Propane and Gas Heating in Crosshairs of Climate Council’s Scoping Plan

Propane and gas furnaces may soon disappear from New Yorkers’ homes, even if they want to keep them.

On December 19, the New York State Climate Action Council (Council) approved a 24-chapter, 445-page Scoping Plan to implement the state’s so-called “nation leading” Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA).

If the Council gets its way, beginning in 2030 homeowners will no longer be able to replace their propane, gas or oil-fired furnaces. Instead, they’ll be expected to buy heat pumps, preferably the more expensive ground-source variety.

Of course, if you have an old and drafty house, you’ll also need to update the shell of the house with better windows, more insulation, and crack sealing if your heat pump is to keep you comfortable. All in, your costs will be in the tens of thousands of dollars. That’s compared to around $2,000 or less for a replacement propane or gas furnace.

Heat pumps do have advantages, including cooling your home in summer, and they’re great for those who want them. It’s true that some people will get more efficient heating that will pay back that cost over time. The question is how much time — and the higher the cost, the longer the time.

Council member Robert Howarth – a chemist, not an economist – claims the payback can be just a few years. That may be true if all a person needs is an air-source heat pump without much work on the shell of the house, but for more expensive systems the payback could take decades – potentially longer than the homeowner will be alive.

And for some homeowners using low-cost fuels, the Scoping Plan admits that “bill savings do not currently offer a clear economic return on investment for adopting a whole-home heat pump.” In other words, some people will never recoup their forced investment.

Further, in the coldest parts of the state, the Council reluctantly confesses that homeowners may need “supplemental heat” – wood, propane, gas, or oil – during the coldest days of winter. Of course, other than wood, it’s disallowing those heat sources – and they’d prefer it if you didn’t use wood, either.

So that leaves electric resistance heating as a backup. In other words, cold-climate homeowners are going to have to buy two heating systems to keep themselves warm. How’s that for saving money?

How are homeowners going to afford this? The Council suggests “incentives” be offered by the state, such as the current $5,000 for ground-source heat pumps (and nothing for air-source pumps). But that small amount is no help to low- and middle-income homeowners, who may still be left on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars of upfront costs. Even tacking on the federal aid made available for such purchases in the so-called Inflation Reduction Act, heat pumps will remain out of reach for homeowners with modest incomes.

Yet, the Scoping Plan envisions homeowners rapidly rushing to install heat pumps. It needs to indulge in this fantasy because to meet the CLCPA’s greenhouse gas reduction goal, emissions from heating buildings must fall precipitously. Thus, the Plan pretends that from 2030 onward a quarter of a million homes annually will switch to heat pumps — more than a tenfold increase from at present.

What is instead likely to happen is that before 2030 homeowners will rush to replace aging gas and propane furnaces, planning to hang onto them as long as possible.

It’s all too common for policymakers to get so enamored with the ideals they want to achieve that they forget to think about how real live humans really act.

But since the likely incentives probably won’t work, the Council has a harsher plan as its backup – a carbon tax, whose costs will be passed onto propane and gas consumers. While the Plan pretends to care about energy costs for low- and moderate-income households, regarding the effect of a carbon tax, it bluntly says, “Such policy actions are expected to increase consumer energy prices for fossil fuels.”

So homeowners will pay through the nose for home renovations and heat pumps, or they will pay through the nose for carbon taxes. Ultimately, the Council doesn’t care which, because under the CLCPA legislation it’s charged with implementing, individual freedom has no weight – only the green energy vision of the environmental technocrats matters.

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