Sustainable Arlington - Sep 23rd, 2020

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Planning Department Update. Ken Pruitt gives a presentation on the Clean Energy Future Committee's net zero roadmap. The roadmap plan is still in draft form, but mostly flushed out. The draft we discussed is available on the town's website, at https://www.arlingtonma.gov/Home/ShowDocument?id=52933.

In Jan 2018, the Select Board committed to a goal of getting Arlington to Net Zero by 2050. The town worked in conjunction with Natick and Melrose, with technical support from the MAPC.

Arlington emitted 284,078 metric tons of CO2e (CO2 equivalent); most of these emissions came from buildings and transportation.

In a town survey, 87% of respondents felt that it was extremely important to take action on climate change. There was enthusiasm for promoting cycling, walking, and public transit.

The Net Zero action plan is broken into three pieces: buildings, mobility, and the energy supply. The long term goal is to electrify everything, and then make sure it's powered with clean electricity. There are 29 mitigation measures: 15 for buildings, 9 for mobility, and 5 for energy supply. Each set of mitigations is divided into high-priority and priority items.

The plan is not set in stone, and we expect it to evolve over time. It should be refreshed every few years as technologies change. In getting to net zero, we must keep equity in mind and make an effort to ensure these changes benefit everyone.

Measures for buildings:

  • Convert fossil fuel uses to electric. This includes heating, hot water, clothes dryers, and cooking.
  • Deep energy retrofits of existing buildings. Make buildings as energy efficient as possible.
  • Change zoning or other bylaws that hinder the renovation or construction of net zero homes. Incentivize construction of new net zero buildings.
  • Create a permanent "electrify Arlington" website.
  • Retrofit all town-owned buildings, to reduce energy use as much as possible. Maximize the use of renewable energy technology.
  • Advocate for a state net-zero stretch building code.
  • Review whether there are barriers to the adoption of energy efficient and renewable energy technologies in historic districts. See if such barriers can be reduced.
  • Prohibit fossil fuel heating systems in new construction and major renovations.
  • Allow adjustments to height, setback, and density requirements by special permit for energy efficiency and renewable energy installations. (e.g., allow replacement of a foundation with an insulated one, allow buildings to be wrapped in exterior insulation, even if it protrudes into a required setback).
  • Require all new apartments and commercial buildings to be solar ready, with a minimum of 50% of the roof area dedicated to solar.
  • Explore opting in to the state's commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy program, to support local financing of clean energy projects.
  • Promote planting of trees on private property, near sidewalks.
  • Partner with vocational technical schools to ensure an adequate supply of workers that are skilled in clean energy technologies.
  • Consider establishing a 40R Smart Growth Zoning overlay district, to allow for dense residential or mixed-use development.

Carl Wagner is skeptical about the goal of electrifying everything, and says that 70--80% of our electricity comes from natural gas. Ken Pruitt says that Massachusetts has requirements for the amount of clean energy that generators put in to the grid, and these requirements increase every year. The grid will get cleaner over time.

Carl feels there is a need for sky access zoning, to prevent obstruction to solar panels. He also thinks that mixed-use bylaws should be revisited so that people can't build buildings like the one on the Toroya block, which goes right up to the property lines.

Tom Ebrecht asks if developers can be required to have knowledge of net zero building techniques. Ken says that if MA adopts a net-zero stretch building code, then builders will have to know how to comply with it.

Steve Revilak thinks this is a reasonable plan to implement on a local level. He says that we spent most of the 20th century doing things wrong, especially in the areas of housing and transportation. It will take a while to dig ourselves out of that hole.

Roger Rosen points out that climate change is progressing faster than we originally realized. He believes we'll have to get to net zero by 2040 rather than 2050.

Steve asks Ken to consider electrical system upgrades as part of this plan. Mid-20th century houses may not have enough electrical capacity for these retrofits.

Laura thinks it's important to allow exterior insulation in non-conforming setbacks, and to require that additions be energy efficient.

Carl thinks it's more important to get homes off of oil heat. He believes we need incentive programs to do this.

Measures for buildings:

  • Support the implementation of strategies being developed for Arlington's sustainable transportation plan.
  • Create a plan to expand public charging facilities (for electric vehicles).
  • Promote electric vehicle adoption.
  • To the extent possible, adopt a net-zero municipal fleet. Transition to zero-emission vehicle purchases by 2030.
  • Advocate for community transit needs, bus stop upgrades, bus rapid transit, and electrification of the regional transit system.
  • Changes to parking policies. Reduce the use of single-occupancy vehicles, and give dedicated parking to electric vehicles.
  • Develop policies and guidelines to promote electric bicycles and scooters, including improvements to the supporting infrastructure.
  • Advocate for better utility rates, to accelerate adoption of electric vehicles and charging stations.
  • Promote car sharing.

Clean energy Supply measures

  • Increase the amount of renewable energy in the Arlington Community Electricity program, so that the default is 100% renewable by 2030.
  • Transition municipal electricity to 100% renewable by 2030.
  • Support state legislation to decarbonize the electric supply. Support decarbonization incentives for low- to moderate-income residents.

Ken says the CEFC is considering additional measures, like shared ground source heat pumps, requirements for accelerated repair of natural gas leaks, and a phasing out of the natural gas distribution system.


Climate Emergency Resolution. Parke Wilde from Extinction Rebellion talks about a local effort to declare a climate emergency. The project is called Emergency Arlington the declaration is available via http://emergencyarlington.org.

The declaration has five major pieces:

  1. Declare emergency
  2. Tell the truth
  3. Take action in matters within town authority
  4. Promote climate action in matters beyond town authority
  5. Promote climate justice

The intended roadmap for this declaration is: awareness campaign and stakeholder outreach; meeting with town officials and seeking advice from legal counsel; appearing before the Select Board and asking them to support or adopt the declaration; bringing the declaration before the 2021 town meeting.

Parke says that Emergency Arlington is a science-based expression of urgency. It's useful to have municipalities pass such resolutions, to help move policies along at higher levels of government.

Parke asks if Sustainable Arlington would be willing to support or participate in this effort. He's not expecting a vote of endorsement tonight, but hopes it could be discussed at a later time.

Extinction Rebellion is holding a demonstration on Friday Sep 25th, 5:00pm at the corner of Mystic Street and Mass Ave. He invites everyone to attend.

Amos Meeks asks meeting participants how they'd feel about having Sustainable Arlington endorse Friday's demonstration. There seems to be a general feeling of support, with no objections or concerns raised.

The group votes to support Friday's demonstration.

Carl Wagner thinks it's like communism if we vote for something without debating it. He asks the group to debate future votes, like town meeting does.


Announcements. The Attorney General struck down Brookline's clean heat bylaw, which was the basis for the clean heat bylaw being brought before Arlington's town meeting. The bill's proponents are planning to revise, and submit it as a home rule petition instead.

Brucie Moulton reports that a number of town are working to build pollinator habitats, and educate the public on their importance.

Brucie talks about a study on gas cooking that's being done by the Harvard School of Public Health (and other institutions). They're looking for four participants that have outdoor gas grills connected to natural gas. If you have one of these (or know someone that does), please contact Brucie.

(Had to leave the meeting at this point).