STATE HOUSE, MARCH 7, 2023…..To meet the state’s climate goals and cut down on energy costs for residents, Massachusetts needs to invest in zero-carbon renovations in existing buildings around the state, according to a coalition of over 150 organizations.
Members of the Zero Carbon Renovation Fund Coalition were at the State House Tuesday morning advocating for a Sen. Adam Gomez (SD 500) and Rep. Andy Vargas (HD 776) bill to create a $300 million fund to “jumpstart the market” for zero carbon renovations.
The bill is focused on investing these funds in an equitable way, Gomez said. It would help pay for costs associated with the renovation of affordable housing, public housing, homes rented or owned by low and moderate income households, municipal buildings, public schools, and women and minority-owned small businesses.
The legislation also specifies that legally defined “environmental justice communities,” gateway cities and municipalities disproportionately affected by COVID-19 would be prioritized in the fund.
“I think everyone in this room knows that we can’t comply with our climate law without a plan for our existing buildings,” said Sara Ross, co-founder of nonprofit UndauntedK12. “But I think we would all agree that we can’t get there without an equitable path to decarbonization.”
Massachusetts is working toward its commitment to be a net-zero emissions state by 2050, and Gov. Maura Healey has pledged to achieve 100 percent clean electricity supply by 2030.
Nearly one-third of Massachusetts’ emissions come from more than 2 million existing buildings in the state, according to the coalition. By retrofitting old buildings to maximize energy efficiency and on-site renewable energy, they say air quality inside buildings will also improve as emissions are reduced.
In order to meet the state’s target of a 50 percent reduction in emissions by 2030, the coalition estimates an additional 500,000 residential homes and roughly 300 million square feet of commercial buildings will need to switch to more energy efficient heating. Plus, over 200,000 existing residences will need to undergo building shell upgrades before 2030, scaling up to an additional 1.3 million residences before 2050 to continue to meet state targets.
“When we think about the multitude of issues we have to address here in the commonwealth, from climate, to housing, to transit, to health, workforce development — it’s hard to find an issue that isn’t touched by the zero carbon renovation fund,” Vargas said.
The bill focuses on public school renovation largely to address climate equity, but also because schools are the largest form of public buildings in Massachusetts, covering 186 million square feet, Ross said.
“We need our schools to be safe, healthy, climate resilient places,” she said. “All of our communities depend on our schools. The food insecure get their meals there. We shelter there in times of extreme weather … Schools are the places where our young people see what is possible, what is needed.”
Last week, the Massachusetts School Building Authority approved over $4 million in grants for the Lowell School District to replace and repair gas boilers.
“They will have an ongoing source of local air pollution, they will have a continued safety risk. This investment is at odds with our climate law and our state decarbonization plan,” Ross said about the new investment.
Advocates also argued that investing in reinforcing homes would save Massachusetts residents money on their utility bills — emphasizing that Bay Staters are feeling the crunch of high bills this winter.
Energy efficiency upgrades could help residents save on over 50 percent of the costs of their energy bills, the coalition claims.
Coalition members include environmental groups, housing advocates and community and religious organizations, including Clean Water Action, the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance, the Mass Sierra Club, Preservation of Affordable Housing, and The Neighborhood Developers.
“What we’re proposing here and what the zero carbon renovation fund is all about is people,” said Logan Malik of Massachusetts Climate Action Network. “It is about transforming the places and spaces that we live, that we work, that we learn in and where our kids play, from what they have been — which are climate polluters — to protectors of our health, of our climate and of our communities.”
The Massachusetts Clean Energy Technology Center would administer the proposed fund.