Sunday, June 23, 2024

There are legitimate concerns that were not taken into account in the development of updating the Building Energy Usage Disclosure Ordinance to fulfill the goal of reducing emissions. The process of developing an update was part of the original Beudo, in effect since 2014 – the ordinance required updates to be proposed in 2019 if emissions were not reduced. Since emissions overall were not reduced for the decade preceding Beudo and the several years of Beudo implementation, the city, led by its Community Development Department, started working on amendments to ensure emissions reductions. A subset of large stakeholders met behind closed doors with CDD to develop potential amendments. These negotiations took several years, after which proposed amendments were presented to the City Council and the public in November 2021.

Those proposed amendments have been discussed, amended and debated for the past year. Many in the community, including members of the City Council who were not part of the amendment drafting process, believe that the proposed deadline of 2050 is too late to have a meaningful impact and position the city as a climate leader, counter to the city’s stated goals. Also, many small commercial property owners and thousands of residents in condos and apartments living in buildings subject to Beudo since 2014 did not know about the ordinance, or that the next step was to require emission reductions. Some property owners are frustrated, confused, angry and fearful of how the changes would affect them. Since the proposal was made public, there have been negotiations and discussions on how to meet a faster timeline for buildings to achieve net zero – by 2035, if possible, in line with the urgency of the climate crisis and our city’s leadership position, while being sensitive to the feasibility of proposals and to limitations of some property owners.

Cambridge needs to be at the forefront of climate leadership and needs to assert that our city can lead and will take effective action to reduce our emission pollution. A deadline of 2035 for emissions reductions for existing large commercial buildings builds on the work of stakeholders across the city, on the Net Zero Action Plan Task Force, the Climate Committee and the Climate Crisis Working Group, and on votes of the City Council. With a requirement and built-in flexibility to allow some form of carbon credits and flexibility of timeline for reductions based on capital projects, it can be met. For existing residential, though, more study is needed before setting a deadline to meet net zero emissions requirements. For new construction, commercial and residential, it is expected that the specialized stretch code, effective as of July 1 of this year, will lead to more net zero construction.

I remain firmly committed to Cambridge being a leader, to pushing for accountability and accelerated action in line with previous city work. And I am acutely aware of the need to be thoughtful in developing a feasible plan for the transition to becoming a net zero city. I will advocate for amendments to Beudo to be developed with the following criteria:

Commercial related properties: Current updates to Beudo would apply to all Beudo properties not used as individual residences. Those updates would include required emissions reduction over time by 2035 with flexibility in options for compliance that include alternative compliance payments; credit for helping other owners reduce emissions; and verified carbon credits. A deadline of 2035 with the proposed flexibility options is possible and feasible for commercial properties. And the work of supporting the transition for these properties of necessity includes Eversource and utility providers.

Residential properties: The current Beudo emissions reporting requirement for residential buildings of 50 units or more will continue. And as a method of reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, all residential properties will be expected to use the city’s or another electrical supplier that includes a 100 percent renewable option. If a 100 percent renewable energy supply is cost prohibitive, exemptions will be accepted. By the end of 2024, the City Council, in conjunction with city staff and in line with the goals in the Net Zero Action Plan, Climate Committee reports and working group recommendations, will develop a system for requiring emissions reductions by all residential buildings. A schedule for requiring reductions will be developed in line with a review of different buildings and building types and their particular configurations with regard to feasibility. Note: “All” residential includes single- and two-family homes, all multifamily and condo buildings – not group living quarters such as dormitories of higher education institutions. Any plan will be developed in collaboration with property owners, utilities and experts in the field of electrification and retrofitting.

Support for achieving residential emissions reductions: The city will improve its programs of assistance, financial and technical, for property owners, with greater accountability and specific targets for implementation. The first focus will be smaller, non-residential property owners subject to amended Beudo requirements. The second focus will be non-residential properties not subject to Beudo. The third focus will be residential, focused on low and moderate income households.

Summary: By proposing that these criteria be included in Beudo 2.0 amendments, I hope the process can move forward and the City Council will adopt changes that will lead to a more effective law. The city can provide clarity and affirm climate leadership while being sensitive to practicality and without being overly burdensome to small-property owners. By having changes apply to commercial buildings first, condo owners and apartment dwellers will be treated more equitably, along with other non-congregate residential properties. I hope that the institutional leaders in the city, including large property owners and Harvard and MIT will support these proposals.

Patty Nolan, city councillor