One of the lead authors of a proposed pilot program that would let 10 municipalities ban natural gas in new residential, retail and office buildings says the program is vital to figuring out the best way to transition new construction to green energy.

State lawmakers included the ban in a compromise climate bill they sent to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk yesterday evening. The measure will give an enormous boost to the supply of clean energy, proponents say. It also increases electric vehicle incentives and adding protections for working-class communities that have borne the brunt of the state’s pollution for decades.

The gas ban pilot program was revised after feedback from the development community, state Sen. Mike Barrett of Lexington said. Changes include exemptions for lab and medical buildings and requirements that towns and cities taking part are working to permit more multifamily projects under the Chapter 40B affordable housing law or by zoning for multifamily zoning by right at 15 units per acre.

“We also wanted to address the larger housing affordability crisis and require that communities be good citizens to the state both in terms of clean energy and housing,” he said in a Thursday evening interview. “The truth is a lot of these places started as small towns and they’re approaching their rendezvous with density, with destiny.”

Of the communities most likely to apply to the state Department of Housing and Community Development to join the pilot program, Arlington and Newton face the longest road to meeting the new entry requirements.

“I think we’ve struck an interesting balance and I hope it’s struck an interesting balance and I hope it draws the support of NAIOP and the people around Gov. Baker,” Barrett said.

Development trade group NAIOP-MA said Thursday morning it “appreciates” the new requirements, it “remains concerned that the proposed fossil fuel bans could hinder the production of housing and dissuade investment.”

Baker has 10 days to decide whether to sign or veto the bill, potentially giving senators and representatives no time to override a veto should it come late next week.

Barrett defended the idea of a pilot program as necessary to find a path forward for the state’s development industry. Buildings generate around 32 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, a large share of which is produced by single-family homes and residential buildings.

“What the critics overlooked is that good, conservative private sector proofs are necessary for collecting some numbers,” he said. “We’re essentially testing all-electric construction before rolling it out to a wider area.”

The bill will require DHCD to report out a range of data about the gas ban’s impacts on construction, including on housing affordability.

Barrett expressed optimism that the program will prove out data generated by a Baker administration study released in February as part of efforts to develop a new stretch energy code. That showed small single-family, large single-family and small multifamily buildings would be significantly cheaper to build and own or operate if designed from the ground up with all electric building systems.

“There are always transitional problems where change is concerned, there are always going to be a few programs that are going to be caught midstream,” he said. “[Developers] will make just as much money possibly more money once they do change, but change is difficult.”

Barrett Says Gas Ban Pilot Project Needed to Prove Savings

by James Sanna time to read: 2 min