Massachusetts Legislature Considers the Future of Heat

SAFE testifies in support of heating commercial and residential buildings with geo-thermal microgrids (H.3298/S.2148)

On behalf of SAFE, co-chair Pat Gozemba delivered the following testimony, November 2, before the Massachusetts Joint Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee.

Good afternoon, Chair Barrett, Chair Roy, and members of the Joint Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee. I’m Pat Gozemba, co-chair of SAFE (Salem Alliance for the Environment). I thank you for allowing me to testify today on behalf of SAFE and residents of Salem in strong support of a truly visionary bill (H.3298/S.2148 The Future of Heat), which offers real solutions to the climate crisis here and now. Introduced by Sen. Cynthia Creem & Rep. Lori Ehrlich, the bill would facilitate moving away from heating homes and buildings with fossil fuels, replacing our gas system with GeoMicroGrids.

In the past five years, Salem has become increasingly distressed by the danger involved in our use of gas. State Senator Joan Lovely, State Representative Paul Tucker, and Mayor Kim Driscoll have worked with SAFE and the gas experts whom we have brought to our city to assess the dangers we live with in our streets, our homes, and commercial buildings. SAFE began exploring the problems with gas in 2016, when we were fortunate enough to have Bob Ackley of Gas Safety Inc, Prof. Nathan Phillips of Boston University, and Prof. Marcos Luna of Salem State University survey the gas leaks in our city and then plot them for our neighborhoods using GIS.

It is time to put environmental justice communities like Lawrence and Salem first and give them the opportunity to benefit from cutting-edge technologies such as GeoMicroGrids.

We are just coming off the Holy Month of October in Salem, but I encourage you to look at just one more bit of haunting—Salem style. Please Google Haunted by Gas Leaks in Salem. You’ll be directed to our city website where you can see for yourselves the big problem that Salem has with leaking ga and what some of our approaches are to dealing with them.

In Salem, 50 percent of residents rent their homes. We are an economically challenged population. As a gateway city and an environmental justice community, we are met with economic and environmental challenges at every turn. It is not surprising that the most leak-prone gas infrastructure in our city is in an environmental justice neighborhood, The Point. We would like to see National Grid bring HEET’s cutting-edge GeoMicrogrid technology to this neighborhood.

To spur this on, over the past three years, SAFE has organized presentations on GeoMicroGrids. Cambridge-based HEET, an amazingly innovative nonprofit concerned with the climate crisis, has been tremendously generous in sharing their expertise with Salem.

The largest property owner in The Point, the North Shore Community Development Coalition, is interested in further exploring GeoMicroGrids. Residents in the neighborhood are actively seeking solutions to the leaking gas that is killing their trees, leaking in their homes, and driving up asthma rates. People want safe solutions for heating their homes.

Point neighborhood residents are largely Dominican and their ties are deep with family and friends in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the site of a horrendous gas disaster in 2018. That explosion clarified for everyone that gas is not safe and should not be a part of our future. We hope that Lawrence becomes one of the first municipalities to heat homes with GeoMicroGrids, and we would like to see Salem follow not long behind. It is time to put environmental justice communities like Lawrence and Salem first and give them the opportunity to benefit from cutting-edge technologies such as GeoMicroGrids. Many affluent communities will be able to envision and implement a transition to fossil-free heating but in economically struggling communities we will need the legislature to incentivize utilities and landlords to bring us the solutions that we desperately need.

We look at the huge waste of ratepayer money that is currently fueling the profits of National Grid and Eversource in the Gas System Enhancement Program (GSEP). The yellow gas replacement pipes, signature emblems of GSEP, are familiar to us in Salem. And yet the numbers of gas leaks in Salem never go down. We had as many leaks in Salem in 2018 as we did in 2017. Leaks get fixed and just as many new ones appear.

We now have proof of the futility and costliness of this infrastructure replacement boondoggle in a groundbreaking new report, GSEP at the Six Year Mark by Dorie Seavey of the Gas Leaks Allies. SAFE encourages you to consider redirecting millions of dollars in GSEP funds to helping communities transition away from gas to carbon-free solutions like GeoMicroGrids.

Use GSEP funds to bring solutions like GeoMicroGrids to communities like Lawrence and Salem. We ask for a favorable recommendation from TUE for H.3298/S.2148 The Future of Heat. Let’s move into a future of clean and renewable energy and away from polluting and dangerous fossil fuels. Gas should be in the past. Salem is ready for the future of heat—GeoMicroGrids.

Thank you.