Should Boston Buildings Make as Much Energy as They Use?
Originally published by: Boston Herald — August 23, 2018
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A City Council proposal to encourage building projects that create as much energy as they use is due to be unveiled in the fall — but developers warned it may not be practical.
“Boston has an incredible building boom. We have an opportunity and responsibility to put forward environmentally friendly development,” Councilor Matt O’Malley said. “It’s about incentives. I want this to be about carrots, not sticks.”
O’Malley’s proposal, which is not yet finalized, would provide incentives to developers who build so-called “net-zero” projects, largely through the zoning code. O’Malley said he and a group of councilors, city officials, climate advocates and construction industry representatives have been meeting to come up with the right way to go forward. He said the first of several proposals will likely be brought before the council in October or November.
Joan Fitzgerald, a professor at Northeastern University and one of the members of the working group, said some of the biggest energy users in any city are buildings, usually second only to transportation.
She said Boston’s deluge of new construction in the coming years is an opportunity to add better environmental options before the buildings are finished and locked in for decades.
“You think of the opportunity already that we’ve lost with all of the construction that’s underway now, Boston is LEED standard, but LEED doesn’t give you as much as needed to accomplish what we need on energy efficiency,” Fitzgerald said. “This is not future technology, we could and should be doing this.”
Mayor Martin J. Walsh has set a goal for Boston to be carbon-neutral, meaning it produces as much energy as it uses, by 2050. He said yesterday he will consider O’Malley’s proposals, but did not make a commitment.
“The challenge is obviously going to be the cost conversation, and I think that eventually we’ll figure that though,” Walsh said. “It’s something we have to continue to move forward. If you look, we’ve made great strides in Boston over the last 10 years, we have more to do. As the proposal moves forward, we’ll look at how to implement it, how do you put it in place and what’s the cost factors.”
If the proposal does move forward, it is unclear what kind of appetite there will be from developers to build net-zero buildings, at least right now. Many developers have embraced energy efficient and environmentally friendly development, but it is unclear what would have to be done to turn those projects into net-zero developments.
“It sounds like a great idea, but it’s not feasible right now, because if it were, developers would be doing it,” said David Begelfer, chief executive of NAIOP Massachusetts, a commercial development association. “To make it net-zero, they’d love to do it, but the technology’s not there yet.”