Buildings are the number one emitters of carbon in New York state. Those emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels like oil and gas for heating and cooling.
Convincing New Yorkers to support a ban on natural gas connections to newly constructed homes and buildings was going to be a heavy lift even before Russia invaded Ukraine. With the subsequent increase in gas prices and utility costs on the rise, it may seem even more daunting.
But Lisa Dix, the New York director of the Building Decarbonization Coalition, said the state needs to act now.
“We can’t afford not to act,” Dix told Capital Tonight. “We need to act now to make our energy bills more affordable over time.”
She points to the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) as the best way to break the cycle of high energy costs and government subsidies. The CLCPA is New York’s 2019 law that sets a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030.
While oil and gas companies are funding multi-million dollar campaigns on Facebook and elsewhere arguing that fossil fuel companies create jobs and cost less, climate activists in New York like Dix are countering that renewables can save consumers from fossil fuel price volatility.
Over 45% of New York’s electricity is generated by fossil fuels, which is why, activists argue, utility bills continue to be subject to price swings. This is also true for homeowners that heat their homes with gas or oil.
“We have about 7 million households and 300,000 commercial and industrial buildings that we need to decarbonize,” Dix said.
There are several proposals on the table.
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s budget proposes a ban on gas hook-ups in new construction. The governor has set a target of 2 million all-electric and electric-ready homes by 2030.
State Sen. Brian Kavanagh and Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher sponsor similar legislation called the “All-Electric Buildings Act” (S6843/A8431A) that would also to ban fossil fuels in new building construction statewide.
A third proposal from a trio of lawmakers, Sens. Liz Krueger and Rachel May and Assemblymember Pat Fahy, called the “Gas Transition & Affordable Energy Act," would remove requirements and subsidies that help to expand the gas system in New York. It would also “require the Public Service Commission to adopt rules and develop a statewide gas service transition plan to ensure equity, reliability, and affordability in the process of decommissioning the gas system in line with CLCPA mandates."
All three proposals aim to get the state off gas.
“Stop digging the hole and expanding fossil fuels,” Dix explained. “And (start) scaling clean heating and cooling solutions.”
Dix counters by saying there are plenty for rebates for people who look for them, though she said she couldn’t provide an average price.
“I can’t say that a heat pump out-of-pocket would cost this amount of money because it all depends on what kind of utility incentives you’re able to get right now, which are pretty substantial,” she said. “All the utilities in the state of New York have these incentives to make the cost reasonable.”
Both the Senate and the Assembly have proposed a $5,000 tax rebate per consumer for a geothermal system in their one-house budgets.
“The Climate Action Council (CAC) has done a big assessment on the costs and benefits [of heat pumps] and the benefits outweigh the costs in terms of all the energy, security [and] the high volatility of fossil fuels,” Dix said.