Author Archive

New York’s risky all-or-nothing energy policy

October 18, 2022

Michelle Hook | October 17, 2022

Last month, Gov. Hochul warned New Yorkers that home heating and energy prices are expected to skyrocket this winter, while also asking that utility companies take steps to prepare for a lack of available natural gas. The announcement tacitly acknowledges that this winter, New York will need to burn higher-emitting fossil fuels — like oil — to keep people warm and run the electrical grid. It was a subtle but dire warning, and unfortunately, the crisis it foretells was eminently preventable.

Due to the aggressive advocacy of a small group of environmentalists, Albany has failed to enact energy policies that meet the dual goals of moving New York toward the state’s ambitious climate goals while protecting consumers from blackouts and rising energy costs. While the war in Ukraine has certainly exacerbated the problem, this moment has been years in the making — with many warning signs.

On the same day that Hochul issued her warning, New York’s energy grid operator outlined what is necessary to meet the emissions reduction targets in the state’s climate law. It’s estimated New York will need to add 20,000 megawatts of power to the grid in the next seven years. That’s roughly 10 new power generators with the output of the just-closed Indian Point nuclear plant.

To make things even worse, the report says that if we don’t meet the target, New York will need to rely on high-emitting resources — like coal power imported from neighboring states — because we don’t generate enough power here.

New York isn’t going to make it. Even if New York meets its most ambitious offshore wind targets, there will still be a significant power gap. It’s nearly impossible to fill this gap with the cleanest alternatives, because New York has enacted a de facto ban on any new, non-renewable power generation.

This same scenario is already playing out in California, and it’s a disaster. The state spent years pushing to quickly shutter their fossil-fuel facilities, and by 2020, California found itself importing the same fossil-fuel power from out of state. When other states needed the power for themselves and recalled it, California — which had relied too heavily on renewables alone while shuttering and denying traditional power resources — was left sweltering in the dark. Earlier this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom called for the creation of a $5 billion fund to establish a network of “reliability reserve” (aka: fossil fuel-powered) generators to prevent the crisis from happening again.

Other states are being more pragmatic, making strides in emissions reductions by using an all-of-the-above approach. Pittsburgh International Airport just installed the first-ever microgrid that operates on both solar power and natural gas. This new project achieved $1 million in energy savings in its first year and cut carbon dioxide emissions by about 8.2 million pounds. In mid-September, Pittsburgh hosted a clean energy forum touting the project’s efficiency and reduced emissions. At the same time, Climate Week was underway in New York City, where speakers and environmentalists treated natural gas as an energy pariah and discussed ways to eradicate its use.

This isn’t just shortsighted political expediency prioritized over sound energy policy; it’s hurting the environment. This winter, after years of denied permits and blocked natural gas infrastructure, New York will be relying much more heavily on oil to power and heat our homes — not just increasing carbon dioxide but also sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, which contribute heavily to asthma and respiratory illness.

As complex as energy policy can be, the solution for New York is simple. About 60% of New York’s power, and 70% of home heating, comes from natural gas. While natural gas is constrained in parts of the world, the United States sits on vast reserves. But even as the U.S. responds to global gas needs, New York lacks the infrastructure to transport it, and the power plants that use it are old and inefficient. These are solvable problems: In addition to renewable energy development, we should consider options to expand pipeline capacity, add transmission and update power plants with modern technology that also reduces emissions.

In a September column about Ukraine and energy policy, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman pointed to the irresponsibility of “moral-preening progressives who want an overnight immaculate green revolution” who need to “stop living in a green fantasy world that says we can go from dirty fossil fuels to clean renewable energy by just flipping a switch.”

There is a way to balance our energy needs with climate progress. Politicians need to focus on sound policies that protect New Yorkers and have the courage to do what’s right. Maybe this winter — when many New Yorkers may need to choose between heating their homes and eating — Albany will finally get a wakeup call.

Hook is the executive director for New Yorkers for Affordable Energy, a statewide coalition of business, community and labor leaders.

