Sunday, July 21, 2013

COLUMN: Net-zero energy — A pretty good idea

By Mark Jaquith ,
Wicked Local Cambridge ,
On June 19, a group of Cambridge residents submitted a petition to the City Council to amend the zoning ordinance to ensure that new large buildings and some major rehabs meet so-called “net zero” energy use criteria. This would mean that qualifying developments would use a combination of conservation, onsite sustainable generation and purchase of “green” energy or renewable energy tax credits. Compliance reports are also required.
On July 11 the Cambridge Chronicle published a “Right View” column by Peter Wilson in opposition of the petition. I am compelled to offer what I think of a more “Correct View.”
Writing on another 90-plus degree day makes me think that this net-zero energy thing might be a pretty good idea. Of course we've always had heat waves, but every week or so you can read another article reporting the hottest seasonal temperatures ever recorded somewhere. Mr. Wilson seems to think that everything is fine and that being "paternal," i.e. doing something that may actually have the desired effect is the real evil.
That is a pretty silly argument. We do these things all the time and like the results just fine. Seatbelts, fire codes, traffic regulations, and laws against harming our fellows. As a rational society we revise these collective benefits from time to time as new information becomes available.
Over the past couple of decades we have received more than enough new information on the human causes of global warming. In Cambridge we have taken some modest incremental steps to address the problem, but the results have been modest at best. Around the year 2000, Our Fair City set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent over 10 years. The result 10 years later was a 17 percent rise. That's a miss by 37 or 46 percent, depending on how you count it. Either way a dismal result.
Somebody has to do something sometime, right? Mr. Wilson seems to be arguing otherwise, but not very convincingly. Citing Wikipedia (which would earn my kid a fail at CRLS), he tells us that it isn't very efficient to use geothermal wells for a "detached residence." Single-family homes are not covered by this proposal, as he tells us earlier. The only buildings affected by the Connolly Petition are those over 50,000 square feet that would already require a special permit from the Planning Board. By using this example, Mr. Wilson displays either an attempt to deceive or a lack of understanding of the topic. Either way, he does his readers a disservice.