October Infrastructure: Air Quality & MA Energy Efficiency Plan

At the Infrastructure Committee’s October meeting Dr. Jane Ward shared information from a talk she gave to the American College of Occupational Environmental Medicine.

Jane’s talk on air quality referenced the 1918 flu pandemic, when they ran out of room in hospitals and set up tent clinics in Boston. As the pandemic progressed, patients who received care in tented facilities, where they were able to be taken outside, had significantly higher survival rates. With fresh air and sunshine, mortality rate was reduced from 40% to 13%.

Today, UV light is used to augment HVAC systems, replicating the benefits of the outdoors to keep indoor air quality healthy.

Jane also noted that relative indoor humidity is a factor and should be in the 40-60% range to inactivate airborne viruses. It is also helpful to measure the indoor concentration of carbon dioxide as a measure of sufficient air turnover. This is particularly significant with our well-insulated homes, which can have less circulation of fresh air.

For central HVAC systems, Jane recommends a high quality filter with a MERV 14 rating, or higher if the system can handle it. These systems should be cleaned and maintained regularly, and provide at least four air changes per hour. Rooms that need to be super clean, like a surgical suite or a production facility for computer and electronics, have up to 20 air changes per hour.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) is the organization that guides the use of technology to clean indoor air and one of the best resources for specific guidelines.

Another resource Jane recommended is the Maine Indoor Air Quality Council.

If you are unable to increase your ventilation rate or vary your exchange, opening windows, running exhaust fans, and airing things like bed linens in the sunshine is helpful. There are also free-standing air purifiers available with high quality filters and a UV light.

Simple changes make a big difference. For example, make sure that toilets have lids. Flushing a toilet that doesn’t have a lid produces a plume of whatever has been in that toilet for the last twenty flushes. Jane says this was believed to be the cause of the first SARS pandemic in 2003.

In summary, she advises making the indoors more like the outdoors: Open windows and use a fan. As a good indication of proper ventilation, keep your carbon dioxide level below 1000 (preferably below 700).

“The better air quality you have,” she said, “the more productive you are.”.

Maggie Downey, Cape Light Compact’s administrator, gave the committee an overview of the proposed 2022-24 Energy Efficiency Plan.

The plan is guided by significant changes in state law. The Climate Act that was signed into law this year shifted the Cape Light Compact’s implementation and design of the Energy Efficiency Program. For the last 20 years, Cape Light Compact’s mission has been to reduce kilowatt hour consumption. Now utility administrators have been assigned a specific amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) they are required to reduce. That is a good thing—but an expensive thing.

In order to reach the Global Warming Solution Act’s goal by 2050, Massachusetts needs to electrify a million homes, and 300 to 400 million square feet of commercial building space.

The state set GHG emission reduction targets in July as part of the Green Communities Act. This focuses on workforce development, strategic electrification, and equity—reaching customers in environmental justice communities and others that may have barriers to participation.

Cape Light Compact’s priority in preparing the plan was to achieve GHG emissions and reduction goals with enhanced incentives for small businesses, micro-businesses and municipalities.

There is also a pilot program to take 250 low and moderate income customers off of oil and propane, moving them to electrification by installing solar paired with batteries.

Cape Light Compact is also adding a residential enhancement for multifamily communities. As we know, there is a housing issue on the Cape and Vineyard, and the goal is to deliver as many incentives as possible to multifamily new construction projects designated as either low income or moderate income housing. The systems Cape Light Compact installs in low and moderate income housing will come with a 1-3 year operation and maintenance contract.

The Cape & Vineyard Electrification objective is to convert 250,000 deed-restricted single family homes currently on oil, propane, and electric resistance heat to cold climate heat pumps. Cape Light Compact will install PV systems and battery storage for demand response and resilience.
This is all at no cost to the low income customers, or a $5,000 copay for moderate income customers. All of this requires approval by the Department of Public Utilities.

Earlier this month, the Cape Light Compact board voted to not provide incentives for any fossil fuel heating systems for market rate customers. The board felt the Cape is impacted more by climate change than the rest of Massachusetts and they want to lead by example.

If you are moving off oil and propane in 2022, the energy efficiency plan will fund $10,000 of it. The quickest way to get to get to our GHG goal statewide is to eliminate our delivered fuel heating systems (oil and propane).

The plan is expensive—almost $55 million over the three years of an investment in enhancements. The cost of this is reflected in our utility bills. They eliminated the behavior program which compares customers’ use to their neighbors, and reduced the number of heat pumps by 20%, while still exceeding greenhouse gas reduction goals by 128%.

The impact on residential utility bills is significant, increasing from $14.99 to $23.44 per month. Small business customers would see their bills increase from $144 to as high as $297. Energy efficiency programs addressing climate change are driving up our bills, coupled with anticipated high costs for natural gas, propane and oil. All this is driven by very rich incentives and the mandate to achieve GHG reduction goals embedded in the state law.

The MA Statewide Energy Efficiency Plan is available on the Cape Light Compact website.



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