New Yorkers at risk of freezing thanks to City Council bid to kill off vital National Grid upgrade

September 28, 2022

Bryan Grimaldi | September 20, 2022

This week the New York Public Service Commission is holding public hearings on National Grid’s proposal to add two state-of-the-art, high-efficiency vaporizers to the Greenpoint Energy Center. This will allow us to meet existing customer demand for heat on the coldest days of the year while reducing the facility’s greenhouse-gas emissions.

Some progressive City Council members, however, are playing politics with the project, even introducing a resolution urging the commission to deny the permit. If their efforts succeed, the most at-risk New Yorkers and the city’s small-business owners will pay the price.

National Grid is dedicated to meeting the threat of climate change. In line with the benchmarks set out in the Paris agreement and the Science Based Targets initiative, as well as New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, we have committed to achieving net zero by 2050, and in April we released our Fossil Free Vision to fully eliminate fossil fuels from our US gas and electric systems.

But the clean-energy transition can’t happen overnight. While we move toward a fossil-free future, we must continue providing safe, reliable and affordable service to the New Yorkers who rely on us to heat their homes, cook their meals and power their businesses.

Vaporizers are critical to ensuring heat on the coldest days of the year. During the summer and other low-demand periods, National Grid liquifies and stores natural gas. Then, when temperatures drop, we use vaporizers to warm up this stored gas so it can be distributed to customers throughout the city. This does not happen often — as few as two or three days each year — but when it does, it’s essential to keeping New Yorkers warm. There is no Plan B.

Everyone deserves reliable heat during winter’s coldest days, but it’s especially important for the most vulnerable New Yorkers. Older people, those with chronic health conditions and families suffer the most from service interruptions. The proposed vaporizers are an important backup resource to ensure all our customers stay safe and warm year-round.

Besides ensuring affordable heat, the new vaporizers operate more efficiently than existing equipment, meaning they can provide the same vital service with fewer greenhouse-gas emissions. Of course, the ultimate goal remains to eliminate fossil gas from our heating systems, but this is an important step in the right direction.

Contrary to false claims this project will extend New York’s reliance on fossil fuels and create health and environmental risks for surrounding communities, independent assessments have concluded there are no other viable, short-term solutions to meet peak demand in coming winters — and the emissions will be lower than those today.

Indeed, it’s these publicity-grabbing efforts to stop approval of this vital infrastructure that put our customers — council’s constituents — at risk. Until renewable sources of energy scale to replace energy delivered by today’s systems, projects like this are not only necessary but critical to New Yorkers’ safety.

LNG vaporizers are like seatbelts. Most of the time, they’re just a precaution. But when there’s an emergency, they’re vitally important. Right now, New York is at greater risk of an emergency if we do not upgrade the Greenpoint Energy Center to meet rising demand for heat.

Fortunately, there’s a solution that will allow us to meet peak demand, even on the coldest days, while reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and advancing our ultimate goal of fossil-free heat. Elected officials opposing this project seek to score political points at the expense of their constituents — and environmental advocates are trying to set energy policy 140 characters at a time.

ne would hope our elected leaders would support reasonable energy policy based on facts and what’s practical for customers, not the idealism of the few who aren’t responsible for delivering safe, reliable and affordable energy to anyone.

Bryan Grimaldi is National Grid’s vice president of corporate affairs in New York.

Op-ed: A diversified, hybrid approach is the best way to meet emissions goals

August 15, 2022

Philip DeCicco | July 06, 2022

Last week a representative of the Sane Energy Project and No North Brooklyn Pipeline penned an opinion piece for Crain’s that leveled numerous bad-faith attacks against National Grid’s plan for an equitable clean energy transition in New York. Without evidence, the piece claimed National Grid stands in the way of New York’s climate change mitigation goals.

The opposite is true.

The fact is National Grid’s vision would exceed the decarbonization benchmarks set out in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. Equally important, it keeps energy prices affordable and maintains reliable service.

National Grid’s vision for a fossil-free future is built on three pillars: increasing energy efficiency; supporting widespread adoption of non-gas energy sources, including targeted electrification powered by renewable sources, such as wind and solar; and replacing fossil fuels with clean alternatives, such as renewable natural gas and green hydrogen.

This hybrid approach is the most realistic, efficient and cost-effective way to meet our emissions goals. Millions of households rely on natural gas for heating, hot water, cooking and drying laundry. Thousands of businesses also rely on natural gas. Hospitals rely on the gas network as an emergency backup source of power.

