In Marblehead, roadmap paves the way for net zero emissions

Chris Stevens
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Is it ironic that it was 50 degrees on Feb. 15, the day Marblehead’s Net Zero Roadmap, a plan to combat climate change locally, was presented to the community?

In 2019 the Marblehead Green Energy Committee partnered with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and developed a Climate Vision Plan. Brooks Winner, a senior clean energy specialist with MAPC, called the plan a framework or a foundation for some of what is now in the Net Zero Roadmap.

A timeline of Marblehead’s net zero progress to date. COURTESY PHOTO 

Winner, who presented the roadmap during a public meeting on that warm Wednesday evening, said some of the strategies would be implemented by Marblehead Municipal Light Department, and the town would lead some. Some are changes that residents and business owners will have to commit to making.

“One thing I’ll note,” he said. “This roadmap is for the whole community of Marblehead … we’re really looking at a community-wide effort.”

But how do we get there?

The roadmap, a draft of which people can access at includes six core transitions. They, along with some highlights, include:

— Making homes and buildings super-efficient; this would include creating and preserving efficient, affordable housing, allowing changes to historic buildings that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and providing financing for residents to adopt electric and renewable technologies.

— Electrifying heating and cooking equipment

— Electrifying cars, trucks, buses and other modes of transportation; that equals promoting and incentivizing electric vehicles for all residents, a possible electric vehicle car-sharing program and the adoption of a zero-emissions fleet policy so all municipal vehicles, after a certain point, would be emissions-free.

— Making walking, biking and public transit the best way to get around

— Greening the grid with renewable energy sources; transitioning the Marblehead Municipal Light Department to 100% clean energy, encouraging residential battery storage and incentivizing residents to use electricity during off-peak hours.

— Produce more renewable energy locally; establish a community solar program.

Winner said the roadmap also has a section on nature-based solutions that include thinking about reuse water and conservation tactics, significantly increasing participation in composting programs and phasing out single-use plastic.

The guide ends with what Winner called a catch-all section that focuses on advocacy, education and information sharing, along with strategies for advocating for funding options and both federal and state grants.

“I think we really want to stress that this roadmap is about collective actions,” Winner said. “We don’t want to over-emphasize individual responsibility for reducing one’s own emissions, but we do know that it’s going to take a real team effort to reach that end zero goal.”

Questions and concerns

Residents asked about better solar power incentives. Winner said there were, in fact, better incentives coming from the federal level for solar power and battery/energy storage. MMLD General Manager Joe Kowalik also said he believes the barriers are being removed for solar battery storage on the residential side, and the light department is embarking on a project to bring in a five-megawatt battery at the town scale.

“We’ll be talking about that in, I believe, our next board meeting in February later this month,” he said.

Several participants wondered why the roadmap made little or no mention of bikes. Winner said that was because the town’s Complete Streets program seemed to be on top of prioritizing bike action, but not everyone agreed.

One Zoom participant called it disappointing that the roadmap lacked a bike plan.

“You know, one of the things that’s causing emissions is cars, and I think getting cars off the roads just feels like a very low-hanging fruit for a community like ours,” she said.  

She also questioned whether Complete Streets was even meeting and or focusing on pedestrians and bikes. Winner said he thought the Green Committee could consider addressing bikes in a better way.

Richard Smith wondered if there would be metrics around the economic impact of going to net zero on residents. For example, will they see their electric bills increase?

Winner said economics are somewhat discussed in the equity consideration section of the roadmap and they are very aware of things like energy burden. But he also said there have been discussions about the cost of doing nothing “and the fact that climate change is going to be very, very costly in and of itself.”

Laura Frank called the presentation perfect timing since she just moved to town two weeks ago. While the end goal is net zero emissions by 2040, she asked if there was a timeline for getting everything done, “and who’s in charge of implementation.”

Winner said they tried to designate a lead implementer for each section, and he, along with Green Marblehead Committee member Eileen Mathieu, reiterated the hope that the town would eventually hire a sustainability coordinator. She called it important to accomplish much of the roadmap and noted it’s what other towns have done.

Preston Ford, admittedly playing the devil’s advocate, asked what would happen if Marblehead failed to invest anything in the roadmap. Winner said for a coastal community, the cost of doing nothing would be high and could result in fines if the town or MMLD failed to comply with state regulations aimed at reaching net zero by 2050.

“We know that it’s really important to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally to net zero by 2050 or sooner to avoid the worst effects of climate change,” Winner said early in the presentation. “We’re already seeing that January was the hottest January on record here in the Boston area, and it was 50 degrees in February today.”

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