Metro, Politics, Newton

Newton Committee Considers Legislative Initiatives as Part of Climate Action Plan

Newton leaders presented ideas for legislation to reduce emissions and promote renewable energy in city residences and businesses at a Zoom meeting Monday night in a discussion on the Climate Action Plan. 

The plan, according to the City of Newton’s website, is the city’s proposal to become carbon neutral by 2050. It aims to encourage residents to power their homes with renewable energy, purchase electric cars, insulate houses, and switch to electric heat pumps, according to the website.

The committee began by discussing the Building Energy Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO). The City of Boston passed the ordinance in May 2013 to set greenhouse gas emission regulations and reporting requirements for large commercial buildings. Ann Berwick, co-director of Climate and Sustainability for the city of Newton, recommended initiating BERDO in Newton to the Zoning and Planning Committee.

“[BERDO is] not an electrification mandate, but a performance standard,” Berwick said. “What’s really different about BERDO is that it not just addresses new construction, it addresses existing buildings.”

Berwick also recommended the Lexington model to the committee. She said the City of Lexington is working on a model to motivate residential building owners to install solar energy sources. The model would limit the buildings’ capacities unless the owners agree to turn toward more green initiatives for their buildings, Berwick said.

“Under the [Lexington model] approach, … in order to build to a certain amount of feet, you’re going to have to electrify and install a certain amount of solar,” she said.

Berwick argued that the plan is so new that it is unclear whether state intervention could become an issue, she said.

“Lexington believes …  that the town has authority to do this without state permission,” she said. “It is unclear to me, but they may be right.”

Berwick also discussed the possibility of implementing a Home Rule Petition, which she said would give Newton the power to limit fossil fuel use in residential buildings.

“[It would] allow the city to require all new construction and major renovations to be electric with some exceptions,” Berwick said. “The current version … accepts emergency and backup standby power.”

The city changed the petition draft, Berwick said, in order to work cohesively with BERDO.

“Initially, the city’s draft of the Home Rule Petition was residential and commercial—all buildings, essentially,” she said. “We’ve now taken large commercial out of the draft because BERDO covers commercial buildings.”

Berwick said the Home Rule Petition currently sits before the city’s Public Facilities Committee.

“If the city gets permission from the legislature to move forward with the electrification requirement, then we will have to go forward and draft an ordinance,” she said. “But at the moment, the Home Rule Petition has been, and I think will remain, before the Public Facilities Committee.” 

Berwick’s last recommendation to the committee was Bill HD.4755, proposed by Massachusetts State Representative Kay Khan of the 11th Middlesex District in which the City of Newton resides. The bill would bypass the bureaucracy of the Home Rule Petition but accomplish the same goals, Berwick said.

“The bill would do away with all the Home Rule Petition rigmarole, and it would require state-wide that all new construction and major renovations be all electric,” she said. “Basically, it says ‘Get to net zero by 2050 and do it your own way.’”

Berwick concluded on a positive note, leaving the committee with a motivating message to engage with community members in accomplishing environmental goals.

“We really want to emphasize the importance of outreach to the community and participation,” she said. “These are big changes. Lots of other cities and states are moving in this direction. People are going to want to talk about them and understand them.”

Featured Image by Caitlin Clary / Heights Staff

February 18, 2022