In response to a bylaw passed by the town of Brookline seeking to ban the installation of gas and oil pipes in new and renovated buildings, Attorney General Maura Healey disapproved it because it is inconsistent with state law.
Her office said that the bylaw would undermine the state’s building and gas codes along with the authority of the Board of State Examiners of Plumbers and Gasfitters. Essentially, the codes are standard across the state and don’t allow for the kind of exception that Brookline was seeking. Further, the bylaw would violate a law that gives the public uniform access to utility services.
The issue is of importance to the GBPCA and Local 12. “It’s in our name,” says Tim Fandel, the union’s business manager. “We are Plumbers and Gasfitters Local 12. It’s no small part of what we do.” Gasfitting provides a lot of work for the union’s members and its affiliated GBPCA contractors.
That doesn’t mean the organizations are opposed to combating climate change—quite the opposite. In fact, they believe that gas provides a cleaner, more realistic, and more affordable pathway to renewable energy than imposing an outright ban of it.
The Brookline bylaw would have required developers and homeowners to install heating and hot water systems as well as appliances that exclusively use electricity. Other communities, including Cambridge, Newton, Lexington, and Somerville have considered similar measures.
“While it’s well-intentioned, trying to implement a fossil fuel ban in 2020 without an existing renewable energy infrastructure is misguided,” says Andrew DeAngelo, director of public affairs for the GBPCA.
He explains that by putting more of a burden on the electrical grid now, utilities would need to burn more fossil fuels thereby releasing more carbon emissions and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. When demand spikes during the winter, Massachusetts relies on oil- and coal-fired facilities for up to 40% of its electricity. Ironically therefore, should a community ban gas pipes, heat that could have been supplied by cleaner, gas-fired heating systems in homes and businesses would instead be generated by burning coal and oil. “If cities and towns attack this with a broad blade, there would be unintended consequences,” DeAngelo says.
“It’s impractical, and in some ways, irresponsible, to abruptly ban gas now,” Fandel adds. “It doesn’t make sense.”
It also would place an undue financial burden on homeowners, businesses, and organizations. The cost to heat using electricity compared to gas is more—in most cases, considerably more. In fact, Massachusetts has the highest electricity rates in the lower 48 states.
According to the commercial real estate development association, NAIOP Massachusetts, it is more cost-effective to build projects using gas systems. The proposed Brookline bylaw and similar measures would therefore hike the construction costs of new buildings. “At this stage of technology, natural gas bans would block important affordable housing and economic development projects from advancing and would be extremely detrimental to the commonwealth’s economy,” the NAIOP says.
Banning gas and requiring electric appliances and heating systems would also reduce consumer choice. Many homeowners as well as restaurants prefer gas ranges, stoves, and grills to prepare food.
Along with chambers of commerce and other organizations, the GBPCA and Local 12 are members of the Mass Coalition for Sustainable Energy [massforenergy.org]. The group supports a responsible transition to a renewable energy future that ensures reliability and affordability, strengthens the state’s economy, and enhances Massachusetts’ position as a leader on climate change. It advocates for expanding our access to natural gas.
“We all share the same goal of having cleaner energy sources like wind and solar in the long term,” Fandel says. “I think natural gas acts as a bridge to get us there eventually.”