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Pandemic relief bill will bring $6.5M to cleaner energy in gateway cities

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker signed a COVID-19 relief bill that will give $6.5 million in funding to a new program to make homes in the gateway cities, including Lynn, more energy-efficient and fossil-fuel-free. 

The retrofit program is based closely on a bill filed by state Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn) and Reps. Natalie Higgins and Michael Kushmerek earlier this year, known as the GREEN Act, which encourages the opportunity for homes to switch to cleaner alternatives. 

“This investment will help our low-income and moderate-income residents in gateway cities

significantly save on their energy bills while reducing harmful greenhouse gases,” said Crighton. “Let’s continue to embrace equity-oriented policy solutions like this one to combat climate change across our state.”

This pilot program will retrofit existing low- and moderate-income housing in Massachusetts’ gateway cities to make the housing units highly energy-efficient, by using clean-heating technologies such as heat pumps, and including on-site renewable energy generation like rooftop solar panels where possible. 

Many houses and apartments in gateway cities were built more than a century ago, and use energy inefficiently because of a lack of insulation, old appliances, and outdated lighting fixtures. 

Most homes burn oil or gas for heating, and residents — who are particularly low- and moderate- income families — don’t always have the opportunity to switch to cleaner alternatives.

The director of clean energy at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, Cammy Peterson, said that while low- and moderate-income residents in gateway cities have historically been underserved by clean-energy programs, people in these cities will greatly benefit from the improved health and resilience impacts of better insulated, weatherized, energy-efficient, and cleanly-heated homes.

“With approximately 2 million existing buildings in Massachusetts that will require decarbonization by 2050, substantial funding for programs to improve our existing housing will be critical for the Commonwealth to achieve the targets established by the legislature and governor earlier this year in the landmark Roadmap Legislation,” Peterson said. 

Data will be collected on energy and utility-bill savings, air-quality improvements, and reductions in greenhouse-gas pollution resulting from the retrofits to be used to discuss possibly expanding the program in the future. 

Advocates for this program praised the funding as an important step to clean up the state’s buildings and bring healthier, more efficient housing to all residents.

Executive Director of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network Sarah Dooling said this funding is an investment in the state’s recovery from COVID and paves the way for cleaner, healthier communities. 

“Alleviating the joint climate and housing crises is exactly what this pilot program is designed to do,” Dooling said. “Rep. Higgins, Rep. Kushmerek, and Sen. Crighton are the kinds of state climate champions who are propelling an equitable transition to clean energy. We cannot afford to keep anyone on fossil fuels, and this funding ensures housing is healthy, affordable to heat and cool, and part of climate-mitigation efforts for residents in gateway cities.”

Pollution from fossil fuels is harmful to health, contributing to asthma, heart attack, and premature birth. 

Burning oil and gas in residential and commercial buildings, mostly for heating and hot water, produces 27 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions, while electricity is responsible for another 17 percent of emissions. 

State Director for Environment Massachusetts Ben Hellerstein said reducing the fossil fuels used in buildings will mean cleaner air, healthier communities, and a safer climate for everyone. 

“This funding is an important first step to retrofit some of Massachusetts’ most challenging housing stock and bring us closer to a future where all of our homes are powered with clean energy,” Hellerstein said. 

To learn more about this program, visit https://malegislature.gov/Bills/192/H4269

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