new-yorkers-deserve-a-choice-of-gas-heat-or-electrification

New Yorkers Deserve a Choice of Gas Heat or Electrification

The electrify-everything movement is coming for your gas heat, stove, and clothes dryer.  

The New York legislature is currently considering a ban on gas hookups in new construction after 2023, which would force all new homes built after that to be all-electric. Because of higher costs of electric appliances, this could drive up housing costs for prospective homeowners. 

In addition, the state’s Climate Action Council, tasked with implementing the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), proposes to ban the sale of gas furnaces and hot water heaters after 2030 and gas stoves and clothes dryers after 2035.  

Given the 15-20 year lifetime of these appliances, this means even existing homes would have to go all-electric by around 2050, the CLCPA’s target date for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Because of the higher operating costs of electric appliances, this will impose large costs on those who own older homes. 

But going all-electric can cost tens of thousands of dollars, an amount far beyond the means of many New Yorkers. Sometimes it doesn’t pay off because electric appliances can have higher operating costs. When it does pay off through lower electric bills – achieved through extensive housing shell retrofitting and use of heat pumps – cost-recovery can take many decades, even beyond the life of the owner. 

Over 4 million New York households use natural gas heat. To fully electrify them all by 2050 would require electrifying nearly 150,000 homes per year, a massive and very expensive challenge.   

And there is no clear path toward funding it. The Climate Action Council has refused to consider how the electrification transition will be paid for. And the recent, record-breaking $220 billion state budget makes only a token attempt to pay down the huge cost of CLCPA compliance.

Eventually someone’s going to have to face up to the tough decisions about how New York’s supposed all-electric transition will be funded. Hopefully it’s not on the backs of struggling homeowners who suddenly find their furnaces going out in mid-winter. 

CLCPA supporters seem to imagine everyone will simply switch to high-efficiency heat pumps. But without extensive subsidies the upfront cost of them will be too much for many homeowners to bear. That will force many to buy resistance electric heaters, which are cheaper to buy but more expensive to operate. This will increase the number of New Yorkers struggling with energy poverty. 

And, perversely, the state only offers rebates on geothermal heat pumps, the most expensive type. It’s a pure giveaway to the well-off that leaves poorer homeowners out in the cold. 

A better approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is to use hybrid heating systems. These use cost-effective air-source heat pumps for the milder temperatures of fall and spring, with gas heat for the colder depths of winter. Many homeowners would still need assistance in buying the heat pumps, but state subsidies would stretch further, and gas utilities will also help their customers out. 

But this requires the continued use of gas, which climate activists oppose. Fortunately, there may be a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while keeping gas heat and taking advantage of the existing gas pipeline infrastructure. This approach would replace fossil natural gas with renewable natural gas blended with hydrogen. National Grid, for example, has proposed such a plan. 

Renewable natural gas (RNG) captures methane from rotting vegetable matter, landfills, and animal and human waste. Traditionally it just wafted into the atmosphere, where it has more global warming potential than carbon dioxide. Turned into RNG it replaces fossil-sourced natural gas. 

Green hydrogen can be produced by using greenhouse gas-free renewables to turn water into hydrogen. When burned it produces no greenhouse gases. 

The hydrogen and RNG can be blended and piped through the existing natural gas infrastructure to provide gas for heating and appliances, with no disruption to customers. 

While nobody yet knows for sure about the economic and technological feasibility of this at utility scale, it’s the way the market is leaning, based on utilities’ promotion of it.  

We’re likely to be using a hydrogen-RNG blend for electricity production anyway. Even the Climate Action Council has recognized that we can’t get to 100 percent renewable electricity generation by 2040. So why not use this gas for heating and appliances as well as electricity? 

Perhaps most importantly, allowing the continuation of clean gas for heating and appliances is a plan that empowers individual customers to choose their own heating solutions. 

We’ve built a great country on the idea of free markets and letting people run their own lives free from excessive government interference. And the market has demonstrated that people are increasingly interested in considering the environmental effects of their own choices.

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