BOSTON – The state’s largest utilities are seeking customer feedback on Massachusetts’ ambitious efforts to reduce reliance on natural gas to mitigate the impact of climate change.
Utilities – including National Grid, Eversource and Unitil – will host webinars to gauge public opinion on a new order from the State Department of Utilities requiring utilities to pursue cleaner energy.
National Grid, which serves more than 900,000 gas customers in Massachusetts, including tens of thousands north of Boston, said pressure from the state to achieve net zero carbon reductions by 2050 will require ” new technologies “that will affect the appliances consumers use to cook. , dry clothes and heat their homes.
âThese new technologies could impact home appliances such as heating systems, boilers, gas stoves and water heaters and a variety of commercial and industrial equipment that uses natural gas,â the service said. public in an email to customers. âIt’s a big job that needs the support and contribution of the public to be successful. “
Environmentalists say the state shouldn’t build new gas infrastructure as it moves away from fossil fuel use, imposing the cost on taxpayers.
In addition to the environmental impacts, environmental groups are raising concerns about the state’s aging gas infrastructure. Public concerns about the safety and reliability of the system were exacerbated by the September 2018 gas explosions and fires in the Merrimack Valley, which killed one teenager and injured dozens more.
Several utilities are testing geothermal systems to determine whether the renewable energy source – used on a larger scale – could help reduce the state’s reliance on natural gas and oil to heat Massachusetts homes.
Geothermal systems use underground wells and pumps installed inside a building to extract the earth’s heat from the ground to heat buildings in the winter, or to send the heat from the buildings into the ground in the summer.
But industry officials say the state will continue to use natural gas for much of its energy, even as it turns to more renewable sources.
About half of New England’s energy comes from natural gas, according to ISO New England, which oversees the regional electricity grid.
A law signed by Governor Charlie Baker requires the state to reduce carbon emissions by at least 50% from 1990 levels by 2030 and 75% from 1990 levels by 2040.
The legislation requires the state to meet several criteria over the next three decades, effectively updating the 2008 Global Warming Act.
Proponents of the changes say the ultimate goal is to bring the state to 100% below 1990 levels, or “net zero”, by 2050.
To achieve this, the plan calls for higher efficiency standards for household and commercial appliances, the development of offshore wind and increased use of solar power, as well as new emission limits on the electric power, transportation, commercial heating and air conditioning and other sectors of the economy. .
Last year, the Department of Public Utilities, which has the power to regulate utilities operating in the state, began studying how natural gas companies could help meet these goals by restructuring their operations.
“This transition requires the department to consider new policies and structures that would protect taxpayers as the Commonwealth reduces its dependence on natural gas, and this may force local distribution companies to make significant changes to their planning processes and their operations. business models, “says the ordinance.
Under the DPU Ordinance, utilities were required to hire an independent consulting firm to determine what steps could be taken to reduce reliance on natural gas. Each company must submit its official plans to state regulators by next March.
Utilities will be hosting two webinars on âThe Future of Natural Gasâ on December 15 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. and December 16 from noon to 1 p.m.
For more information and to register: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/3557563749242437261
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group Newspapers and Websites. Email him at cwade @ northofboston.com.