Natural gas-powered HVAC systems and "net-zero" building codes are among the chief bones of contention in Massachusetts' carbon emissions debate.

Before any decisions about the future of natural gas are made, the Department of Public Utilities should reject the plans presented by gas companies and restructure its regulatory framework for the industry to focus on ratepayers, Attorney General Maura Healey’s office recommended last week.

The DPU’s decision could have significant ramifications for the real estate industry, which is struggling to find affordable alternatives for natural gas-fueled heating and cooling systems for large commercial buildings.

Healey’s office said its comments related to the Future of Gas report that utility companies filed in March are meant to “reject unproven plans by gas utilities and urge the establishment of a regulatory framework that aligns gas utility investment with achieving the state’s climate goals, while protecting ratepayers from unnecessary risk, and ensuring the equitable transition to a clean energy future.” She specifically asked DPU to reject the idea of “hybrid electrification,” which would involve pairing efficient electric heat pumps with gas furnaces as backup for especially cold days.

Healey, who is running for governor this year, and Democratic senators have been increasingly vocal about the problems they see with the Baker administration’s approach to considering the future of natural gas in Massachusetts. The fossil fuel was used for heating in more than half of all Massachusetts homes as of 2019.

Sen. Cynthia Creem, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Global Warming, has raised specific concerns about the billions of dollars that ratepayers could be on the hook for over the next two decades through the Gas System Enhancement Program, which encourages utilities to replace leak-prone pipes by maintaining a mechanism for companies to recover the costs associated with replacement.

“In Massachusetts, we should be setting the path for an energy system that is equitable, reliable, and affordable – not one that pumps more money into gas pipelines and props up utility shareholders,” Healey said in a statement. “We urge the DPU to move forward with a plan that protects our climate and reduces costs for ratepayers.”

Sen. Michael Barrett, who has endorsed Healey for governor, has said that the future of gas proceeding “is the ballgame, in many respects, and it must not be a process that ends with a governor who’s decided to leave.” The wide-ranging climate bill the Senate passed last month would keep “the process open for the next governor” and make “sure that things don’t come to a premature conclusion,” Barrett said.

Healey: Consider Ratepayers, Climate in Natural Gas Plans

by State House News Service time to read: 2 min