Clean Heat For Arlington - Feb 27th, 2020

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Held in the Lyons room of town hall.

(Anne Wright) Ms. Wright gives a short introduction. The warrant article's main motion is nearly finalized, and should be ready for the hearing on March 9th.

(Amos Meeks) Amos provides an overview of the proposed bylaw. It will prohibit new fossil fuel piping in new construction and gut rehabs. It won't affect existing buildings, small renovations, or additions. The proposed bylaw will exempt backup generators, gas cooking appliances, propane grills, hot water heating systems for large buildings, research and development facilities, and medical facilities. It will not prohibit the repair of existing gas piping, or gas piping not related to heat systems.

Switching to heat pumps will reduce emissions, even if the electricity is generated by natural gas. Compared to natural gas systems, the additional cost to install a heat pump is less than $1000, and the cost to operate is about $40 more per month.

Heat pumps are already being used to heat multi-unit affordable housing complexes. For example, the Finch building (under construction on Concord Ave in Cambridge) and the O'Shea house in Brookline. We expect approximately 70 buildings/year to be affected by this bylaw, which is 0.4--0.5% of our total housing.

Although the bylaw includes several exemptions, there will be a waiver and appeals process, to accommodate uncontemplated situations and hardships.

(Coralie) To reach net zero by 2050, we'll have to decarbonize our buildings. Government, individuals, and industry all recognize the need to act.

Today, 44.6% of our greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings, 34.3% come from transportation, and 21% comes from industry. In residential buildings 43% of greenhouse gas emissions comes from heating and 19% comes from heating hot water.

Moving to electric in new construction avoids fossil fuel lock-in. Massachusetts electric generation produces less greenhouse gases each year.

(Jeremy Coo) A heat pump is like an air conditioner, but it can run in two directions. Heat pumps can be air source or ground source. Water heaters can also be run from heat pumps. Resistance heating is very inefficient. Heat pumps transfer heat rather than generating it.

Heat pumps are common in the south and mid-Atlantic. Newer ones can operate efficiently down to 5 degrees farenheit. In 2017, 10% of new MA homes have a heat pump as their only source of heating. Ground source heat pumps work very efficiently in cold climates.

The number of installed heat pumps has been increasing year over year. Maine started incentivizing cold climate heat pumps in 2012, and they've installed over 30,000 of them.

A typical gas heating system costs $11,700 to install and $1,500/year to operate. A typical heat pump costs $12,500 to install and $2,000/year to operate. The operating cost can drop to $1,300/year if the heat pump is paired with photovoltaic solar panels.

(Beverly Craig, Bob Fitzpatrick) These speakers are from the Massachusetts clean energy center, They're here to talk about the finances of heat pumps.

The Mass clean energy center runs a program to encourage clean energy adoption. Heat pumps work in cold climates, even Alaska and Northern Canada.

Multi-family buildings tend to have lower heating costs, as these buildings have fewer exterior walls per unit. Almost all new multi-family construction uses heat pumps. Compared to single-family homes, multi-family gives you a more efficient building envelope.

Heat pumps can handle water-based systems for up to 8 units. Beyond that, the technology isn't quite there yet.

Mass clean energy is sponsoring passive house affordable housing projects. The Finch building in Cambridge is the first of these.

The cost of heating is disproportionately higher for low-income families. In high-income brackets, 2.3% of income goes to heating. That increases to 3.5% for middle-income households, and 7.2% for low-income household. Reducing the cost of heat makes a big difference in the amount of money a low-income household has to spend.

Currently, affordable housing is being incentivized to use passive house designs.

(Anne Wright) Ms. Wright talks about the waiver and appeals process. Homeowners and contractors can apply for waivers. The ZBA will hear these appeals. Appeals will be granted based on the projects financial plan and building details. The Arlington Housing Authority will get special consideration, due to their limited capital funds.

(Jessie Grey, Brookline Town Meeting Member) Mr. Grey talks about Brookline's experience in passing their clean heat ordinance. The idea seemed controversial at first, but people eventually realized that it was practical. The final vote was 211--3, but many town meeting members had to be convinced. The proponents spent a lot of time doing research and talking with people. Some of the sticking points raised were: do heat pumps work; would they increase construction costs; would it slow development, and would it really reduce emissions. People needed factual answers to these questions.

