Skip to main content
Climate ChangeGovernment Action

Boston’s plan to ban fossil fuels in new buildings goes up in smoke

By: Sabrina Shankman, Globe Staff

Mayor Wu pulls back from state’s pilot program to ban fossil fuels in new construction; blames the state for her decision.

More than three years after introducing her Green New Deal plan for Boston as a mayoral candidate, Mayor Michelle Wu said in an interview last week that the city will not be participating in a state program that will allow 10 communities to ban developers from including fossil fuels in new buildings. The pilot program is the only way for Massachusetts communities to take this step without violating state regulations.

Wu’s decision not to apply for the program came as a surprise to environmental advocates and legislators who have been trying to move the state away from heating and cooling new structures with fossil fuels. Constructing buildings that are only powered by electricity is considered among the low-hanging fruit of plans to decarbonize. Buildings account for roughly 70 percent of Boston’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The decision marks an abrupt departure from the mayor’s recent statements, delivered in press conferences and radio interviews, that the city intended to participate in the program and lead by example.

Wu said, “it breaks my heart,” but that the city was not applying for the state program because it appears it was not actually intended for a city as complex as Boston, with its large population and already-strained electric grid. She said she had gotten “clear indications that Boston would not be chosen for the one available spot.”

Maria Hardiman, a spokesperson for the state Department of Energy Resources, said the challenge for Boston is that it’s “electrically similar” — meaning the age of the infrastructure and demands on the system are comparable — to several other cities or towns that have already been selected for the program, including Cambridge, Brookline, Newton, and Arlington. Those similarities “would have presented a challenge in the selection process” because the pilot program is aimed at getting data from a diverse group of communities.