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The Future of Clean Heat

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About The Future of Clean Heat Campaign

By March 2022, the companies that deliver gas to our homes and buildings must submit plans to government regulators to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to net zero. This is a key moment for us — utility customers must push for the solutions we need to ensure a livable future for ourselves and future generations.

“Natural” gas is an explosive, unhealthy, heat-trapping gas and has no place in a clean energy future. 

The future we need is possible now, and we, as customers, must demand bold action. All-electric technologies exist today that are non-explosive and without the health and climate risks of gas, oil, propane, and other fossil fuels.

Utility company executives must partner with their workforce, government leaders, and customers to lead this transition. The transition away from natural gas will require large investments in infrastructure and building upgrades, and there are ways we can redirect resources to pay for it. Let’s spend customers’ dollars — our dollars — on renewable, healthy energy infrastructure instead of the outdated and dangerous infrastructure of the past.

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Sign our petition to the gas utilities! We are building grassroots support for the Future of Clean Heat. Join us in calling for clean heat solutions that are all-electric, safe, and affordable for all.

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Tell Your Gas Company: We Want Real Climate Solutions!

The Future of Clean Heat Platform

Natural gas is a dangerous fossil fuel that harms our health and contributes to climate change. By March 2022, the companies that deliver gas to our homes and buildings must submit plans to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to net zero. As mothers and others who care for the future of all children, we are raising our voices to insist that our utility companies produce climate-friendly plans that protect the health and safety of our families and ensure a livable planet for future generations.

We call on the gas utilities in Massachusetts to align their plans with this Future of Clean Heat Platform.

The utilities’ plans must:

  • Replace fossil fuels in our homes with all-electric solutions that are safe, healthy, and affordable, for all;
  • Use electricity from renewable sources only, such as solar and wind;
  • Offer heat pumps for heating and cooling and other electric appliances to all homes and buildings, and subsidies to make these technologies affordable for everyone;
  • Replace leaky gas infrastructure with networked geothermal systems to enable large numbers of home and building owners to shift from utility gas to geothermal heating and cooling;
  • Make clean energy available and affordable to all families and ensure that renters and low-income customers are not the last on the gas system and left responsible for the cost of the system’s collapse;
  • Fund programs to install better insulation and plug air leaks to make homes and other buildings more comfortable and lower heating and cooling bills in all neighborhoods;
  • Create pathways to employment for residents of low-income communities, so that they can secure family-sustaining jobs in the clean energy economy;
  • Include retraining for gas workers to ensure they retain family-sustaining jobs.

In the gas utilities’ plans, there is no place for:

  • “Natural gas” which causes climate change and pollutes our homes and communities.
  • Gas pipelines, facilities, and the wasteful replacement and expansion of gas pipes under our neighborhood streets. Fossil fuels are not part of our energy future and we cannot continue to invest in them.
  • Hydrogen or biofuels in buildings. They are explosive, unhealthy, contribute to climate change, and are too expensive to pipe into our homes.
  • Large and dangerous gas leaks. Utilities must repair gas leaks with the most significant environmental impact as the gas system transitions.
Our Families Need: Homes that are all-electric, safe, and affordable for all!

 

The Clean Heat Our Families Need

What is an all-electric building?

All-electric buildings burn no fossil fuels or other explosive gases onsite. No gas, propane, or oil for heat, stoves, hot water, washing machines, fireplaces, or anything else for that matter. All-electric new construction is cost-effective and practical with today’s technology. It’s also sustainable. As our state’s electrical grid gets cleaner, buildings with heat pumps will eventually run entirely on renewable energy.

Efficient building electrification runs on heat pumps. Heat pumps heat and cool buildings – two for the price of one! They are more efficient than gas heat and effective in cold climates.

There are two types of heat pumps. Air source heat pumps, which move heat between a building and the outside air, and ground source heat pumps which require digging wells into the ground to exchange heat.

For cooking, induction stovetops, powered by electricity, offer a clean alternative to gas. Cooking with induction is safer, more precise, and faster than cooking with gas, and induction cooktops do not produce the harmful indoor air pollution from nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide associated with gas ranges. Flat-top electric ranges are also a safe choice.

 

What are networked ground source heat pumps?

