Another Voice: Safeguard our state’s energy reliability and affordability

October 18, 2023

Originally published in Buffalo News. Written by David P. Bauer.

Downstate lawmakers are resuming their push for the NY Home Energy
Affordable Transition (NY HEAT) Act which, if enacted, will require that
natural gas utilities “strategically decommission” the existing gas delivery system.
Instead of repairing and replacing older sections of pipeline, the Act requires those
sections to be decommissioned, effectively banning natural gas use for entire
neighborhoods.

The cost of converting buildings from gas to electric is estimated to cost $20,000 to
$50,000 per household, according to the state’s figures, and would be borne by
homeowners and businesses – as the act ignores those costs and proposes no form of
relief. Even the bill’s proposal to cap electricity bills for low- and moderate-income
households at 6% of their income, an appealing idea in principle, offers no clarity on
how, or by whom, costs beyond the cap would be paid.

At the same time, warning signs abound that the shift to renewable energy will be far
more costly than originally anticipated. In August, numerous documents were filed
with the Public Service Commission from a multitude of wind and solar developers.
The common theme from these filings: many of the renewable energy projects being
planned or already under development will cost far more than what was originally
bid. These costs, of course, would be passed onto consumers in the form of rate
increases. Recognizing the impact the requested increases would have on consumers,
the Commission denied the developers’ petitions as “not in the best interest of the
State’s ratepayers.”

The expected growth in wind and solar generation to serve the increased demand for
electricity is unprecedented and will likely have a significant impact on grid
reliability. The state acknowledges that by 2040 there will be a shortfall in the winter
of as much as 45 GW of peak day generation that can’t be met with existing renewable
technology. That is a startling amount of generation – more than two times the total
amount of electricity that’s being generated in the state now. And there’s no clear
plan as to how this shortfall will be solved other than, to paraphrase, “we’ll figure it
out when we get there.”

But we don’t need to sacrifice our most affordable and reliable energy option –
natural gas – to achieve the state’s emissions reduction targets. An “all options”
pathway that doubles down on energy efficiency and embraces a broad range of
solutions – low-carbon options like renewable natural gas, hydrogen and hybrid/dual
fuel heating and cooling systems – can meet the state’s climate goals while
safeguarding energy affordability and reliability.

With natural gas less than one-third the cost of electricity, and with winter quickly
approaching, families and businesses need reliable, weather-resilient energy to stay
safe and warm during extreme weather events like last year’s major blizzards – and
no other energy source can compare with National Fuel’s service reliability rating of
99.99%.

The HEAT act would jeopardize New York’s energy reliability. Given the growing uncertainty about New York’s planned transition to renewable energy, continuing to push the NY HEAT Act demonstrates a complete disregard for the safety and economic well-being of Western New Yorkers.

David P. Bauer is president and chief executive officer of National Fuel Gas Co