Watts the holdup? Newton awaits word on construction electrification ordinance

Newton has taken steps to soon require all new construction and major renovations in the city to run on electricity instead of gas, oil or other fossil fuels. But now, it’s a matter of waiting for the state to respond.

On Monday night, the Zoning and Planning Committee met with the Citizens Commission on Energy and Sustainability Director Ann Berwick to discuss efforts at electrifying the city’s energy infrastructure and to get updates on the Ten Communities program rolled out by Gov. Maura Healey.

Waiting for word

Newton is one of ten cities and towns picked for a new program in Massachusetts that will let those participating communities ban fossil fuel-run buildings, as part of a massive push to cut greenhouse gas emissions and help reduce the state’s carbon footprint.

“In order for the city—because we’re a home-rule state—to require electrification of new construction and substantial renovation, we need state permission,” Berwick said. “And the way that has evolved is through state legislation that has said the first 10 communities that file home-rule petitions asking to be allowed to require electrification will be allowed if they meet certain Department of Energy Resources requirements.”

City officials have drafted that ordinance—which would apply to all new construction and all major additions and renovations—and submitted it to the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources—for approval in July.

Berwick said she’s reached out to DOER multiple times since then and has only been told that Newton’s ordinance is under review.

DOER will have to approve the details of Newton’s ordinance, and the city will have to meet housing affordability requirements by February and pass a final ordinance by next July.

Housing requirement

There are two ways Newton can satisfy the requirement: By having enough affordable units under the state’s 40B law or by satisfying the MBTA Communities Act.

The city is working on passing new zoning for MBTA compliance with the Village Center Overlay District proposal. Newton is not quite at the point of satisfying 40B.

“So I think it’s important to understand that the ability for Newton to require electrification of all new construction and substantial renovations rests, at the moment, on our compliance with the MBTA Communities law,” Berwick said.

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.