It’s time to transition away from fossil fuels
Passage of the New York Home Energy Affordable Transition Act (NY HEAT) will allow the States’s Public Service Commission (PSC) to steer utilities to carefully transition New York communities toward affordable zero- emissions heating and cooling. Buildings are the source of some 35% of the greenhouse gas emissions in New York which are harmful to the climate and the health of the community.
The NY HEAT Act would permit changes regulations which currently favor the fossil-fuel industry in a lopsided manner. For instance, the “obligation to serve” provision in New York law makes it mandatory to install new gas pipelines into any building where the owner requests gas. Recently Niagara Mohawk identified five areas where non-gas alternatives could safely and reliably provide heating and power. In each instance Niagara Mohawk reported that at least one customer requested gas hookups which prevented the installation of alternative heating and cooling systems. The current “obligation to serve” regulation will hinder and certainly increase the cost of new all-electric buildings scheduled to commence in New York in 2026. The NY HEAT Act would allow the PSC to address this restriction.
Another current PSC regulation favoring the gas industry forces all ratepayers to continuously financially subsidize new gas hookups to buildings. Any building owner can have a 100-foot gas hookup to a pipeline installed without cost. However, all ratepayers are then forced to subsidize these new installations on their monthly bills. The inflationary increase in gas bills seen statewide is being stoked by the current efforts of the gas industry to massively expand their network of pipelines and connections. Every year ratepayers subsidized these new gas hookups to the tune of $200 million in New York state. Over the past five years, these hookups alone have increased gas bills for customers by $1 billion.
Transitioning to all electric buildings can save costs and provide reliable heating. A study by the New Buildings Institute and the Natural Resource Defense Council shows it is less expensive to install electric heating, air conditioning, hot water tanks, stoves, electric appliances and hookups into a new build moderately sized two-story home with basement than to construct a non-electric home. These all-electric homes then reduce energy consumption by a third.
Advances in electric heating, cooling and appliances are amazing. Electric heat pumps capture existing heat from the ground or from the air for heating purposes. Modern cold weather air-to-air heat pumps provide comfortable heat to 13 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, and are operational in homes in Maine, Minnesota and the Adirondacks. Homeowners can obtain state and federal rebates and tax credits for the units. The state of Maine has already issued some 116,000 rebates for heat pumps in a state with fewer than 600,000 occupied housing units.
Please contact your State Senator and Assembly member to support NY HEAT this Legislative Session which ends mid-June.
Robert M. Ciesielski is the Sierra Club Energy Committee Chair and a Buffalo resident.