New York's Clean Energy Goals are Being Undermined by Utilities’ Gas Infrastructure Investments

Posted by Sarah Steinberg and Nathan Willcox on May 11, 2023 8:00:00 AM

Blog HEAT Act Critical for New York to Meet Clean Energy Goals

New Yorkers want to power their homes with clean energy, which has never been easier or more affordable. With advanced energy companies making highly efficient cold-climate air and ground source heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, and induction ranges powered by renewable energy solutions on the grid and inside our homes, fossil fuels are no longer necessary to keep us comfortable and online. Yet, utilities are still spending billions of their customers’ dollars building brand new fossil fuel pipelines that will lock residents into paying for home heating technology that is increasingly antiquated and might soon be obsolete. This hurts its customers and New York’s chances of achieving its clean energy goals this century.

Despite ambitious and laudable commitments to a clean and modern energy system made by Governor Hochul and the State Legislature, New Yorkers spent over $1 billion between 2017 and 2021 subsidizing new natural gas infrastructure. And that’s a drop in the bucket compared to what’s on the horizon: New York utilities have plans to spend another $28 billion of their customers’ money to replace gas pipes with new fossil fuel-related equipment meant to last half a century or longer. We simply cannot keep investing in infrastructure that ties us to the very fossil fuels from which we are trying to move away. 

Part of the problem is that there are sneaky, outdated provisions within state law that end up forcing New Yorkers to pay for more fossil fuels. For instance, the little-known “100 Foot Rule” requires utilities to use their existing customers as a piggy bank to connect buildings to a gas line if the buildings are located within 100 feet of an existing pipe. 

Worse still, as many homeowners do choose to voluntarily end their gas service by switching to cleaner and more affordable sources of energy, a shrinking number of customers will be burdened with paying for utilities’ gas infrastructure spending spree. Those who have the most limited agency to install new appliances, such as low-income residents, fixed-income seniors, and renters, don’t deserve to be stuck with fossil fuels and skyrocketing gas bills just because they had no say in the matter. 

The wholesale transition of all New Yorkers to clean, modern appliances is ultimately good for the air, good for the climate, good for jobs, and good for our wallets, if managed thoughtfully and equitably. Deftly recognizing these opportunities and benefits, New York has become a national leader in the fight to phase out the use of fossil fuels. For instance, in Governor Hochul’s 2023 State of the State address and state budget, she championed an end to gas in new small buildings by 2026, along with a renewed focus on energy bill relief in the face of soaring fossil fuel costs. But right now, Gov’s Hochul’s goals are being stymied by outdated statutes that tie the state to fossil fuels, and the state agency that oversees utility rates is handicapped in its ability to support her clean energy vision. With no authorities or tools to shift more of the risk of new fossil fuel investments away from customers, New Yorkers will continue to suffer from infrastructure spending that conflicts with clean energy goals and economic well-being. To reflect the Governor’s vision for the state, change is necessary.

Fortunately, there is a fix lawmakers can make right now. The New York Home Energy Affordable Transition Act, or the HEAT Act, (A4592/S2016) would repeal the statute that forces ratepayers to subsidize new gas customers in the near term, and requires gas utilities to modernize their infrastructure investment plans in accordance with the state’s long-term vision. The bill also directs utilities to pursue all cost-effective energy efficiency programs to decrease household energy burdens, as well as identify financial tools that will keep energy bills low for everyone – especially the households and communities that need it most.

Modern, best-in-class technologies, like air and ground source heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, and induction ranges, are attractive on their own merits, and also benefit from generous local, state, utility, and federal incentives that shave thousands of dollars off their purchase and installation price. All New Yorkers deserve an opportunity to switch to these better, cost-saving technologies, and certainly don’t deserve to fund a dirty and increasingly expensive gas system. Supporting the NY HEAT ACT means supporting a clean and affordable energy future for New Yorkers. We hope the legislature takes action.  

Topics: State Policy, New York



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