Many of these homes and businesses cannot be electrified and, for those that can, the costs of retrofitting existing buildings and replacing appliances and machinery that rely on gas power are significant. In addition, the investments in generation and transmission infrastructure needed to electrify these homes and businesses far outweigh the costs of maintaining, improving and decarbonizing our existing gas network.

The costs of electric

For these reasons, the potential economic impacts of pursuing an electrification-only approach are daunting. The costs of retrofitting homes and apartments will likely increase already-high housing prices, with a disproportionate impact on historically disadvantaged communities. At the same time, rising electricity rates and expensive equipment conversions will increase the already-high cost of doing business in New York, potentially driving companies to relocate out of state.

A diversified approach

Even if we wanted to, we cannot electrify every building in New York with only renewable energy. The New York Independent System Operator 2022 Power Trends Report emphasizes that wind and solar cannot provide all the energy New Yorkers require and that the gap between the amount of energy New York needs and the amount renewable sources can supply will widen as we rely more on electricity.

The city’s Pathways to Carbon-Neutral NYC study, commissioned by the mayor’s Office of Sustainability, found that a high-electrification approach to meeting the goals of the climate leadersip-community protection act is not only more expensive than a diversified approach that incorporates fossil-free fuels, but it is also less effective, achieving a lower net reduction in emissions.

National Grid’s vision avoids these problems by incorporating fossil-free fuels as a complement to renewable electricity. Renewable natural gas is produced through a process that captures methane from landfills, farms, wastewater treatment plants and other sources and repurposes it as fossil-free fuel.

Because methane is one of the most potent and plentiful greenhouse gasses, removing it from the atmosphere is vital. Green hydrogen is another important fossil-free fuel produced by separating hydrogen out of the water molecule, leaving only water vapor behind.

Investing in fossil-free fuels as part of a diversified clean energy portfolio, instead of relying on a single solution, will allow us to meet the critical climate change mitigation goals set out in the climate leadership-community protection act without imposing unsustainable costs on New Yorkers and businesses.

Philip DeCicco is vice president and deputy general counsel of National Grid.

Another Voice: Aggressive climate measures in New York won’t make a dent

August 15, 2022

Michelle Hook | Jun 17, 2022

How much does it cost and what are we paying for? It’s the minimum level of transparency we expect our government to provide. But when it comes to New York’s climate law – the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, or CLCPA – Albany must do better.

Passed in 2019, the CLCPA calls for an aggressive reduction of carbon emissions, with a goal of reducing New York’s greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030 and 85% by 2050, from 1990 levels. 

The CLCPA does not mandate eliminating natural gas or banning fossil fuels. But that has become the focus of lawmakers, who insist it’s necessary to achieve the law’s goals. The problem is that a premature transition away from this heavily relied upon fuel source – nearly two-thirds of New Yorkers currently use natural gas – can cause reliability and cost issues. 

While there has been no discussion among elected officials about how New York intends to have all of this paid for, some state officials have voiced concerns. Public Service Commissioner John Howard said the cost to New Yorkers would be hundreds of billions of dollars, and that “the legislature, either through its silence or total lack of actions, has given this commission nearly the exclusive responsibility to reach into New Yorkers’ pockets to pay for the CLCPA mandates.”

State officials reacted first by dismissing Howard’s statement as both “incorrect and irresponsible” while also effectively confirming his estimate, saying inaction would be “more than $100 billion higher than the cost of investing in a clean energy future.”

This suggestion – that aggressive climate measures in New York will have a global impact that reduces severe weather damage by billions of dollars – has very questionable credibility.

If the plan Albany is pushing would actually stop the worst impacts of global climate change, New Yorkers might be willing to pay the price. But the CLCPA won’t make a dent. New York produces less than one half of 1% of all carbon emissions in the world. Even if we could snap our fingers and make it all disappear tomorrow, increasing emissions coming from the developing world – including China and India – would negate New York’s efforts in a matter of months.

Asked during a recent Assembly hearing about cost to New Yorkers versus results on global climate emissions, CLCPA member Robert Howarth responded that the international community is very excited about New York’s climate efforts. In other words, all of this cost and all of this work will – at best – have set a good precedent, but have no measurable impact.

