Electrification ordinance has passed: What does that mean?

Newton’s City Council last week voted to approve a new ordinance that requires all new construction and major renovations in the city to run on electricity instead of gas, oil or other fossil fuels.

The move, which adds the city to the state’s Ten Communities Program, is the latest in a series of efforts to clean the environment and help curb climate change.

“I think it’s reasonable, it’s balanced, and I do want to remind my colleagues that I think this is one of the most consequential votes we’ll be making in a long time,” Councilor Alison Leary said before the vote, urging her fellow city councilors not to water it down with amendments.

While climate change is largely exacerbated by vehicles and transportation, it’s estimated that about a third of the state’s carbon emissions come from buildings.

What does the new ordinance mean? Here’s a rundown.

When is it coming?

The ordinance takes effect in January 2025.

Councilor Bill Humphrey submitted a new version last week, which included changes from what was before the City Council at the previous meeting.

For starters, the earlier version allowed exceptions for new construction, which Humphrey’s final version does not.

And a previous exception for home renovations has been replaced with an exception only for renovations where there is already a gas line in place. That exception will expire in January 2026.

“A lot of people weighed in to come up with something that we felt was addressing some of the concerns that were raised in the prior meeting while not taking a huge divergence from the version that passed out of committee,” Humphrey said.

Exception, exemptions and waivers

Hospitals are exempt from the electrification ordinance. So are laboratories and other scientific and medical research facilities.

Free-standing outdoor gas appliances that aren’t connected to gas line infrastructure (propane grills, space heaters) and emergency generators are also exempt.

Also exempt are water heater appliances in buildings with a gross floor area of at least 10,000 square feet if “the architect, engineer, or general contractor on the project certifies by affidavit that no commercially available electric hot water heater exists that could meet the required hot water demand for less than 150% of installation costs, compared to the costs of complying only with the requirements of the applicable (i.e., residential or commercial) Stretch or Specialized Code.”

Multi-family buildings larger than 12,000 square feet with permit applications filed before Jan. 1, 2027, are allowed to use gas or propane for residential water heaters.

Cooking with gas?

Restaurants doing renovations are exempt from the renovation electrification ordinance with reagrd to cooking, per the ordinance’s “process load” exemption.

There was some confusion over the language of the ordinance, since one line in the text sets the January 2026 date for exceptions to expire but a later line fully exempts commercial and industrial businesses.

“Just to point out, at the beginning of the ordinance… major renovations include not only low-rise residential, but they also include substantial commercial,” Councilor Lisle Baker said.

Humphrey and City Council President Marc Laredo deemed the language clear enough.

A lot of the gas vs. electric debate involves cooking. Some people prefer cooking over an open flame.

There was a push to add an exception for cooking (meaning installing gas lines for gas cooking while the rest of the home runs on electricity), but that was not in the final version.

The ordinance applies to new construction and renovations of spaces larger than 1,000 square feet, so many kitchen remodels won’t be impacted.

Councilor Leonard Gentile had requested language exempting residents who want to cook with gas at home, but that exception was not included in the final version.

“The folks in the city of Newton are intelligent enough to decide what they want to do in their own home,” Gentile said.

Gentile was the sole vote against the final version of the electrification ordinance, which the City Council approved 20-1, with three absences.