Aquinnah is one of several municipalities slated to be part of a pilot program to limit or ban the use of fossil fuels in new construction. Though Gov. Charlie Baker said he was wary about potential rises in housing costs in relation to the new bill, he signed the Climate Energy Bill into law on Thursday, August 11, according to the State House News Service.
“I think he personally doesn’t understand it,” West Tisbury energy committee chair Kate Warner said. She added there are some exceptions to the fossil fuel limitations, such as gas-powered stoves, grills, and generators.
Several published reports, including the news service, include West Tisbury as part of the pilot program, but Warner told the Times West Tisbury actually cannot be a part of it. The town does not meet the 10 percent multifamily affordable housing threshold required in the law. She said the town was going to be a part of the pilot based on an earlier version of the law, but now will be relying on a home-rule petition to pursue all-electric power in the town. This petition was filed back in the spring, and is waiting for a vote by state legislators. Warner said Aquinnah will be able to be a part of the pilot because of tribal housing.
Aquinnah energy and climate committee chair Bill Lake said he shared Baker’s concerns about affordable housing, listing the approval of creating a Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank as an example for the Island. However, Lake said that the cost of electric heat pumps, which power all-electric homes, have gone down over the years, and programs, such as rebates and Mass Save, make electrically powered homes affordable now.
“We share his concern, but it’s probably cheaper to build an all-electric home,” Lake said. “We simply don’t share his concern that making homes all-electric will make homes unaffordable.”
Attaining electricity from renewable sources and replacing fossil fuel usage with clean electricity has been a part of the state’s goal of having net-zero emissions by 2050. These efforts are also underway on Martha’s Vineyard, which has an Island-wide goal of being powered by 100 percent renewable energy by 2040.
However, the news service reported that the housing crisis in the state affected Baker’s decisions about parts of the bills. He vetoed a version of the bill that “became the state’s climate roadmap law” in 2021 because “it would have allowed municipalities to require new construction to be ‘net-zero’ through updated building codes.” Earlier during the week of August 14, Baker said a provision of the latest climate bill that would empower 10 municipalities, including West Tisbury and Aquinnah, to limit or ban the use of fossil fuels in new construction “gives me agita,” and concerns about exclusionary zoning and a possible increase in housing costs.
Despite his “deep misgivings” with parts of the law and how the state legislature “addressed his suggestions,” Baker signed the bill.
According to news service, the new law “seeks to reshape” how Massachusetts connects to wind power and to support the state’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. These are goals the Baker-Polito administration has supported, but Baker had concerns with the original bill the state legislature sent him. He returned the bill with amendments, “including a call to put $750 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars toward clean energy uses.”
The state legislature adopted some of Baker’s suggestions in the reworked bill, such as the “outright elimination of the offshore wind price cap.”
“However, because the legislature rejected virtually every meaningful amendment I put forth, this bill does not have the same shared sense of purpose that all previous climate legislation embodied, which is unfortunate,” Baker wrote in a letter to the state legislature on Thursday, although he also recounted the “series of game-changing laws” they have passed together.
Baker stated in the letter he is signing the bill “to ensure Massachusetts retains its standing as a national leader in securing renewable energy.” However, Baker felt that while the bill addressed one of the state’s “existential threats,” climate change, it “does not move Massachusetts in the right direction” for the other threat: housing. Additionally, he wrote that how the “many provisions in this bill are implemented” will determine whether the bill will make “significant progress” on the state’s climate goals.
Baker wrote in his letter that he supports many parts of the new law, but the state legislature does not have access to the funds necessary to accomplish its goals. Many of the funding mechanisms for the clean energy bill were put into “a separate economic development bill,” which “Democrats tossed back onto the shelf at the eleventh hour amid disagreement and confusion about how to handle tax relief provisions,” the news service reported.
“The timing is urgent. Many elements of this legislation, hopefully combined with funding, or some other state-sourced resource, will place Massachusetts at an inflection point for a clean energy transition,” Baker wrote in the letter.