The state is pushing forward with a plan that would cost billions of dollars while making virtually no impact on climate change. New Yorkers already struggling to pay their energy bills will be the ones feeling the pain. The very least we can ask of Albany is that they be honest with us while they do it.

Michelle Hook is the Executive Director for New Yorkers for Affordable Energy.

Editorial: New York journeying into darkness as statewide energy issues loom

May 5, 2022

Post Editorial Board | May 4, 2022

The state Department of Environmental Conservation needs to make the right call ona crucial liquefied-natural-gas project, or New Yorkers will be out in the cold. 

Literally. 

The DEC has until Friday to issue permits for two new LNG vaporizers at a National Grid facility in Brooklyn, to back up the plant’s main generating capacity during winter demand surges(and make its overall operation cleaner and more efficient).

If the DEC bows to green agitators, the plant will be unable to meet demand for the coldest days of upcoming winters. That means real suffering, and even deaths.(The catastrophic blackouts caused by a freak Texas blizzard in February 2021 killed as many as 750.) 

In other words, it’ll mark yet one more step on New York’s journey into darkness. 

That journey began with 2019’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, a piece of green insanity that will — if its roadmap is followed — lock in permanent energy pain across the Empire State while costing taxpayers more than $300 billion

In fact, a new report from the Empire Center pegs the energy deficits the CLCPA will cause at 10% by 2040, when the act says New York must go emissions-free. 

That’s what happens when legislators plan to sacrifice our state’s actual generating capacity for pie-eyed dreams about renewable energy, i.e. wind and solar (now accounting for less than 6% of our power). 

That same report shows that the CLCPA’s proposed solar and wind build-outs — assuming they happen in time — will generate less than a third of the energy needed to make up for the removal of other capacity even as consumption increases.   

In other words, large-scale energy scarcity. 

Today’s skyrocketing energy prices are just a hint of how utterly detached from reality the CLCPA really is. 

To really go green, New York needs to keep its existing conventional capacity alive while it builds more nuclear (and, sure, wind and solar, too). We also need to unleash fracking, as neighboring Pennsylvania has done, to reap energy and jobs gains. Cutting New York’s carbon emissions to zero will do little to combat climate change globally while inflicting massive pain here. Which shows, yet again, that green pols are more interested in political power than clean energy.

Op-Ed | Good energy policy protects good union jobs

May 5, 2022

Constance Bradley, President of TWU Local 101 | May 4, 2022

For years the State of New York has constrained natural gas supply to the City of New York under the misguided belief that the state’s nation-leading climate law, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, CLCPA for short, required it. Advocates in 2019 opposed a new interstate pipeline that would have allowed for ample supply to New York City and Long Island. As a result, and to meet the needs of customers, members of TWU members answered the call and helped build a number of smaller infrastructure and non-infrastructure solutions, referred to as the “Distributed Infrastructure Solution,” that addresses supply constraints in downstate New York. However, these solutions have faced their own permitting challenges, even though they were required to address the supply-demand gap that was created when the pipeline solution fell out of political favor and failed to receive the approvals necessary to build it.

One component of the Distributed Infrastructure Solution is National Grid’s air permit for its new vaporizers at the Greenpoint Energy Center is pending a decision by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

The vaporizers are operated infrequently but are critical to the overall gas supply in the City, in fact, each of the last two winters the units operated for only two days. New, more efficient vaporizers would result in a decrease of the natural gas consumption from the facility’s current vaporizers and the new permit will be a downgrade from the current permit to roughly half of emissions that are allowed under the existing permit at that site.

The vaporizers are effectively a non-pipes solution that allows National Grid to serve peak demand without adding additional pipeline capacity or other less favored options, while at the same time pursuing a series of programs/projects in furtherance of net zero goals – and they enable to good paying union jobs of our members.

The New York State Public Service Commission noted the units would create “global warming potential savings” compared to meeting customer demand solely through reliance on additional pipeline capacity, and also found the vaporizers and other projects would not disproportionally impact disadvantaged communities.

