New York homes (photo: (Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)
In March, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the planet will cross a critical threshold for global warming within the next decade if we don’t take immediate action to curb emissions and meet ambitious climate mandates laid out in New York’s climate law.
As expected, gas utilities are casting doubt on the affordability of these needed reductions. Let’s be clear — New Yorkers and their families should not shoulder the burden of our clean energy transition.
Affordability is a major concern but we don’t need to weaken our nation-leading climate law to save the planet and save New Yorkers money. As the name suggests, legislation I sponsor with Senator Liz Krueger, the New York Home Energy Affordable Transition (NY HEAT) Act would help keep costs down for New Yorkers while accelerating our energy transition away from polluting fossil fuels and addressing affordability, keeping us on track to meet the goals of our climate law.
For decades, New Yorkers have been subsidizing the very infrastructure the gas industry’s profits rely on. The industry’s business models are premised on the perpetual taxpayer-subsidized expansion of gas infrastructure and services. Currently, due to the 100-foot rule mandate – which requires gas utilities to hook up all new customers to gas lines at no charge – ratepayers are footing the $200 million annual bill for this continued expansion of polluting gas infrastructure.
The NY HEAT Act (A4592/S2016) will relieve us of the hook-up cost, and stop the continued expansion of the gas system that is moving New York further away from the goals of the climate law. Thankfully, utilities like National Grid are already adapting and adjusting: as New York considers legislation like NY HEAT, the company is looking to sell parts of its pipeline network to meet future clean energy demand. Last year, it sold a majority share of its gas distribution business in the United Kingdom.
The savings don’t end there. For low- and middle-income families, NY HEAT would put a price cap on electricity bills, to limit paying no more than 6% of income to stay warm and cook dinner.
NY HEAT clears a path for utilities to build renewable thermal energy networks instead of replacing and expanding the gas network. Doing so will create thousands of new clean, green energy jobs for union pipefitters and electrical workers for decades to come. It could also prevent the billions of dollars of spending on replacement pipes that gas utilities are planning by 2040 and gas customers would get stuck paying for in the decades to come.
New York’s electrical grid maintains a surplus of energy that will support new, all-electric construction. While gas furnaces on the market today require electricity to power their electronics and fans, there are new technologies that keep electric equipment like heat pumps running when the power goes out.
The gas industry wants to prevent alternative options for a reliable, affordable, and green transition. Unsurprisingly, they were a force behind the recent unsuccessful push to undermine New York’s climate law – which would have enabled the combustion of more gas, for longer.
Our climate plan was years in the making. It was created in consultation with multiple expert advisory panels, subject to public hearings, and incorporated tens of thousands of New Yorkers’ comments. New Yorkers know that we can get off gas and have affordable, reliable energy and a stable climate — but that will take ratepayer funds currently used for expanding fossil fuel infrastructure to be reallocated.
If we want to save New Yorkers money and lead on climate, we must stop asking New York families to foot the $200 million per year bill to continue constructing and maintaining fossil fuel infrastructure that will inevitably become obsolete. As the Legislature continues its post-budget session, we must pass NY HEAT to move towards our clean energy future.
Assemblymember Patricia Fahy (D) represents the 109th District in the New York State Assembly, which includes the City of Albany, Town of New Scotland, and part of the Town of Guilderland. On Twitter @PatriciaFahy109.