Gov. Baker May Adopt Electric Energy, Amid State Push To Short Emissions

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BOSTON (State House News Service) — To get to the required 50 percent reduction in statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, the Baker administration says about a third of Massachusetts homes will have to be heated and cooled with electric heat pumps, and Gov. Charlie Baker is looking into whether it makes sense for his Swampscott home to be among them.

"I'm actually going to have somebody come take a look at my house and see what they think," Baker said Tuesday morning, adding that his communications staff would be upset with him for sharing the detail. "But I think there's like a mythology out there that heat pumps won't work in single-family freestanding homes in a cold climate like this one. Well, I would like to put that to the test. And I think given the advancement in the technology there, it's probably no longer true."

The governor's answer came during a discussion with Boston Globe climate reporter Sabrina Shankman about the steps required to spark a widespread shift away from fossil fuel home heating and gas-powered cars towards efficient heat pumps for residential heating and cooling and zero-emission vehicles.

Baker's administration last week detailed a bit more of what will be required to achieve the statewide 50 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels by the end of this decade. Specifically for the residential heating sector, the administration's Clean Energy and Climate Plan proposes targeting reductions of 27 percent by 2025 and 44 percent by 2030.

"For the residential and commercial buildings, we want to achieve a third of homes have tighter building envelopes and are heated and cooled by electric heat pumps," Undersecretary of Energy and Climate Solutions Judy Chang said last week during a public hearing on the administration's proposals for the 2025 and 2030 Clean Energy and Climate Plans.

While the switch to heat pumps is being looked to as a key cog in the state's energy transition, most Massachusetts homeowners are not as interested as Baker in seeing if the technology might be a good fit for their own homes.

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A new MassINC Polling Group survey found that 48 percent of homeowners never plan to install electric heat pumps or have no plans to do so.

Thirteen percent said they have already installed an electric heat pump, five percent said they plan to have one installed in the next year, another five percent said it would happen in the next two years, six percent said they planned to install a heat pump in three to four years, and another six percent said it would be five or more years before they install a heat pump.

Another key piece of the state's climate and energy policy is connecting large-scale offshore wind generation to the grid. Massachusetts already has about 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind under contract with the procurement of another 1,600 MW close to being finalized. But Baker said Tuesday that the Maine ballot referendum that has, for now, sunk the New England Clean Energy Connect transmission project has him worried about whether the promise of offshore wind will be realized.

"If you really want to electrify a lot of stuff that's currently not electrified, you have to be willing to acknowledge that that's going to require some pretty significant investments in what I call sort of the guts of making that happen, and a big part of that is transmission," the governor said. "It makes me very worried. To tell you the truth, the Maine thing -- which is still in play, OK, it's in the courts -- but that makes me very nervous about whether or not we're actually going to get all the offshore wind that we talk about, because that's hundreds and hundreds of transmission hookups that, all the way up and down the East Coast, we're going to need to actually deliver on that."

Many Massachusetts residents have similar feelings of worry when it comes to climate change. The MassINC/Globe poll found that while Bay Staters are anxious, sad, compelled to action and stressed about climate change, the issue some equate with the fate of life on Earth is not among the top five areas they want Beacon Hill to prioritize.

The survey of 1,890 Massachusetts residents found that fewer than half of respondents (47 percent) think climate change should be a high priority for Massachusetts state government. Five other issues outranked climate change on residents' priority list: health care (73 percent), education (70 percent), jobs and the economy (68 percent), energy and fuel costs (64 percent), and taxes (51 percent).

Climate change was the only one of the six issues surveyed that a double-digit percentage of residents (19 percent) said should be a low priority for Beacon Hill. But residents also seem to grasp the stakes: 77 percent of respondents said climate change will be a very serious or somewhat serious problem for Massachusetts if nothing is done to address it.

When a similar survey was conducted in 2019, 54 percent of residents said climate change should be a high priority for state government. Richard Parr, research director at The MassINC Polling Group, attributed some of the decline to the emergence of other concerns, like the pandemic and war in Ukraine.

"Massachusetts residents are still worried about climate change, but other pressing concerns are weighing on them as well. News about the need to take action on climate may also be having a hard time breaking through," Parr said.

Asked about the poll results Tuesday morning during a Boston Globe virtual chat, Baker said it made sense to him that other matters had overtaken concerns about the climate on the public's immediate priority list.

"I'm not surprised that, in the moment, there are some other things they're more concerned about. That doesn't mean they're any less concerned about this, they're just more concerned about some of this stuff that's directly in front of them," Baker said. "And if you're having trouble paying your rent because it went up 50 percent, or your property taxes on your house, or you're having a hard time filling your tank, it's not surprising to me that, at this moment compared to those things, something that is a concern and has been a concern and will continue to be a concern to people might get moved back a little in the moment."

The results of the survey, which was sponsored by the Barr Foundation and conducted in collaboration with the Boston Globe, came from live telephone interviews and online interviews in English and Spanish between March 23 and April 5.

Written by Colin Young/SHNS.

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