“Historic Arctic outbreak crushes records in New England,” the Washington Post reported in the winter of 2023. Cold weather remains a real danger in the northeast, despite warming global average temperature. This leads to an additional challenge: most northeastern U.S. homes use fossil fuel to keep buildings warm during the winter months, and these fuels contribute to greenhouse gas emissions—including over a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts. Climate solutions for Massachusetts buildings must, then, account for the region’s unique weather and building stock, including local frigid temperatures. With the goal of helping the Commonwealth achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, the Massachusetts Commission on Clean Heat, a first-in-the-nation effort co-facilitated by CBI, aimed to do something about this reliance on fossil fuel. Getting building developers, power companies, and climate advocates to work together, however, isn’t simple. The disparate interests and goals at stake make for difficult conversations and tricky paths to cooperation.
The status quo has traditionally pitted developers, business interests, and utilities—worried about the costs of building and doing business in the Commonwealth—against climate activists who want to see immediate action to transition away from fossil fuels. Then there are the tensions between affordable housing and climate interests, which, for all their similar goals, have different priorities when it comes to expanding affordable housing stock. Geographic oppositions have long existed, too, between stakeholders in the Greater Boston area who embrace climate solutions aligned with dense urban settings, and those in the western part of the state who often feel forgotten or left behind. Adding to the challenge, different workforce interests see different costs and benefits to a changing building stock, too.
Dealing with all this requires wide-ranging collaboration across sectors and interests, and it means changing the status quo that’s been in place, in some sense, for almost a century. To that end, CBI facilitated sustained interactions between stakeholders with diverse perspectives, from government as well as developers, affordable housing and climate advocates, business interests, workforce representatives, gas and electric utility representatives, and more. Nineteen full Commission meetings were held in 2022, along with regular meetings of work groups focused on specific areas, including financing, community engagement, technology and workforce development, and regulatory and policy frameworks. CBI helped the Commission bring together groups with widely different perspectives—and, crucially, they all wished to establish some durable system for the future of clean energy in Massachusetts. By structuring interactions for maximal clarity around shared principles, we were able to help build bridges between divergent interests.
The commission reached a groundbreaking consensus on a package of recommendations to the governor, including a Clean Heat Standard that will incentivize the transition to clean heat, and a regulatory framework for meeting that standard. Other priorities for the future of clean heat were established, as well, including an emphasis on sustained community engagement and equity. CBI has been pleased to see the Commission’s recommendations strongly embraced by the governor despite a change in administrations in the Massachusetts statehouse. CBI has also continued to be involved in supporting internal conversations among state agencies and developing a work plan for implementation.