The burning of fossil fuels for heat accounts for a significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions and burdens many families and businesses with high energy costs. Meeting climate and equity goals requires that we find effective and affordable pathways to rapidly revamp the thermal sector.

This policy brief — prepared as an appendix to the Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2025 and 2030 — describes the concept of a new requirement on heating energy providers, which we call a clean heat standard. The paper explores the major design choices that would be necessary to implement this concept.

At the highest level, a clean heat standard is a credit-based performance standard that would be applied to suppliers of heating energy. In the Massachusetts context, that includes gas utilities and providers of heating oil and propane, and possibly electricity suppliers. These parties would be obligated to serve their customers with gradually increasing percentages of low- or zero-emissions heat, earning tradeable clean heat credits while sales of fossil fuels are phased down.

Just as a renewable portfolio standard requires electricity providers to replace coal- and gas-fired generation with wind, solar and other clean electricity generation, the clean heat standard would replace fuel oil, propane and fossil gas heat with weatherization, energy efficiency improvements, heat pumps, clean district energy and other verified low-carbon options.