Metro, Politics, Newton

Newton City Council Discusses Ordinance to Reduce Building Emissions

At the Newton City Council’s meeting as the Committee of the Whole on Monday, the Newton Citizens Commission on Energy (NCCE) presented a plan to create a Building Energy Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO) resembling the one Boston implemented in 2013.

“A very important element of our climate action plan is to use less,” said Deborah Crossley, councilor-at-large for Ward 5. “We know that, in Newton, about 400 buildings account for 27 percent of Newton’s emissions. This represents an opportunity to reduce that.”

Co-Director of Climate and Sustainability Bill Ferguson and NCCE member Michael Gevelber gave a joint presentation to the committee on the basics of BERDO and how it works.

Boston’s BERDO requires owners of existing and new commercial and residential buildings over 35,000 square feet to report energy use and emissions to the city every five years, Gevelber said.

Despite high levels of compliance, however, the ordinance failed to reduce emissions in Boston, according to Ferguson.

“Boston actually saw more willing participation from building owners than expected, but we realized that simply having an awareness of emissions isn’t enough to reduce them,” Ferguson said.

As a result, Boston passed an updated version of BERDO in September 2021 that requires buildings to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The updated ordinance sets mandatory milestones for achieving that goal, requiring buildings to reach a specified lower emission level every five years.

“A Newton BERDO would be based on Boston BERDO, but tailored to Newton,” Ferguson said. “We can use the lessons they learned and challenges they faced to speed up our own process.”

The commission will create a BERDO plan in Newton that will roll out in two phases. This will allow Newton to adjust the plan based on different factors, such as the size and type of buildings, timelines, fees, and enforcement of emission requirements, according to Ferguson.

“We want to phase this in to make sure we have quality data so that by the time enforcement takes place, the city has learned to compile the data properly,” Ferguson said. “But we also want property owners to know the standards so they can look at the data under 1.0 and develop a plan for 2.0, which is why the two phases will be passed together.”

The commission is leaning toward an ordinance on buildings over 20,000 square feet, though many other details still remain undecided, Ferguson said. Even with mayoral approval, the commission wants City Council support before investing more time in the project.

“We still have a lot to iron out,” Ferguson said. “We want to engage with the stakeholders, determine the need for consultants and staff, identify public domain resources, and a whole number of other things before we begin to develop the ordinance and budget.”

The Newton City Council was supportive of the proposed Newton BERDO plan, as many council members already feel the city is falling behind.

“This is necessary to meet our climate action goals as a city, so there’s not really an option to not do this,” said Alicia Bowman, councilor-at-large of Ward 6.

A majority of council members, however, also expressed their concern that the timeline seems too long for such a pressing matter, which Gevelber addressed.

“It may feel like it’s slow because it’s not happening right now, but it is moving faster than Boston did,” said Gevelber. “We are really trying to be careful about doing it right.”

Because the presentation was for discussion purposes only, the council passed a motion of no action unanimously.

“Now that we have the support, I feel good,” Ferguson said. “Boston’s template makes me confident [that] we will be more than well-equipped to tackle this challenge.”

Featured Image by Keara Hanlon / Heights Senior Staff

March 24, 2022