In a network of ground source heat pumps, many buildings are connected by underground pipes filled with water under the streets. These pipes run between buildings while heat pumps within each building extract the temperature the building needs (heating or cooling) from the water. Then the water runs through pipes 200-500 feet underground to restore its temperature. These networks are even more energy efficient than regular geothermal as they can share energy between buildings too – for example, the heat from supermarket fridges can be transferred to homes down the street.

These neighborhoods are also all-electric, so as our state’s electrical grid gets cleaner, buildings connected by networked ground source heat pumps will eventually be powered with 100% green energy.
In the near future, gas utilities and gas workers could install and manage these heat pump networks instead of gas pipes, redirecting investment from gas to geothermal energy. The new water pipes powering the heat pump networks are even the same piping material that is installed now for gas, meaning minimal worker retraining for installation, operations, and maintenance.

The first networked ground source heat pump demonstration projects are expected to launch in Massachusetts in 2022. Eversource’s project will serve approximately 100 customers in a dense, mixed-use neighborhood. The second installation will be in North Andover, Andover, or Lawrence and funded with settlement money from the Merrimack Valley gas explosions. Finally, National Grid’s networked ground source heat pump proposal is under consideration by the Department of Public Utilities.

The Pipeline Future We Reject

What’s the problem with natural gas?

Natural gas is a highly explosive, heat-trapping gas that is hastening global climate change. It also leads to unhealthy indoor quality and worsens asthma, especially among children. The onsite combustion of gas in buildings alone is responsible for over a quarter of our state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Our state also has some of the oldest gas infrastructure in the country –- Massachusetts’ gas pipes can date back to the Civil War. Unsurprisingly, these gas pipes leak. A lot. Replacing these leaky pipes by 2035 would cost ratepayers $16-20 billion dollars.

Hundreds of studies have linked the production and use of natural gas to poor health outcomes. Fracking chemicals are linked to cancer, heart problems, neurological damage, birth defects, and asthma. In our homes, studies have connected the nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide produced by gas stoves to increased rates of childhood asthma and other negative outcomes.

At every step, the business of natural gas also deepens environmental injustices. Corporations overwhelmingly site natural gas infrastructure – extraction, pipelines, compressor stations, and more — in communities of color, low-income and working-class communities, and Indigenous communities which are already burdened by compounding injustices of systemic racism and unequal access to opportunity.

Why can’t we switch to renewable natural gas?

At first, renewable natural gas seems like an elegant solution to the problem of natural gas. Your gas company can keep sending fuels into your home through the same pipes and your building can keep its furnace and boiler. Everything can stay the same, only greener.

Of course, there’s a catch. Multiple catches.

First, renewable natural gas, also known as biomethane or broadly as a biofuel, is not as clean and renewable as utilities and fossil fuel companies would like you to believe. Biofuels can be created from industrial food waste, manure, gas from landfills, and other sources. Producing renewable natural gas still contributes to pollution, environmental contamination, and greenhouse gas emissions. Renewable natural gas is primarily methane, a greenhouse gas about 85 times more powerful than carbon dioxide on a 20-year timescale. Running renewable natural gas through our tens of thousands of leaky gas pipes will not solve our climate problems.

Second, renewable natural gas is expensive – nationally, these fuels are currently four to seventeen times the cost of natural gas. In our state’s official decarbonization plan, the Massachusetts 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap, renewable gas is modeled as six to ten times more expensive than natural gas.

Finally, renewable natural gas is in short supply. Even over decades, only about 10% of existing natural gas demand could be met with renewable fuel alternatives.

Why can’t we switch to hydrogen?

Hydrogen is five times more explosive than natural gas and can’t be safely piped into our buildings using our existing pipes and systems. Instead, hydrogen must be blended with natural gas or expensive biofuels. Using our existing gas system, hydrogen could only provide about 7% of our energy before the whole system would need to be replaced.[1]  If we’re replacing the whole system anyway, we should replace it with air source and networked ground source heat pumps which are safer, cleaner, and more efficient.

Hydrogen likely will play an important role in decarbonizing other parts of our economy. Hydrogen can be used for energy storage, long distance transportation, and high-heat industrial processes such as aluminum and steel manufacturing. It simply does not have a place in our homes and buildings.

The Path to Clean Heat

Why are we asking gas companies to lead this transition now?

