Loading Events

« All Events

  • This event has passed.

Newton Zoning and Planning Will Hold a Public Hearing on the Electrification Ordinance

February 26 @ 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Monday, February 26 at 7pm. Online.

The City of Newton Zoning and Planning Committee (ZAP) is holding a public hearing on Monday, February 26 on the proposed Electrification OrdinancePlease consider attending the meeting to show support for the passage of this ordinance (meeting link). It will help transition our city off of fossil fuels faster. 

The following is a brief summary of the long history of this issue and some of the implications, written by Ann Berwick, Director of Sustainability for the City of Newton. A detailed background will be included in the Friday packet for the Zoning and Planning Committee, available on the Newton City website on the evening of February 23. 


What is Newton’s Relationship to the “Ten Communities Program”?

A number of cities and towns filed Home Rule Petitions with the Massachusetts State Legislature over the last few years seeking authority to require all new construction and major renovations to be all or mostly electric. Rather than acting on the Petitions, the Legislature enacted a statute that provides the requested authority to the first ten communities that filed such Petitions (Ten Communities Program). Newton is one of the first ten.

Newton passed a proposed electrification ordinance in order to file a Home Rule Petition and, later, passed a revised proposed electrification ordinance in order to be a candidate for participation in the Ten Communities Program. Since late 2019, the Public Facilities and Zoning and Planning (ZAP) Committees have held close to a dozen meetings in total, including two public hearings, to discuss why and how electrifying new construction and major renovations is a critical climate action, and to review the various drafts of an electrification ordinance.

At the most recent ZAP hearing, on June 14, 2023, the committee voted unanimously (7-0) to send this ordinance to Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) for its approval.

Why Electrify Our Buildings?

We use electricity mostly for lighting and appliances, mostly natural gas and heating oil for heating, and mostly gasoline and diesel for transportation. Of these, only electricity can be made cleaner, through the use of renewable resources like solar and wind power. It’s true that we use fossil fuels to generate electricity, but in decreasing amounts. New England’s electricity is currently generated partly by fossil fuels, but approximately half comes from energy sources that do not emit greenhouse gases like solar, wind, and nuclear. Even with the current mix of generating resources, using an electric air source heat pump to provide heating (and cooling) results in less than half the greenhouse gas emissions of an efficient gas boiler that produces the same amount of heat.  In addition, over the next decade, New England’s electricity continue to get much cleaner as more renewables come online.

How Does the Cost of Building All-Electric Compare?

Electrification is affordable, especially for new buildings. All-electric new construction is generally considered to be the “low-hanging fruit” in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There are a number of good resources that address the cost of all-electric construction, for example:

The February 2024 Report on New Construction and the Future of Gas in MA by Groundwork Data for ZeroCarbonMA concludes that “[C]oncerns about affordability are unfounded and that all-electric new construction offers pathways to more affordability than utility gas…. [F]or many building types, all-electric new residential construction has achieved effective cost-parity…. [And] the emergence of cold climate heat pump technology has lowered the operational cost of electric heating to well below the cost of oil, propane, and electric resistance and is approaching cost-parity with utility gas under current rates and energy prices. Further, all-electric new construction is poised to quickly become more cost-effective than gas under expected emissions regulations and increasing gas delivery costs.” (New Construction and the Future of Gas, February 7, 2024. p.2)

This conclusion is consistent with a presentation made to the Newton City Council by Ian Finlayson from the DOER on February 15, 2023. See also Zero Energy Buildings in Massachusetts: Saving Money from the Start (2019).

What is the Relationship of the Proposed Electrification Ordinance to New “Specialized” Building Codes?

The Massachusetts Stretch Energy Code became effective in January 2023 for all 301 Stretch Code communities (of which Newton is one and, indeed, in 2009 became the very first). The Stretch Energy Code allows communities to require higher energy standards for construction than the basic code. And in Newton, the even more stringent Specialized Energy Codes (two categories: low-rise residential and for all other building uses) was adopted in January 2024. These codes apply to all new construction and major renovations.

The Specialized Energy Codes do not require electrification but, as noted above, electrification will likely be the preferred pathway for new construction for economic reasons, as well as for health and environmental concerns. Notably, the other code pathways allow fossil fuels, but complete pre-wiring of the building is required to enable easy conversion to all-electric construction in the future.

More concerns have been raised about the challenges and costs of electrification for major renovations covered by the codes and the proposed electrification ordinance.1

For renovations this large, the buildings codes themselves, even without requiring electrification, go a long way toward encouraging electrification even for renovations. For example, the codes require that the energy efficiency requirements for all-electric buildings be more stringent and, as noted above, that wiring be installed to prepare for electrification in buildings that use fossil fuels.

What Waivers are Allowed for the Electrification Requirement?

Additionally, because all-electric retrofits can be more challenging and expensive than all-electric new construction, Newton requested that DOER allow the City to consider waiver requests for any major renovation, if a building professional on the project certifies that compliance with the electrification requirement would increase the costs of the project by 50% or more, compared to the costs of complying only with the requirements of the applicable building code. DOER granted that request, and Newton has included that waiver provision in the proposed electrification ordinance.

Are There Exemptions Provided for the Ten Communities Statute?

The Ten Communities statute itself exempts research laboratories, hospitals, and medical offices from any electrification requirement. Newton requested that DOER also allow the City to exempt certain other uses, including freestanding outdoor cooking and heating appliances that are not connected to the building’s natural gas or propane infrastructure; emergency generators; and in certain circumstances, appliances to produce domestic hot water from centralized systems in large commercial buildings. DOER agreed to these exemptions.

Are There Communities Outside of Massachusetts Requiring All-Electric Construction?

Yes. Among others, San Francisco, Seattle, Oakland, Sacramento, as well as New York State.

1Renovations that the codes and electrification ordinance address are (a) low-rise residential additions over 1,000 square feet and additions exceeding 100% of the conditioned floor area of the existing dwelling unit; (b) additions over 20,000 square feet and additions that exceed 100% of the conditioned floor areas of the existing building for all building use types except low-rise residential; (c) Level 3 Alterations (which exceed 50% of the existing conditioned floor area) exceeding 1,000 square feet for low-rise residential, or exceeding 20,000 square feet for all other building uses; or (d) Change of use of over 1,000 square feet or (e) change of use of over 20,000 square feet or change of use of 100% of the conditioned floor areas of the existing building for all building use types except low-rise residential.