Baker clean heat commission faces time squeeze

New commission would seemingly report too late

This story has been updated with a comment from the Baker administration.

A LITTLE OVER a month ago, the Boston Globe reported that the Baker administration was woefully behind in one phase of its overall plan for addressing climate change. The plan called for converting 100,000 homes a year to heating and cooling with electricity instead of fossil fuels. In fact, the Globe reported, just 461 homes made the switch last year.

The story was a direct hit to the administration’s climate credibility, and raised questions about whether it was up to the challenge of reorienting the energy underpinnings of the state’s economy. Equally concerning, there was no one from the administration quoted in the story explaining why the program was lagging and what’s being done about it. 

Then earlier this week, the administration leaked to the Globe information on an executive order the governor was signing creating a first-in-the-nation Commission on Clean Heat, whose job it will be to ramp up home conversions using emission caps and financial incentives – tools already deployed in the electricity sector and possibly soon in transportation. 

“Recognizing the urgent challenge presented by climate change and the need to reduce emissions, our administration is convening this first-of-its-kind commission to help the Commonwealth meet our emissions reduction goals,” said Gov. Charlie Baker in the press release announcing the commission. “By soliciting the expertise of leaders with a variety of perspectives, including the affordable housing community, we can ensure that the strategies and policies we pursue to reduce emissions from heating fuels will be innovative, affordable, and equitable.”

The order indicated the commission would consist of up to 22 people from diverse backgrounds and have until November 30, 2022, to come up with a set of policy recommendations.

But that date doesn’t square with the requirements of the climate change law that took effect in June. The law sets statewide emissions targets at five-year intervals through 2050 and also calls for binding targets in six key industry subsectors along the way, including two that would be the focus of the new commission – commercial and industrial heating and cooling and residential heating and cooling. 

The initial  targets in the industry subsectors are supposed to be set by July 1, 2022, months before Baker’s new commission will even report. 

Craig Gilvarg, the director of communications for the executive office of energy and environmental affairs, said the late reporting date won’t matter. “While the commission’s tenure will extend through the end of 2022, its work will play a critical role in informing the administration’s work to finalize the Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2025 and 2030, which is due July 1, 2022.” 

Gilvarg said the Baker administration “is a national leader on climate change.”

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The governor was never a fan of the binding targets for the industry categories. In the back and forth maneuvering over the bill on Beacon Hill, he first tried to eliminate them and then tried to designate them for planning purposes only. Each time the Legislature insisted on binding limits.

Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, the co-chair of the Legislature’s Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee and one of the architects of the climate change law, said he is troubled by the administration’s slow pace of action and apparent disdain for the deadlines set in the law.

“I don’t get it,” he said. “The time here is urgent and they need to get moving.”