Next, we move into a question and answer session.

Question: What are the operating costs associated with heat pumps, without improvements to the building envelope?

Single-family homes tend to have more heating needs than cooling. Multi-family homes are the opposite; they have more cooling needs than heating. Heat pumps are more efficient at cooling, which makes them a very good fit for multi-family buildings. With envelope improvements they'll work even better.

Question: Why require electric heat instead of letting people choose their preferred technologies? Why not let the technology sell itself?

We'd like to avoid retrofit costs later on. Also, many developers have standard building plans that incorporate gas heat. We'd like to get them to move to electric heat instead.

Question: What will the waiver criteria be? How discretionary will the process be?

We modeled the waiver process based on the Brookline bylaw. In general, you'll be able to get a waiver if electric heat would make the project financially unfeasible. The goal is to have a mechanism to address special cases we haven't though of or considered.

Question: Have you talked with utility companies about the effect on the power grid?

This proposed bylaw would affect less than 1% of buildings in town. Demand on the electric grid varies by around 1% per year. In new england, most of the demand on the electric grid comes during the summer months; there's much less demand in the winter. Summer peak is approximately twice the winter peak. This will affect the grid over time, as more people transition to electric heat. But we're not concerned about the effect from new construction.

During the winter, less gas needed for home heating means more gas available for electric power plants.

Question: What's the state's position on this?

The state is starting to write a net-zero category of building stretch codes. Boston is looking at a net-zero zoning ordinance. The state has a goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80% by the year 2050. We can't meet that goal if the majority of homes are still being heated with fossil fuels. Many municipalities are considering ordinances like this.

Every town bylaw needs to be reviewed by the state attorney general's office, and they haven't finished reviewing Brookline's bylaw yet. We're not likely to see a decision from the AG before summertime.

Dealing with climate change is more of a political problem than a technological problem. We can do more with local changes in urban areas than we can do at the state or federal level. If enough municipalities start doing things like this, the state will eventually get on board.

Comment: There's a gas compressor station being constructed in Quincy. This is also an area where local governments can do more. We need to think locally and regionally.

Question: Would the waiver process cover hot tub heaters, or radiant floor heating?

If you can show there's no practical non-fossil fuel alternative, then you'll be able to get a waiver. Ground source heat pumps happen to work great for radiant floor heating.

Question: What's the interior comfort level from an air source heat pump, as compared to hot water baseboard heating?

In new construction, there are many options for ducting, and air source heat pumps are generally easier to zone. New construction tends to have a tight building envelope, so you need less heating. You need ducts in order to have air conditioning, and most new construction uses forced air for that reason. Variable speed air source heat pumps can provide very consistent temperatures.

Question: What's the longevity of these systems?

A typical boiler lasts for 20 years, a furnace lasts for 15 years, and an air conditioner lasts for 10. Air source heat pumps generally have a 15-year lifetime.

Some ground source heat pump manufacturers have a 55-year warranty against leaks. Typical air source heat pumps have a twelve year warranty. ASHPs have been used in Asia since the 1970's.

Question: Why can Europe run large hot water-based heating systems with heat pumps while we can't?

Fuel is more expensive in Europe and that changes the cost equation. Plus, bringing a new product into the US can involve millions of dollars in certification costs. Between these two factors, European heating equipment manufacturers are less interested in marketing their products here.

Comment: It's good to see industry moving in this direction, but we can push it even faster.

Question: What about historic homes, and older housing stock?

People in historic districts have installed heat pumps. Usually there's a requirement that the heat pump be placed out of view.

The clean heat warrant article applies to new buildings and gut renovations. You generally don't see that happening with historic buildings.

Question: What authority will make sure that builders comply with the proposed bylaw.

Enforcement will be done by the building inspector.

Question: What happens if the builder and building inspector disagree?

The builder can file an appeal with the ZBA.

Question: Have you talked with the building inspector about this proposal?

Yes. The building inspectors seemed on board, and thought it was doable.

Question: What are the next steps?

The select board will hold a hearing on the article on March 9th, and it will go to town meeting in April. Please ask your town meeting members to vote for it.

The article proponents have a website with more information: