Despite the opposition of the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts and a coalition of real estate, housing and business organizations, as well as labor unions and utility companies, a proposal to allow up to ten cities and towns to restrict or prohibit the use of fossil fuels in most construction or major renovation projects became law upon Gov. Baker’s signature on a climate and offshore wind bill (See Section 84 of Chapter 179 of the Acts of 2022). While the governor expressed concerns that such a ban on fossil fuels could impede housing production, he signed the bill anyway because the remaining provisions were necessary for the Commonwealth to achieve the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as required by the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008.
It is not clear which ten communities will be selected to participate in what is described in the law as a “demonstration project” to be administered by the Department of Energy Resources (DOER), but the cities of Boston, Worcester, Northampton and Somerville have already expressed interest in participating. The fossil fuel ban would not apply to research laboratories for scientific of medical research or to hospitals or other health care facilities.
A city or town must have local approval by either a vote of city council or town meeting and submitted a “home rule” petition to the Legislature to participate in the program. The following communities had previously submitted home rule petitions: Acton, Arlington, Aquinnah, Brookline, Cambridge, Concord, Lexington, Lincoln and Newton.
To be eligible to participate in the demonstration project, a community must also have met the following housing criteria:
- Achieved the 10% threshold on the subsidized housing inventory under Chapter 40B or have a Housing Production Plan approved by the Department of Housing and Community Development; or
- Has approved a zoning ordinance or by-law that provides for at least 1 district of reasonable size in which multi-family housing is permitted as of right.
Communities have 18 months from the effective date of the new law (July 31, 2022) to achieve compliance with the above-referenced requirements in order to participate in the project. DOER is required to monitor impacts of the ban on building costs, operating costs, number of housing permits, housing affordability and other criteria. It must also issue a report by September 30, 2025, with recommendations for the continuation or termination of the demonstration project.
DOER may promulgate regulations to implement the demonstration project by no later than July 1, 2023.