With an eye toward net zero emissions, officials at Mass. propose a roadmap until 2030
Massachusetts has already committed to eliminating its net carbon emissions by 2050, but it’s still a long way off. As 2020 draws to a close, state officials are proposing a intermediate objective: reduce the state’s carbon footprint to at least 45% of its 1990 level over the next decade.
The state’s old habits of transportation, house-building, and power generation are set to change – some profoundly – to even meet that goal by 2030.
But officials say it can be done with help from businesses and neighboring states, and without putting too much pressure on an economy still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state’s energy and environmental affairs (EEA) executive office on Wednesday released the draft plan, along with a “2050 decarbonization roadmap,” adding details on decarbonization. commitment that Governor Charlie Baker did in January.
EEE sec. Kathleen Theoharides said any emissions reduction of at least 40% would keep Massachusetts on track to meet its net zero commitment on time, but that some “balance” is needed.
“There is a real risk, with a 45% overshoot, that it will unnecessarily disrupt the economy – especially for people who can least afford it,” Theoharides said.
Many of the changes the state is considering in the provisional plan released Wednesday will be costly: like upgrading one million homes and 350 million square feet of commercial real estate to better generate and trap heat, replacing three million dryers and water heaters, or the adding 6,000 new megawatts of solar and offshore power to the grid (although these costs have decreased dramatically).
Since transportation is now the main cause of carbon emissions, Theoharides said the state should aim to completely eliminate the sale of new fuel vehicles by 2035. The plan calls for an additional 750,000 electric cars and trucks. on state roads by 2030, but drive less – it calls for a 15% reduction in total kilometers driven within the same timeframe.
On home-work journeys, the pandemic has offered promising first results. After the office closed in March, kilometers driven fell by 50% and still only returned to 80% of their pre-lockdown levels.
As a result, many business leaders have come to understand that telecommuting “is a viable and often very productive way of working,” said Theoharides. “We actually think ‘telecommuting’ may be here to stay” even as the pandemic abates – and even without the state offering financial incentives.
Many conservationists applauded the news, but with some reservations.
Jim Aloisi, the state’s former transportation secretary, said the proposal should take a more holistic approach to “the beast of transportation emissions.” Aloisi argued that the plan neglected reliable and efficient public transport as a climate solution in favor of electric vehicles – which he said are still expensive and lack infrastructure support.
The Environmental League of Massachusetts applauded the state’s track record in broad outline – and noting in particular its commitment to offshore wind and reducing natural gas.
League President Elizabeth Turnbull Henry said the plan called for a green future with “manageable net costs and windfall co-benefits”. But she added that, “given the urgency of the climate crisis”, this is not ambitious enough. (The group had pushed the state to set a higher interim target – of 50% emission reductions – by 2030.)
The 45% goal may seem more intimidating than it is.
In 2017, the state was already halfway: annual carbon production down 21.5% from the 1990 baseline. Almost two-thirds of this progress can be attributed to a much cleaner electricity grid. : Oil and coal, once dominant, provided only 10% of the total power of the state in 2017.
Then again, the new commodity, natural gas, also adds carbon to the atmosphere, that is. In particular, Theoharides hoped, offshore power plants could become the “anchor point” of the 2030 power system, generating thousands of jobs along the way.
To achieve the new goal, the state will need to rethink not only its electricity grid, but also the dryers in people’s homes and the cars in their driveways – knowing that many are struggling to cover bases.
Once enacted, the 45% target will be legally binding on the Baker administration and its successor. But for now it’s a proposal – Theoharides and the staff are solicit public examination between January 7 and February 22.