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Massachusetts sets goal of net-zero emissions by 2050

Jordan Smith
By Jordan Smith May 14th, 2021
4 min read
For business

The new Massachusetts bill will increase clean energy in the state.

Legislation signed by Gov. Charlie Baker sets Massachusetts on a path to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The comprehensive law includes new targets for renewable energy procurement. It also sets goals for energy efficiency and building code restrictions.

“Climate change is an urgent challenge that requires action and this legislation will reduce emissions in Massachusetts for decades to come while also ensuring the Commonwealth remains economically competitive,” states Gov. Baker.

One of the major goals is to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. That goal rises to 75 percent in 2040 and 85 percent by 2050. The remaining 15 percent of carbon emissions will be offset through other measures, such as carbon banking and carbon sequestration.

The law targets six subsectors of the economy for carbon reduction: electric power, transportation, commercial and industrial heating and cooling, residential heating and cooling, natural gas distribution, and industrial processes. Each sector must adopt individual emissions goals for every five-year period until 2050.

Another part of the bill includes a new building code, which is based on the idea of constructing new buildings with net-zero emissions. Currently, an estimated 27 percent of the state’s emissions come from heating buildings. A commission will define the details of a net-zero building over the coming 18 months.

Renewables set to grow in coming years

A substantial increase in the state’s reliance on renewable energy sources is a key point in the plan. Massachusetts is now aiming to complete contracts for an extra 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind power by 2027. This will add to its existing goal of 3,200 megawatts from offshore installations. Only New York and New Jersey have higher offshore wind deployment targets.

The state could get some help from the federal government, which has announced a plan to develop 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030. Massachusetts has contracted for 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind so far. This includes 800 megawatts from the Vineyard Wind project. This project would be the first commercial-sized offshore wind farm in the country. The Department of Energy Resources filed a request for an extra 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind capacity earlier this year.

Residents who install residential solar systems will be exempt from property tax increases. Solar advocacy groups welcomed the move. But they were disappointed that the law didn’t include targets for solar deployment on the electric grid.

“At some point, we’re going to need a more comprehensive effort to help ensure all these clean energy technologies are working in sync to achieve that big goal,” states Dave Gahl, the Solar Energy Industries Association’s head of Northeast state affairs. “I would look at this as a sort of down payment on a broader energy transition that’s going to have to take place to reach these goals.”

The law marks a “historic step”

Legislators called the bill a “historic step” and a “major piece of climate legislation.” The bill was held up several times in the previous legislative session, and Baker vetoed an earlier version in January.

Disadvantaged communities will benefit from proposals to provide $12 million in funding to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. This supports access to clean energy businesses. There is also a plan to improve access to solar power for low-income residents.

There are new efficiency standards for household appliances in the new law. These include everything from computers to water coolers. The intent is that this “will grow the clean energy economy and ensure the reliability and affordability of our energy system,” according to a statement from a coalition of environmental groups.

Does the law go far enough?

Some environmental policy experts and advocates question whether the legislation is ambitious enough. For Democratic State Sen. Marc Pacheco, the building code is the first step. But he argues more work is needed to organize the retrofitting of existing buildings to allow them to use clean energy.

“For all that last session’s bill will accomplish, a lot has been left on the table, and legislators will need to take further action on climate this year,” comments Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts. “One policy that’s at the top of the to-do list: a bill … to transition our electricity buildings and transportation system to 100 percent clean energy.”

Critics say the plan fails to make a clear commitment to a 100 percent renewable energy target. This goal has been adopted in other states such as California. “Having that very clearly laid out gives developers confidence,” commented Craig Altemose, executive director of the Better Future Project, a renewable energy advocacy group. “We can afford to go faster and be more ambitious.”


Jordan Smith is a freelance journalist and translator covering issues related to energy, the environment, and politics. His work has appeared on the independent news site Opposing Views and at the Canadian Labour Institute.