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Aquinnah set to join pilot program to block fossil fuels in new construction

Gas burner on stove
S Junker

Ten cities and towns in Massachusetts are set to ban fossil fuels from new buildings — and the Martha’s Vineyard town of Aquinnah is among them.

As part of a major climate bill passed last week, an Act Driving Clean Energy and Offshore Wind, the state will launch a pilot program in 10 communities that prevents any gas hookups or oil or propane tanks from being included in new buildings or major renovation projects.

Bill Lake, chair of the Aquinnah Climate and Energy Committee, said he’s excited about the community’s position on the leading edge of the fight against climate change.

“We hope that these towns, including ours, will show how successful this can be,” he said. “And that we’ll be just a very small start to something that should be much bigger in the state.”

All six towns on the Vineyard voted to be 100% powered by renewable energy by 2040. This ban on new fossil fuel hookups puts Aquinnah ahead of the curve.

Home developers have argued that requiring all-electric homes would raise building costs, and therefore prevent efforts to increase the supply of affordable housing. Gov. Charlie Baker said that concerned him.

But Lake, like many energy experts, said that claim is not true.

“The assumption that all electric houses cost more is not based on current facts,” he said. "The new technology, heat pumps, can do both heating and cooling very efficiently, far more efficiently than the old electric heat, and far more efficiently than natural gas.”

The 10 pilot communities will have to gather data on emissions, building costs, operating costs, and more, before other towns and cities can join the program.

West Tisbury was expected to be among the first few, but it fails to meet an affordable housing requirement that makes towns eligible for the pilot. There are also exemptions for life science and health care facilities.

Lake said he expects the town will be able to formally put the fossil fuel ban into effect in the next six to nine months.

“We look forward to finally sort of putting the nail in the coffin of the notion that getting off fossil fuels will be expensive,” he said.

Members of the Cape and Islands legislative delegation agreed.

“We can't be building buildings today that are going to last 60 years, 100 years if they are reliant on fossil fuel hookups. That just is just nonsensical,” said state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, who serves Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket counties.

It’s essential, he said, to advance renewables all across the region. That’s why, Fernandes said, he’s most thrilled by a provision in the new law that will allow local towns and cities to directly contract with offshore wind companies.

“This will unlock a tool for local citizens to be a part of and get their energy directly from the offshore wind that’s being constructed 14 to 16 miles south of the Cape and Islands,” he said.

In addition, the legislation will incentivize new solar projects, invest in the electricity grid, set up a new fund focused on offshore wind procurement, and expand workforce development programs for green jobs.

It also takes on transportation. The legislation increases electric vehicle rebates, adds more charging stations, and establishes a ban on car dealerships selling new gasoline or diesel-powered vehicles after 2035, though used cars with internal combustion engines could still be sold.

The Legislature is still considering a separate spending bill that would fund many of the projects and provisions in the new law. To Fernandes, implementation can’t come soon enough.

“We are at the frontlines of the climate crisis,” he said, “So we need to get a handle on addressing climate change and the nasty effects that come with it. And this will certainly put a dent in that.”

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.