National Grid and the NY Department of Public Service (DPS) Staff even engaged a consultant, PA Consulting, to conduct an independent review of National Grid’s plan. PA Consulting’s assessment corroborates National Grid’s gas constraint challenge; validates the need for additional capacity to service customers; and views the Distributed Infrastructure Solution as a “reasonable” solution, while acknowledging the risks to delivery (e.g., permitting, scaling up demand-side solutions quickly enough).

New Yorkers need DEC to approve these permits now to ensure people in NYC can safely and reliably heat their homes which has been vetted by independent reviews, the Public Service Commission and will not use more gas. Additionally, the effective technology will result in FEWER EMISSIONS. The deadline is fast approaching on May 6th. We don’t know why this is controversial.

Brooklyn, Queens. Burning Bright.

Constance Bradley is President of TWU Local 101 in Brooklyn. Members of TWU Local 101 work every day to ensure the safe and efficient delivery of natural gas in New York City.

Editorial — More input needed: State’s Climate Action Council must listen to concerns of critics

May 4, 2022

Livingston County News | May 4, 2022

New York has some very ambitious goals for its long-term energy usage.

The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act passed in 2019 set the bar for green power. This law mandates that the state obtain at least 70% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. In addition, New York must achieve zero-emission energy by 2040 and lower its greenhouse gas emissions by 85% by 2050 from 1990 levels.

It’s good that officials are thinking big when it comes to addressing climate change. We all need to take this issue more seriously and help reduce our carbon footprint.

But the state’s desire for major changes may not be matched the resources necessary to achieve them. People attending a forum in Buffalo last week debated the merits of various proposals with the Climate Action Council, which will create a scoping plan so the state can pursue its benchmarks.

“The drafters of a new scoping plan that will guide how New York state reduces carbon emissions over the next three decades heard last week from area environmental groups who urged them to act quickly, and from labor, utility companies and business groups who warned them against proceeding too fast. While Ellen Banks of the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter said it was ‘time to move on’ from combustibles that contribute to an ‘increasingly dire’ climate crisis, Joe Benedict of the Western New York Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Contractors argued that some sweeping changes proposed under the scoping plan would cost residents thousands of dollars to transition their homes away from natural gas heating and cooking,” according to a Buffalo News story published Sunday by the Watertown Daily Times. “While Rahwa Ghirmatzion of PUSH Buffalo pleaded for governmental leaders to have the political will to abandon ‘false solutions’ to addressing climate change and instead focus on advancing renewables such as solar, geothermal and wind energy, Grant Loomis of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership said removing natural gas from the state’s portfolio would create grid ‘reliability concerns.’

“And so it went for more than three hours [April 27] inside the auditorium of the main branch of the Buffalo & Erie County Library, with speaker after speaker, nearly 100 in all, arguing for and against elements of the state Climate Action Council’s draft scoping plan,” the article reported. “Council members are gathering public input on the plan, which proposes dramatic changes in the way New Yorkers heat their homes, cook their meals and drive to their jobs. The council will deliver a final plan to Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state Legislature by the end of the year.”

State authorities have already put some very unrealistic ideas into motion.

Starting next year, new buildings will only be allowed to use electricity to power them (no gas lines may be connected). This is simply not feasible for the north country.

In addition, New York will ban the sale of vehicles powered by fossil fuels by 2035, a plan likely to fail. Will people comply with this law or continue to buy gas-powered vehicles (either used cars or new vehicles from other states)? And what does this mean for existing gas stations, which must accommodate gas-powered vehicles?

Officials must be more practical in their approach. There’s no way that New York will achieve its goals relying on solar and wind power. Nuclear energy and hydro-electricity must be more a part of the equation.

As the Climate Action Council receives input, members must take their concerns to heart. We won’t address climate change unless we have sensible measures to put into effect.

Climate zealots vs. N.Y. homeowners and workers

May 2, 2022

John Samuelsen and Constance Bradley | May 02, 2022

A draft proposal to cut greenhouse emissions would be a job-killing disaster that also will zap residents and homeowners with sky-high energy costs.

The proposal, drafted by the state’s Climate Action Council created under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, recommends dozens upon dozens of regulations to be adopted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. One of these calls for homeowners and business owners to convert, at significant expense, from gas to electric for heating, cooking and other energy needs.It would prohibit new gas hookups for existing buildings and new construction starting in 2024. In a phase-in starting in 2030, when existing gas furnaces, boilers, hot water heaters, stoves or washer-dryers break down, buildings will have to begin switching over to electric appliances.

