Helping a Gateway City gain admittance to the clean energy pilot

The Gateway Cities Journal

Helping a Gateway City gain admittance to the clean energy pilot

Gateway Cities are home to one out of four Massachusetts residents. In a future where we conserve land and reduce congestion with infill housing, they should be home to an even larger share of our population. Given this residential density, there is simply no way that Massachusetts meets its climate commitments without Gateway Cities in the lead. And yet, when it comes to the clean energy transition, these communities are too often an afterthought. Continuing to overlook them will have major negative ramifications for equity and the long-term strength of the state’s economy.

From energy efficiency rebates to solar incentives, climate policies rely on the function of private markets. When the economics don’t work for low- to moderate-income communities, they are simply left out and policy perpetuates a cycle of concentrated disadvantage

In August, the legislature created a groundbreaking pilot program to help 10 cities and towns pilot strategies to remove carbon from their buildings. Slots in the pilot program went to the first communities to get in line. Those who volunteered are dripping in wealth (Acton, Aquinnah, Arlington, Brookline, Cambridge, Concord, Lexington, Lincoln, Newton, and West Tisbury). Showing that these communities can make the transition provides little to no benefit for understanding how we make it work for those with more difficult paths.

This week West Tisbury decided it could not meet the law’s housing affordability requirement and backed out of the pilot. Boston and Somerville are next in line for the open spot, but the law allows the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to pick a replacement however it sees fit. Many are pushing DOER to select the final community quickly. This approach puts Gateway Cities at an enormous disadvantage.

Overburdened at all times by a multiplicity of difficult issues, these cities will never be the fastest to launch into a complex policy decision. DOER needs to actively cultivate a Gateway City partner, helping them understand the program, and tools that they will make available to ensure that these communities can decarbonize without harming already fragile real estate markets in the near term.

When it comes to Gateway Cities and environmental justice, Massachusetts has far from an unblemished record. The clean energy pilot is as clear an opportunity as we will find to help ensure that we get it right next time.

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