By Anthony Lucivero, Advocacy Fellow

Hello again, USGBC MA readers. We have another guest blog post, this time by Molly Cox of CivicSolar! She attended our Policy Podium with Senator Downing and solar pros this past Monday, and worked up this terrific write-up of the event. 

USGBC MA hosted the “Policy Podium: Panel Discussion on Energy with Legislators and Industry Pros” on March 14th, 2016. Members of various USGBC committees were in attendance, along with newcomers including architects, realtors, engineers, solar advocates and more. Our panel included Senator Benjamin B. Downing, Betsy Glynn of Massachusetts Energy Efficiency Advisory Council, Steve Cowell of E4TheFuture, and Peter Shattuck of Acadia Center.

Each speaker gave a brief introduction: Downing currently chairs the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, while Glynn works to promote energy efficiency programs through her work with utilities across the state. Cowell also serves as a strong advocate for energy efficiency programs for businesses and homeowners through his partnerships with utilities on a national level. Shattuck has concentrated his attention on reducing carbon levels in our environment through regulation such as cap and trade, and carbon pricing.

As all of our panelists are avid supporters of energy efficiency in the Commonwealth, Dana Anderson of the Residential Green Building Committee, began with some exciting news. First, MA is the leader in energy efficiency in the US, and has a high ranking with the abundance of clean tech jobs and increasing implementation of renewable energy.

Given these important milestones, which we can definitely celebrate, we cannot stop here and dwell in this moment of success. Anderson addressed the room with some crucial questions: Why have GHG emissions leveled off, instead of continuing to decrease as historic trends have shown? What can we do to change this, and are our current behaviors acting as barriers to achieving such change? What combination of measures is needed at the technology-policy-economy-market-systems levels to achieve more energy efficiency goals?

For starters, Glynn recommended taking a holistic approach when addressing any policy change. Downing continued to suggest specific policy change such as carbon pricing, which will prompt the adoption of renewable energy sources to follow suit. Shattuck agreed, but added that we need to be more directive with our policy implementation and ensure we are targeting issues with appropriate regulation. He continued to say that transportation and buildings are a great place to focus our efforts with energy efficiency.

When asked about the transportation sector, Glynn highlighted the fact that 8 states have now signed a zero-emission vehicle program which includes an effort to have 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025, and MA is one of them. While this is a great stride in the right direction, Downing followed up by also emphasizing the importance of public transportation. He said the place to start is by fixing the imperfections first. This will encourage people to use these systems, which will sequentially decrease cars on the road, which will lead to a reduction in GHG. To further that point, Cowell suggested that focusing on climate change as the main driver for change may not be the best option. Rather, framing the issue differently as Downing suggests, and focusing on practicality and economic feasibility for the general public, is the way to initiate interest.

When asked if people are thinking about climate change in the right way, Shattuck explained that while people may like the idea of increasing their own energy efficiency to better the environment, it may take some nudging. For example, a natural disaster close to home will allow someone to see the effects of climate change, and consequently encourages one to act upon it. Downing agrees there needs to be additional motivating factors, such as economic incentives, for people to take action. Energy Labeling, which provides grades of appliances based on how efficient they are, was introduced as a viable option. This will aid in the selection of appliances we choose to use in our daily lives, and show us the high value of those that are more energy efficient than others.

So, the question we have all been waiting for. How can USGBC help?

Cowell highly recommends we use the expertise of committee members, and share our skill sets with one another. On top of that, Downing strongly encourages all of us to call/write to our local representatives, echoing Glynn who stressed that public comment matters. Committees can continue their work on PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) financing, which incentivizes people to improve their building/home by implementing more energy efficient systems.

As Anderson concluded the questions for panelists, Downing closed by saying the real worry is not about coming in first by being the most energy efficient state, but rather that we won’t be able to act quickly enough to solve these problems as they contribute to climate change.

Thanks to Molly for contributing to our community, and thanks to everyone who attended! Our next Policy Podium is on Thursday, April 14th and will be about greening the real-estate MLS with Craig Foley and Carolyn Goldthwaite.

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