Massachusetts Zero Net Energy Buildings Task Force Gets it Right

In what can only be considered encouraging news, Massachusetts continues its aggressive pursuit of zero net energy buildings. This year, the Commonwealth adopted a new “stretch code” and the governor-appointed Zero Net Energy Buildings Task Force released its comprehensive report, “Getting to Zero.” In order to reach the goal of zero net energy use by 2030, the report says that Massachusetts must focus on two broader objectives: 1) “to reduce energy loads to the minimum practical level,” and 2) develop a set of recommendations to address the energy use of existing buildings.

While these broad objectives may seem straightforward, the way the state plans to pursue them is commendable. By proposing a “suite of incentives” that would include a competitive grant and loan program as a well as tax credits, the state would stand to economically benefit from attracting new businesses and creating jobs, specifically in the technology research and development sectors. These incentives (carrots) would be coupled with the establishment of “minimum energy performance standards” (sticks) that would be required of all new construction and major renovations projects in the commercial sector.

Realizing that zero net energy use is not something that happens overnight, these energy performance standards would continuously ratchet down over the next 20 years, allowing the design and construction fields to take the incremental steps that will be needed to get to zero. This process would be assisted by a “workforce development initiative” that would increase the number of people with the skills necessary to successfully implement many of these measures. The report also identifies the market as a critical source of innovation. As the standard becomes increasingly more stringent it will create the demand for and development of new technologies and design approaches.

The Task Force’s view on existing buildings is perhaps the most intriguing. It recommends that the state move in the coming years to establish performance standards for all existing buildings in the commercial sector that would be defined in “Energy Certificates” associated with each building. Building owners would be given a window (for example 3-5 years) to submit plans that would ensure they would meet the energy performance standards and in a second phase properties that were sold would be given a seven year window to meet the base performance standard. In a final phase all commercial buildings would be given ten years to meet the minimum performance standards.

The task force also takes an aggressive and encouraging stance on re-commissioning. Starting in 2014 all buildings over 100,000 square feet would be required to go through re-commissioning every five years and the same would apply for all buildings over 20,000 square feet from 2019 forward. A stipulation of the grant and loan program would require that all recipients commit to commissioning and submitting a post occupancy survey and case study. As the first state to create such an action plan, the Massachusetts set of strategies is well balanced and has some innovative ideas to help other states get moving on the path to zero.

Read the report:…