Right now, our gas companies are part of the problem. To state the obvious, they’re in the business of selling us fossil fuels, which contribute to climate change and pollution. These companies often also actively oppose climate solutions. Eversource and National Grid – our largest utility companies – are among the top five opponents of climate and clean energy bills in Massachusetts, right up there with the American Petroleum Institute and Exxon Mobil.[2 see chart on page 13]

Our gas companies are regulated by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU). In June of 2020, the Massachusetts Attorney General called on the DPU to open an investigation into the future of our gas companies in light of our legally binding climate goals. By March 2022, the DPU is requiring Massachusetts’ gas companies to produce a public plan that aligns their business with the Commonwealth’s climate mandates. This is a major, precedent-setting proceeding. Only New York and California have similar planning processes, both also recently underway.

We need our utilities to come up with a real plan to be part of the climate solution. Our utilities can perform at the scale and speed needed to lead this transition on the timeline required. With changes in state law, utilities can start to finance the needed changes, spread the costs across the system, and provide the subsidies needed to make this change affordable for all. Additional state and federal funding will also be required for switching buildings from gas to electric and for energy efficiency upgrades. We are calling on utilities to use the power they have to lead and help manage this transition.

How will we pay for the elements in the Future of Clean Heat Platform?

The use of natural gas is devastating our planet and contributes to trillions of dollars in climate change-related damages. Transitioning away from natural gas is not optional and any associated costs must be weighed against the profound cost of inaction. Some of the costs of the transition include:

  • Insulating buildings, upgrading electrical systems, and replacing gas appliances with electric appliances, including heat pumps;
  • Replacing gas pipes with water pipes for networked ground source heat pumps;
  • Training gas workers and a new labor force to switch buildings from gas to electric. 

To pay for this transition, utilities, customers, and government all have roles to play:

  • Our gas companies can work with legislators and regulators to redirect the $16 billion already approved for replacing approximately 6,000 miles of underground gas pipes.
  • The Massachusetts legislature can pass the Future of Heat Bill which would allow gas companies to use bonds and a small on-bill fee to finance the transition.
  • The Mass Save program, which is funded by all of us through a fee on our power bills, can be expanded to provide better subsidies to renters and homeowners so that we all can afford to make energy-saving improvements in our homes.
  • The Federal government needs to dramatically increase its financial support for building electrification and weatherization programs, grants to state programs, and tax incentives.

 

Will I need to pay for my house or apartment to become all-electric?

Customers must weigh in now on the utilities’ plans to insist that this transition is made affordable for everyone. No one should pay more than they can afford for heat pumps, home appliances, building insulation, or any other upgrades. The transition to clean heat must occur at utility scale, allowing costs to be spread across customers. Building improvements must be paid for with existing utility budgets and programs as well as new state and federal funding.

How will a transition off gas affect low-income families and communities?

Low-income families and communities have been the hardest hit by our nation’s dependence on natural gas and other fossil fuels.

Fracking and gas infrastructure are typically located in low- or modest-income communities, where people have less political power to push back against assaults on their air, water, and health. This has led to the creation of “sacrifice zones” where lower-income residents, particularly people of color, bear the burden of gas infrastructure and suffer from poorer health, higher asthma rates, and shorter life spans.

A transition to clean, renewable electricity will be healthier and fairer for all. New heat pump technologies, combined with the weatherization of older buildings, will reduce the amount of energy needed for heating and cooling.

Our Future of Clean Heat platform and related state legislation call for utilities and government to share in the cost of this energy transition. The insulation and rewiring of our homes and the costs of new appliances are too high for average residents to manage without help. 

We insist: 

  • Financial support must be made available to low- and moderate-income residents to support a safe and affordable energy transition. Our health and our climate depend on it! 
  • Low-income residents must not be the last users of a failed gas system. Without deliberate planning, the cost of maintaining the gas system could fall on a dwindling number of low- and moderate-income ratepayers.
  • As new jobs are created in the clean energy economy, utility companies must provide training and pathways to employment for residents in low-income communities.

Can I still sign this petition if I heat with oil or propane?

Yes! Propane and heating oil are more expensive and even worse for the environment than natural gas. Families that now heat with oil or propane will need assistance from their electric utility to switch from fossil fuels to electric heat pumps and other electric appliances and to fully insulate their homes.