If the recommendations become regulations, the jobs of thousands of blue-collar workers providing natural gas to millions of residents and businesses in the metropolitan region would be wiped out. Welders, mechanics, pipeline inspectors, meter installers, plumbers, laborers and other types of workers would be callously thrown into unemployment.

Homeowners will incrementally have to retrofit their homes for electricity and electric appliances to replace gas service, which will easily cost more than $20,000. Most homes don’t have the electrical capacity for electric-powered heating, cooking, and other energy needs. According to industry figures, an electric heat pump for heating a single-family home will cost about $14,700. There will be another $6,400 minimum in expenses on insulation and other efficiency measures.

That’s just the capital costs. Electric heating will cost homeowners approximately 40% moreto operate than gas.

Are we trying to make New York more unaffordable?

TWU Local 101 supports a saner, more common-sense climate protecting plan put forth by National Grid, the utility that employs 1,600 of our members working in Brooklyn.

The National Grid plan would completely phase out the use of natural gas, a fossil fuel, by 2050. The current infrastructure would not be abandoned but used to provide carbon-free energy — produced by solar, wind, green hydrogen — and renewable natural gas. RNG comes from landfills, farms and wastewater facilities. This is waste converted into energy. That’s as green as it gets.

This would protect jobs, provide an energy option that is cheaper and more efficient than electricity, and help meet the goals in the law: to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030 and no less than 85% by 2050, from 1990 levels.

The “electrify everything” approach has other fatal flaws. The electrical grid would implode. We already endure power outages, and sometimes major blackouts, every summer. Homes go dark. Businesses close. Subway riders are stuck on trains in tunnels.

Even if the state had billions upon billions of dollars to upgrade the power system, a hybrid system that includes RNG would allow homeowners to choose the type of appliances they want in their homes and avoid higher energy costs, not get smacked with government mandates that they cook with electric stoves and buy electric boilers. National Grid’s plan maintains the current infrastructure, which is more reliable and resilient than the electrical system. The underground pipe infrastructure isn’t affected by the high temperatures that prompt everyone to turn on air-conditioners and stress the electrical system. It doesn’t get knocked out by lighting or heavy rainfall.

The common-sense plan also would maintain the blue-collar jobs that are vitally important in working-class communities like Brownsville and Gerritsen Beach in Brooklyn; South Jamaica and Ozone Park in Queens; South Shore and Stapleton on Staten Island. These are jobs that enable people to put food on the table, pay the rent or mortgage, put their kids through college, and then retire with dignity and live their senior years in comfort.

Lots of people don’t go to college and then land suit-and-tie careers, for a variety of reasons, including it’s insanely expensive and a lot of families aren’t blessed with generational wealth.

Approximately 2.8 million working-age men and women in New York City don’t have a four-year college degree.

The CAC draft makes vague promises of utility workers getting retrained or “reskilled” for other jobs. Yeah, right. Tell that to all the factory and manufacturing plant workers who have seen their jobs shipped overseas after the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Tell that to all the workers who have lost their jobs in the latest wave of automation. According to an analysis by Ball State University, that wave, or tsunami, has swept away nine out of 10 manufacturing jobs in the U.S. since 2010.

The notion that a boiler installer or someone who has worked on high-pressure gas lines for 20 years is going to take a few courses at a community college and get a job sitting next to a tech-savvy millennial is a bad joke.

The National Grid plan is a better plan. It’s a common-sense plan. Our elected officials should embrace it.

Samuelsen is international president of the Transport Workers Union. Bradley is president of TWU Local 101 in Brooklyn.

Climate Action Council holds public hearing

April 28, 2022

Kelly Dudzik April 27, 2022

The New York State Climate Action Council is holding a public hearing Wednesday in Buffalo to talk about its proposed policies to reach the state’s climate goals.

The Draft Scoping Plan is a 341-page document that the state is getting the public’s comment on until June 10, 2022. It was created last year, and there’s a lot in there. 

The proposed goal is for the state to achieve 70% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% zero-emission electricity by 2040.

