As we prepare for colder weather, the choice has already been made for many residents that they will be burning euphemistically named “natural gas,” or methane. This fuel, which is no more natural than any other fossil fuel, is not only responsible for massive property damage and loss of life following explosions, as we saw in the Merrimack Valley disaster three years ago — it is also a potent fossil fuel, responsible for 27 percent of climate-altering emissions statewide, second only to transportation and significantly greater than even the energy generation sector.
If the state does not move away from our reliance on gas, we probably won’t hit our statutory emissions reduction goals set by the Global Warming Solutions Act and the recent 2050 net-zero roadmap legislation. Working in opposition to those goals, gas utilities are planning decades of new pipelines, projected to cost Massachusetts gas customers $20 billion — a Big Dig-sized project — according to a recent report commissioned by Gas Leaks Allies.
It doesn’t have to be this way. This session, we filed a bill in the Massachusetts Legislature, the Future of Heat in the Commonwealth bill (H.3298 / S.2148), that lights the way. This legislation legally empowers utilities to offer clean, renewable thermal energy in order to enlist them in the effort toward networked ground-source heat pumps, technology already being used cost-effectively in many of our communities.
The Future of Heat bill brings needed transparency to the Department of Public Utilities, directing it to prioritize safety, emissions reductions, and equity as part of its statutory responsibilities.
The bill also creates a suite of incentives, which include making gas transition bonds available for utilities to build non-emitting renewable thermal energy sources, replacing fossil fuel heating systems entirely by 2050. It would also provide new, well-paying jobs installing clean heating systems like heat pumps and help low-income homeowners with the transition.
Finally, to meet the Commonwealth’s mandate to achieve net zero by 2050, this bill prohibits the depreciation of fossil fuel infrastructure past 2050. Depreciation allows gas companies to expense their expenditures on assets spread out over the life of the asset. Not allowing depreciation beyond a certain date is a powerful disincentive to investing in fossil fuel infrastructure.
It makes no sense to continue with the status quo. The gas utilities understand the need to act. Eversource and National Grid are installing, or proposing to install, systems like this now with future bills for customers predicted to be the same or lower than gas for a safer, cleaner product.
Alongside groups of experts and advocates like the Gas Leaks Allies and Mothers Out Front, we are fighting to end our reliance on fossil fuels to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Natural gas, with all of its problems, was hailed by many as a “bridge fuel” as we move to renewables. The Commonwealth must cross that bridge to a sensible, sustainable future.
Senator Cynthia Stone Creem represents the 1st Middlesex and Norfolk district and is chair of the Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change. Representative Lori A. Ehrlich represents the 8th Essex District and is chair of the Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government.