Reducing greenhouse gas emissions

Q: The Supreme Judicial Court ruled last year that Massachusetts was not doing enough to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to maintain a livable climate. What steps are necessary to get back on track?
A: In response, Gov. Baker’s Department of Environmental Protection issued new clean air regulations that would require utilities to purchase generation credits from zero-carbon sources – starting at 16% in 2018 and increasing to 80% by 2050.
The first big step along that path was taken last year under the Omnibus energy bill that requires utilities to purchase 35% of their power from hydro and wind sources.
Our grid is now going to be greening a lot faster than we had previously expected when these regulations take effect.
Q: What can we do here in Lexington?
A: 97% of Lexington’s greenhouse gas emissions come from burning fossil fuels to produce our electricity, heat our buildings, power our vehicles, and produce our food. 36% of those emissions come from producing our electricity, 30% from heating our buildings, 23% from transportation, and 10% is related to the food we eat.
We can start by switching our oil and natural gas heating systems for our homes, offices, and schools to the latest highly efficient and low-cost air source heat pumps. The latest heat pumps can provide more than 3 kWh of heat for every kWh of electricity used.
Q: Are we designing the new Hastings School to be capable of achieving zero emissions?
A: We are currently considering two designs – one design uses a natural gas boiler to provide heat and one uses heat pumps. If we choose to move forward with a natural gas boiler – we will be locking in fossil fuel emissions to heat Hastings School for the next 60 years. With heat pumps, we can reduce our emissions to zero by switching to renewable electricity. In addition, the initial cost of going with the heat pump design will be $600K less than the natural gas boiler and our energy costs will also be about 30% lower.
If you care about this decision – I encourage you to come to the Board of Selectmen meeting on February 27th where the Board will make their recommendation.

Natural gas flaring seen from space.

Q: What other benefits would we see with a heat pump design?
A: The heat pump design would protect our students and staff from breathing the air pollution created by burning fossil fuels on site. Heat pumps will directly improve the health and cognitive performance of our students and staff because they will be breathing cleaner air.  An MIT study found that 1,775 Massachusetts residents die each year from premature mortality due to the air pollution created by burning fossil fuels to heat our buildings.
Second, we should look at the health and global warming impacts of continuing our over dependence on natural gas. The CDC has determined that on the job fatality rates for oil and gas workers is 7 times higher than for typical workers. Researchers from University of Columbia and University of Pennsylvania have found that Pennsylvania residents who live near natural gas fracking sites are 27% more likely to suffer from severe heart disease, cancer and neurological disorders. Fracking sites produce 280 billion gallons of toxic wastewater each year. The Wall Street Journal found that 15 million people in the US now live within one mile of a fracking site.
Recent studies have determined that the leakage rate at natural gas drilling sites is between 4 and 9%. A leakage rate of 3% makes the global warming potential of natural gas worse than using coal to produce our electricity.
Then there is the out and out waste of natural gas flaring. Gas flares at natural gas fracking sites can be seen from space – like city lights. National Geographic reported that the gas lost to flaring could have powered all the homes in Chicago for a year.
Finally we need to consider the cost of delivering natural gas. Over the past 20 years, we’ve had 680 people die, 2,646 people injured, and $1.4 billion in property damage from natural gas pipeline explosions in the US.
Q: What kind of world would you want for your kids?
A: If we wouldn’t want our kids to experience these negative effects, why would we want anyone’s kids to suffer from our continued over dependence on natural gas.
Send your sustainability questions to We look forward to hearing from you.

Mark Sandeen is the chair
of the Sustainable Lexington Committee

Send your sustainability questions to We look forward to hearing from you.

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