Some of the proposed policies include getting people to switch to electric vehicles and off of gas and oil to heat their homes and use electric heat pumps instead.

“A lot of those recommendations are going to have a direct impact on consumers, residents, businesses, and so, we’re trying to get the word out about that so that people can decide for themselves if they think that this plan is a good one and then come out and speak their mind if they think that it will have a consequential impact on them,” said Michelle Hook, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Affordable Energy.

“I do think that people are unaware of what the cost components will be associated with electrifying their home. You know, people say that having a heat pump, in the long run, will save you money over a natural gas system, but there’s an upfront cost of installing a heat pump depending on the size of your home and what your HVAC system looks like, it could be $25,000 or $30,000.”

Wednesday, we heard from people with various opinions about those proposals. Many will be speaking at the public hearing.

“So when I say we need a just transition, I’m talking about an economy that does not leave workers in fossil fuel industries behind as had happened so often to folks in the Rust Belt when industries in the past have failed, but instead one where workers in our community are supported through this transition by a worker and community insurance fund with union jobs for all in these new green industries with prevailing wages and benefits,” said Bridge Rauch with Clean Air and Buffalo Transit Riders United.

“Unfortunately, the truth is that we know from the hurricanes, and the squalls, and the Derechos, and the tornadoes, and the flooding that climate change isn’t just real, it’s happening right now. We don’t just have an opportunity to right the wrongs of environmental injustices of the past and continue to this day, we have a mandate that we must succeed for ourselves, and our children, and our children’s children.”

The public hearing started at 3:30 p.m. and goes until 6:30 p.m.

Energy road map calls for sweeping changes for WNY homeowners

April 28, 2022

Matt Glynn Apr 27, 2022

Big changes are looming for how Western New York residents heat their homes and operate their appliances.

A new statewide energy plan being debated would gradually phase out the use of natural gas in homes and buildings, in favor of greater reliance on electricity.

The changes recommended in the Climate Action Plan’s energy road map haven’t been finalized, and would be rolled out in stages. But some of the recommendations would take effect as soon as two years from now.

And they would have a big impact on homeowners and building owners.

• Starting in 2024, newly built homes in the state would not be allowed to install equipment powered by oil, natural gas or propane for heating, cooling and hot water. The plan would instead require homes to install a zero-emission system like a heat pump, which is more energy efficient, but costs more than a conventional heating system.

• Starting in 2030, owners of existing homes would face similar restrictions. Once homeowners need to replace their fossil-fuel powered systems and appliances – whether that happens in 2030 or later – they would need to install a zero-emission system instead.

Those upgrades could cost the owner of an older home upwards of $23,000, depending on the duct work and equipment needed, according to National Fuel estimates. The company also estimates that the annual energy costs at an electrified home could about $650 higher, at current rates.

The energy plan is part of the state’s strategy to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions, while phasing out the use of natural gas, through hitting ambitious targets. The state is aiming to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030, and 85% by 2050.

Critics say the state’s plan goes too far, too fast, and would burden homeowners by mandating the use of more-expensive heating equipment and fuel sources, like electricity, that cost more than natural gas.

“It’s a pretty radical change to the state’s energy complex,” said David Bauer, president and CEO of National Fuel Gas Co.

Bauer describes the plan as a road map to “electrify everything, at any cost.”

“What it proposes to do is phase out all fossil fuel use and replace it with electricity that’s generated by renewable resources,” he said.

Supporters of the plan, including environmental groups, say the changes are overdue to combat the effects of climate change, and say the switch to clean energy will produce better outcomes in public health and for the environment.

“The damages currently caused by burning fossil fuels cost us billions a year, while the benefits of a just transition would gain us billions,” said Conor Bambrick, director of climate policy for Environmental Advocates NY. “The faster we move to an all-electric future, the faster we will realize the vast economic and health benefits associated with a fossil-free future.”

The public has a chance to weigh in. A hearing is set for 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Mason O. Damon Auditorium of the main branch of Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, at 1 Lafayette Square. The meeting will also be shown on Zoom.

The Climate Action Council is gathering comments through June 10, including through 10 public hearings across the state.

