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A dozen residents spoke about the merits of adopting a more stringent town energy code at a Select Board public hearing on Tuesday. 

The Select Board is considering recommending Town Meeting adopt the Municipal Opt-in Specialized Stretch Energy Code at its upcoming meeting later this month.

This is part of a larger town initiative related to the state’s Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2050, which seeks to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts by 2050. The town’s Climate Action Plan Committee, which will guide compliance efforts related to the state plan, has endorsed the stricter energy codes..

In addition to residents who spoke in favor of switching to the new code, the board heard from a handful of local contractors and a real estate agent who oppose the change.

The new code would supplement the current “stretch code,” a standard the town adopted for its building code in 2019 and is used by the vast majority of Massachusetts cities and towns. 

The state provided a supplement to the stretch code when it created the opt-in code in 2021. The new code has subsequently been adopted by 22 communities, but has been in effect in only four since July of this year.

Opponents of the Select Board’s plan have argued that Needham should adopt a wait-and-see approach to the new code, gathering information on its impacts in the early adopter communities.

Garrett Federow of Federow Development cautioned the town about being a guinea pig by adopting the code prematurely. He and others also expressed concerns that Eversource may not be able to provide the infrastructure required for the increased electrification.

Supporters argue that the new code represents an incremental change that applies only to new construction, and it would be an unnecessary and unwise choice to delay actions that confront the climate crisis.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Select Board chair Marianne Cooley noted that in fall 2021, Town Meeting voted overwhelmingly to approve a resolution declaring a “climate and ecological emergency.” That resolution called on the town to “pursue an equitable and just transition to a zero-greenhouse gas future.”

The Select Board plans to vote on whether to go forward with the warrant item at its next meeting on Oct. 24. The Finance Committee voted last week to oppose the item should it make its way onto the Town Meeting warrant.

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