Your electric utility company must help you transition to renewable electricity and energy efficiency – and many of our gas utilities also provide electricity.

National Grid, Eversource, and Unitil all provide electricity as well as gas in Massachusetts. These companies are submitting a plan for how to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and need to hear from you!

Gas leaks are dangerous - don't we need to replace all the leaky gas pipes?

We absolutely need to fix dangerous gas leaks and the biggest gas leaks. We cannot afford to repair all sixteen thousand gas leaks in our state or pay for the full replacement of a gas system that we need to retire to meet our legally binding climate laws and preserve a livable climate.

Replacing one mile of gas pipe costs ratepayers approximately $2 million dollars and repairing a single gas leak costs $3,500 on average. Add it all up, and replacing our 6,000 miles of leaky pipes will cost approximately $16 billion. We are currently spending over half a billion dollars a year to replace gas pipes, and we haven’t yet replaced the hardest pipe to fix. Costs could go even higher.

We need to spend those billions on a clean energy transition – not on gas infrastructure we will need to abandon.
In the Future of Clean Heat Platform we ask that the utility companies:

  • Fix only dangerous and large gas leaks
  • Use techniques like sleeving and key-holing (sealing the joints of leaky pipes) to extend the life of leaky pipes at lower cost instead of replacing the pipes
  • Use the pipe replacement funds to replace leaky pipes with water pipes and networked ground source heat pumps or to invest in air source heat pumps and energy efficiency improvements.

 

How will utility companies know which gas leaks to fix?

We are asking utility companies to fix the dangerous and largest leaks. Our utility companies already have a system in place to code leaks by identifying gas leaks and grading them on a scale of one to three.

  • Grade 1 leaks are the most hazardous with a risk of explosion. These leaks need to be repaired within 24 hours.
  • Grade 2 leaks are potentially hazardous. These leaks need to be overseen and fixed within a year
  • Grade 3 leaks are not deemed explosive. However, a Grade 3 leak that has an area over 2,000 square feet needs to be repaired within two years of identification or within five years if there is planned work in that street segment. These large leaks are 7% of total gas leaks but emit 50% of gas leak emissions.

What is our goal for workers and quality jobs?

Transitioning to clean heat will be transformative for the labor force. Thousands of new jobs will be created converting our gas system to non-emitting, renewable energy. At the same time, jobs performed by the existing gas workforce will change or wind-down.

Currently, Massachusetts relies on thousands of workers to build and maintain the gas system. These highly skilled and trained workers have been keeping our homes warm and safe across the Commonwealth for over 70 years. These workers need to be an integral part of a “just transition” to renewable energy systems with quality jobs in clean energy and a strong safety net for workers displaced from the fossil fuel industry.

Our Platform recommends that utility and government transition plans ensure that we have:

  • Comprehensive training and immediate access to employment opportunities in the clean energy industry so that every gas worker who wants to be a part of the transition will have the needed skills;
  • Workforce standards and accountability measures to ensure that clean energy projects receiving public investment create quality, family-sustaining jobs;
  • Workers in clean energy projects with strong union protections, collective bargaining rights, and a full range of robust benefits including paid sick leave, workplace safety standards, and excellent health insurance;
  • A diverse workforce via: a transparent procurement process that prioritizes bids with plans to enhance workforce diversity, equity, and inclusion; apprentice training in order to create career pathways; and certification of compliance with anti-discrimination laws, and wage and hour and employee misclassification laws;
  • Pathways to employment for residents of low-income communities, so that they can secure family-sustaining jobs in the clean energy economy.

Should we break up the utility companies and start over?

Our major gas companies are investor-owned utilities. Essentially, that means our utility companies issue stock owned by shareholders. They are also regulated by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities. Many advocates believe that investor-owned utilities are accountable to investors and not the people, driven entirely by profit, and that the investor-owned utility model is not sustainable and therefore not part of a sustainable future.

Our campaign is not committing to the investor-owned utility model. Our campaign emerges from a specific opportunity – a statewide proceeding calling on the utilities to plan for a zero-carbon future. We are here to make sure our gas companies’ plans are all-electric and affordable for all. A well-managed utility-scale transition will also allow us to move quickly and spread costs equitably. For now, we are not taking a position on the bigger question of a full utility restructuring.

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