The proposals would have a widespread impact on Western New York, where more than 90% of the homes are heated with natural gas, which has become a more economical heating fuel as production has increased in nearby Pennsylvania, using controversial hydrofracking techniques.

A decade ago, winter heating bills routinely topped $1,000 between November and March. They were expected to average around $700 this winter after falling below $500 during each of the previous two winters, according to National Fuel.

Despite its potentially far-reaching impact, the plan has received little attention since it was released in December.

“I’m in the community a lot,” said Donna DeCarolis, president of National Fuel’s utility business and a member of the 22-person council. “I feel like hardly anybody knows about this.”

Broadly, the plan calls for phasing out natural gas from the state’s energy mix, and for the state to become increasingly reliant on electric power over the next two decades.

National Fuel officials say they are in favor of “decarbonizing” the power grid, but urge the state to take an approach that eases the cost burden on homeowners and lessens the need for additional power generation. 

“We get it that something has to be done,” Bauer said. “But it’s got be done reasonably, affordably and in a way that doesn’t impact energy reliability. To me, now is not the time to start banning natural gas appliances or phasing out the natural gas distribution system.”

Utilities argue that more of an emphasis should be on making homes and businesses more energy efficient, which would reduce harmful emissions by reducing energy consumption.

“If we are successful, that’s a way of eliminating easily a third of the emissions that we’ve got to get rid of in New York state,” said Rudy Wynter, National Grid’s New York president. “About a third of emissions come from burning of fossil fuel and heating homes and businesses.”

Wynter said a lot of the state’s heating load will be increasingly electrified as time goes on, through systems such as heat pumps.

“Having said that, we know you cannot electrify every single building,” due to factors such as building size, type and age, he said.

And Wynter said not every customer can afford to electrify. For that reason, Wynter said, there should be an alternative, in the form of a decarbonized natural gas network that blends renewable natural gas and hydrogen.

National Fuel also is proposing an alternative plan that would include renewable natural gas and hydrogen in the state’s energy mix.

The utility cited an analysis by an engineering firm that said it currently costs $650 a year more to heat a Western New York home with electricity instead of natural gas. Bauer said that cost gap is likely to grow much wider, as electric rates rise in the face of greater demand.

Those cost differences would be acute on the coldest days of the winter months, Bauer said.

“The reality is, we’re a lot colder upstate than downstate, by a meaningful measure,” he said.

Bauer also questioned the plan’s impact on energy reliability, given its greater emphasis on wind and solar power. The plan would also require the state’s power grid to be dramatically scaled up, he said.

Beyond homeowners, Bauer said industrial customers would face much higher energy costs, too.

“This will have a huge impact on the ability to attract or retain any energy-intensive industry to the area,” he said.

New Yorkers for Affordable Energy, a coalition of business, community and labor leaders, says the Climate Action Council should be clearer about the financial impact the plan will have on the average homeowner, once the proposed changes start to take effect.

“As you start to change out those appliances – say your furnace breaks, the cost of reconfiguring your HVAC system, that can be in excess of $25,000 for people, depending on the size of your home and the intricacies of your HVAC system,” said Michelle Hook, executive director of the coalition.

The coalition’s members “are not climate deniers,” Hook said. “We know it exists. But we have to do this transition at a pace people can afford, especially with the recent inflation.”

The debate over the plan’s contents comes amid heightened attention to greenhouse gas emissions, and the most effective way to curb them.

Like National Fuel, National Grid has put forward a plan that relies on different sources of fuel, on the way toward eliminating fossil fuels from its gas and electric systems by 2050.

“Part of the big savings in this plan is, we’re not building another network. We’re utilizing an existing network,” Wynter said.

But Bill Nowak, president of the New York Geothermal Energy Organization, said the heating of homes and buildings is responsible for a high percentage of greenhouse gas emissions.

“We’ve generally had drilled into our heads that gas is a very clean fuel, it’s helping on the climate front,” Nowak said. “And that’s not the case when you take into account the methane emissions.”

If You Go:

The public hearing on the Climate Action Council’s draft plan is scheduled for 3:30 p.m to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Mason O. Damon Auditorium of the main branch of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, at 1 Lafayette Square. Up to 301 people may attend. 

Advance registration is encouraged but not required. Priority in seating and speaking will be given to those who register in advance.