Massachusetts climate legislation almost derailed by opposition to greener building code provisions

An Act creating a next-generation roadmap for Massachusetts climate policy was signed into law on March 26, summarized in Governor Charlie Baker’s press release, here . It is a sweeping and ambitious bill which sets emissions reduction targets, including six sectoral goals, culminating in net-zero emissions for the state by 2050; sets appliance efficiency standards; incentivizes electric vehicles; includes environmental justice protections; and orders funding for a clean energy equity workforce and market development program to support employment opportunities for certified minority- and women-owned small business and individuals living in environmental justice communities. 

And as described in “What You Need To Know About The New Mass. Climate Law”  (NPR, WBUR, March 26) ,the Roadmap legislation also authorizes the development of stretch energy codes for net-zero energy buildings. The Department of Energy Resources will announce the final version after public consultations for the next 18 months, after which municipalities can choose to adopt the model codes.  The building code provisions were the major sticking point in the political battle over this legislation, and triggered a Governor’s veto in 2020, thanks to organized opposition from the natural gas industry and real estate industry, both of whom see a potential threat of natural gas bans.  

This Massachusetts example is explained in “Sweeping Mass. climate law revives gas ban battle” (Mar. 29). The broader battle which is forming across the U.S.is described in “Developers clash with  U.S. Cities on vote for greener building codes” in The Energy Mix, and in “A Texas city had a bold new climate plan – until a gas company got involved” in The Guardian (March 1).   The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) describes how this conflict is playing out at the International Code Council (ICC), which sets model building code standards, and which “just threw out the elections process by which state and local government officials recently overcame powerful commercial interests to secure large energy savings.”

Electric vehicle, retrofitting incentives announced by new Nova Scotia government

Nova Scotia’s new government under Premier Iain Rankin was sworn in on February 23, and immediately sent a message that it was committed to climate change action.  A press release titled Province Invests in Climate Change Action, Supports Jobs and Commits to Renewable Future announced a rebate program for new and used electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and e-bikes, ranging from $3,000 per new vehicle to $500 for electric bikes. An additional $9.5 million will be directed to support energy efficiency improvements through retrofitting for low-income families. Further, the Department of Energy and Mines will release a new Renewable Electricity Standard in March, aiming to achieve 80% renewable energy by 2030. Symbolically, the former Department of the Environment was renamed to the Department of Environment and Climate Change .  Environmental advocacy group Ecology Action expressed optimism in this press release (Feb. 25). The CBC also reported on the new government here .

Over 400,000 Clean Energy jobs lost in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic

U.S. government employment figures for December 2020 show that the U.S. clean energy sector added 16,900 jobs in December. However, analysis released on January 13 reveals that the recovery is slow, and the industry now has its lowest number of  workers since 2015, having suffered a loss of over 400,000 jobs (12%) during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Clean Energy Employment Initial Impacts from the COVID-19 Economic Crisis, December 2020  was prepared by BW Research Partnership, commissioned by industry groups E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), E4TheFuture, and the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) . The 17-page report provides data by state and by technology, with energy efficiency leading the losses with 302,164 total jobs lost nationally between February and December 2020. California was the hardest hit state. 

This is the latest in a monthly series of reports tracking the impact of Covid-19 on clean energy jobs – the series is available at the E2 website here. These reports document the dramatic shift in clean energy employment in the U.S; the E2 Clean Jobs America 2020 annual report  outlines the industry’s policy recommendations for recovery as of April 2020.     

  

Fall Economic Statement paves the way for a Green Recovery: energy efficiency, care economy, electric vehicle infrastructure, and nature-based solutions

On November 30, Canada’s  Finance Minister Chrystia Freedland presented the government’s Fall Economic Statement to the House of Commons, Supporting Canadians and Fighting COVID-19.  At over 200 pages, it is the fullest statement to date of how the government intends to finance a green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, but Canadians must still wait for a full  climate change strategy, promised “soon”.

The government press release summarizes the spending for health and economic measures, including, for employers, extension of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy Canada, the  Emergency Rent Subsidy and Lockdown Support , and new funding for the  tourism and hospitality sectors through the new Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program.  In Chapter 3, Building Back Better,  the Economic Statement addresses the impacts of Covid-19 on the labour market and employment. It includes promises to create one million jobs, invest in skills training, reduce inequality, attack systemic racism, support families through early learning and child care, support youth, and build a competitive green economy.  Most budget allocations will be channeled through existing programs, but new initiatives include “the creation of a task force of diverse experts to help develop “an Action Plan for Women in the Economy”;  launch of “Canada’s first-ever Black Entrepreneurship Program”;  and a task force on modernizing the Employment Equity Act to promote equity in federally-regulated workplaces.  Under the heading, “Better working conditions for the care Economy” comes a pledge: “To support personal support workers, homecare workers and essential workers involved in senior care, the government will work with labour and healthcare unions, among others, to seek solutions to improve retention, recruitment and retirement savings options for low- and modest-income workers, particularly those without existing workplace pension coverage.”

