climate Protection Roadmap Bill over Governor Baker's veto, the dominoes are beginning to fall towards a better future. Now, Mass Save has revised its 3-year plan to have a new set of goals: a million homes retrofitted to eliminate fossil fuels by 2030! And it now admits that the million dollars a year energy-efficiency surcharge collected from ratepayers can be used to lay the groundwork of systems and workforce development required for such a massive program. The plan is still a draft and not yet approved by state agencies, but it is a long-overdue change of direction.

Last August, Mass Save presented its proposed 3-year plan to the Legislature's Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee. 350 Mass, the Green Justice Coalition, and other climate advocates demanded a rewrite of the draft plan to focus on electrification of efficient buildings, to create a plan to retrofit one million homes by 2030, to prioritize low income and environmental justice communities, and to set forth a plan to create the jobs and the training programs that the Commonwealth will need to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from the housing and building sector. Legislative champions such as Senator Pacheco made similar critiques.

Advocacy works. This week, Mass Save released a new plan, recently approved by the Energy Efficiency Advisory Council. It takes major steps towards meeting all of the climate advocates’ demands. Public commitments from Mass Save and the Department of Energy indicate that the goal of retrofitting one million homes by 2030 is now do-able, not pie in the sky.

These changes are a major victory for 350 Massachusetts, for the broader climate action and climate justice community, for the people of Massachusetts, and for the future. If the plan and the promises turn into reality, we will begin dealing with a major challenge: of the 2.5 million Massachusetts residences that will exist in 2050, the state’s Net Zero deadline, 80% already have been built.

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Policy is only a first step: we now face two implementation challenges. First, Mass Save must rapidly revamp its offerings so that homeowners, tenants, and all building owners have ready access to the technical support, the incentives, the financing and the quality-assured contractor network that we need to renovate our buildings to zero emissions - even if this takes several years and comes in several steps. The current Mass Save offering is not up to the task, and 350 Mass calls on Mass Save to accelerate its internal reforms so that building owners, tenants and communities can get started on the path to decarbonization, to cleaner and healthier homes and to energy independence.

Second, the state legislature needs to allocate a larger portion of the federal American Rescue Plan Act money to the decarbonization retrofit program. The Mass Power Forward coalition, of which 350 Mass is a founding member, has called on the Legislature to raise the amount of ARPA funding directed to this effort closer to the $25 billion estimated cost. (Maine is allocating nearly $50 million of ARPA funds; New Jersey is putting $108 million towards a similar purpose.) 

This is an urgent issue. Massachusetts residents, homeowners and tenants alike, face the prospect of sharp increases in the cost of heating their homes this winter, particularly in the fossil fuels—pipeline gas, heating oil and propane. These high prices are coming because the oil and gas companies cut back production last year during the COVID recession, and have not resumed production at levels that we all know are needed to avoid price spikes. We will all struggle with our heating bills this winter, and the state will have to dip into federal funds to make sure that low income homeowners and tenants get the support they need. We’ve all seen this story before, and we’ll see it again, over and over, until we kick the fossil fuel habit.

Kicking the habit means making our homes much more energy efficient and replacing our gas/oil and propane furnaces and boilers with efficient heat pumps, solar electricity and storage. Mass Save has the marching orders to accelerate kicking the fossil fuel habit. Let’s make sure they do their job.