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Environmental group targets "Net Zero" for Cambridge buildings

Posted by Brock Parker  August 8, 2013 03:43 PM

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Environmental activists in Cambridge will hold a public meeting next week about a proposal seeking to amend local zoning laws and cut back on greenhouse gas emissions caused by large buildings.

Members of Green Cambridge and the Cambridge Committee for Net Zero Buildings have filed a "net zero" zoning amendment with the city that, if approved, would require large-scale building projects create no net greenhouse gas emissions.

The zoning proposal, known as the “Connolly Petition” goes before Cambridge’s Planning Board on Aug. 20, and seeks to address climate change by steering new buildings away from using fossil fuels and toward renewable sources of energy.

Green Cambridge will hold a meeting about the measure next Wednesday, Aug. 14, at 7 p.m. in Spaulding Hospital on Cambridge Street, and is inviting developers and the public to attend.

While developers may have concerns about the cost of building a net zero structure, Mike Connolly, the namesake of the petition who is working with Green Cambridge and the committee on the proposal.said he believes it is economically viable.

“We feel like Cambridge is in a wonderful position to innovate and be a leader in this area,” said Connolly.

The zoning amendment would apply to large new construction or major renovations to large buildings of 25,000 square feet or larger, Connolly said.

The petition would encourage energy efficient buildings and the on-site generation of energy, such as solar power and geothermal wells. All energy consumed by the building beyond the renewable energy generated on site must be from approved renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind-generated power, or offset by verifiable renewable energy credits, according to the petition.

“The real key is going beyond efficiency and on-site generation and requiring the use of renewable energy over the grid,” Connolly said.

The new Martin Luther King Jr. School and Putnam Avenue Upper School being built by the city is already being designed to be a “net zero” facility.

Quinton Zondervan, who lives in Kendall Square and is the president of Green Cambridge, said a central motivation with the zoning proposal is to start a conversation about building emissions.

“We’re not trying to push something through that makes people feel bad, or feel like we pulled a fast one on them,” Zondervan said. “We absolutely want everyone in the conversation.”

Cambridge adopted a “Stretch Energy Code” in 2009 requiring higher standards for energy efficiency in building projects, but Zondervan said even if every building is more energy efficient they can still add to the greenhouse emissions in the city.

“Energy efficiency is important, but it is not enough,” said Zondervan, who drafted the zoning petition with Cambridge resident John Pitkin.

Connolly said Cambridge can take action and address climate change now and does not have to wait for Washington DC to develop policies for more sustainable buildings.

The zoning proposal filed with the city can be found on the Cambridge Community Development Department website.

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