Climate change provisions and a Green Recovery:

Another section in Chapter 3 is entitled A Competitive, Green Economy, which  reiterates the government’s commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, and reiterates the importance of the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, currently before Parliament. Funding of  $2.6 billion over 7 years was announced to go towards grants of up to $5000 for homeowners to make energy-efficient improvements to their homes, and to recruit and train EnerGuide energy auditors. A further $150 million over 3 years was announced for charging and refuelling stations for zero-emissions vehicles, and  $25 million for “ predevelopment work for large-scale transmission projects. Building strategic interties will support Canada’s coal phase-out.

Under the heading of Nature-based solutions, proposed investments address the goal of 2 billion trees planted with a pledge of  $3.19 billion over 10 years, starting in 2021-22.  A further $631 million over 10 years is pledged for ecosystem restoration and wildlife protection, and $98.4 million over 10 years, starting in 2021-22, to establish a new “Natural Climate Solutions for Agriculture” Fund.

Reactions from unions, think tanks:

Among those reacting quickly to the Economic Statement, the Canadian Labour Congress  stated generally  “While today’s commitments on key priorities remain modest and reflect past promises, the government has signalled it will make further investments as the recovery begins to take shape.” Unifor issued two press releases, the first stating “This fiscal update shows that Canada’s workers are being heard, and must continue to advocate for the lasting changes required to secure a fair, resilient and inclusive economic recovery”, but a second complains “Canada’s fiscal update fails to support all airline workers .  The Canadian Union of Public Employees similarly issued two statements on December 1:  “Liberals’ economic update offers more delay and disappointment”  and “Canada’s flight attendants union disappointed by the federal economic update” .

Bruce Campbell reacted in The Conversation (Dec. 7)  that “The pace of government action to date does not align with the urgency of the twin climate and inequality crises. Nothing it has done so far is threatening to the corporate plutocracy and its hold on power.”   Several experts from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives contributed to a blog,  A fiscal update for hard times: Is it enough?”, with the answer from Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood re the climate change provisions : “Planting trees, retrofitting buildings and increasing ZEV uptake doesn’t go far enough without a clear timeline for winding down oil and gas production.”  Climate Action Network-Canada agrees with Mertins-Kirkwood when it states: “ today’s update includes a summary of new and existing spending that we hope will provide an important foundation for Canada’s new national climate plan that we expect in the coming weeks.  ….As part of a larger package, along with Bill C-12, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, and the pending new national climate plan, today’s fiscal update provides the backbone to guide Canada through some of the most important global transitions in generations.”

Other reactions:  “Feds’ fall economic statement shortchanges climate” (Corporate Knights, Dec. 2) quotes one observer who calls it  a “meek” effort, and offers a comparison of  the allocations in the Fall statement with earlier proposals from Corporate Knights  and the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery in September . The Energy Mix also cites the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery in its analysis of  the energy efficiency provisions of the Economic Statement , stating, : “the  recommended by C$2.6 billion allocated for a seven-year program raises questions about how seriously the Trudeau government is prepared to confront the climate crisis. In mid-September, the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery called for a $26.9-billion program over five years.”

British Columbia tops in Canada’s Energy Efficiency Scorecard

Efficiency Canada has released its 2020 Energy Efficiency Scorecard , self-described as “a comprehensive benchmarking of provincial energy efficiency policies.”  The 2020 edition is the 2nd produced, and has expanded to include new information on Indigenous energy efficiency, heating fuel savings, building code adoption activities, active transportation, and geo-targeted efficiency.    A complex website offers a database with policy summaries sorted by province and by policy areas:  energy efficiency, enabling policies, buildings, transportation, and industry. Provincial fact sheets describe and rank  each province, with  British Columbia retaining its rank as #1 in Canada, followed by Quebec ; Nova Scotia ; Ontario, which dropped from third place in 2019 to fourth rank; Prince Edward Island (highlighted as most improved province); Manitoba ; New Brunswick in 7th place;  Alberta (slipped from 6th to 8th place); Newfoundland and Labrador at 9th, and in last place, Saskatchewan. The press release notes that “All provinces have significant room to improve. On a scale with 100 available points, the highest score this year is 58 and the lowest 17. ”

Efficiency Canada is housed at Carleton University’s Sustainable Energy Research Centre. The website also offers two highly useful reports: Less is More: A win for the economy, jobs, consumers, and our climate: energy efficiency is Canada’s unsung hero  (co-published by Clean Energy Canada and Efficiency Canada in 2018) and The Economic Impact of Improved Energy Efficiency in Canada Employment and other Economic Outcomes from the Pan-Canadian Framework’s Energy Efficiency Measures, prepared for Clean Energy Canada by Dunsky Consulting in April 2018.