Hochul plan barring oil and gas heating equipment gets pushback from state legislators

March 17, 2023

Originally published in The Buffalo News on February 16, 2023. Written by Chris Bragg.

ALBANY – Gov. Kathy Hochul’s plan prohibiting the sale of gas and oil-fuel-powered heating equipment in existing buildings is facing resistance in the State Legislature, according to one-house budget resolutions released by Democrats that control the State Assembly and Senate.

At issue is not the goal but the details of how much such a plan would cost homeowners, according to one Democratic senator.

In her budget proposal released in February, Hochul proposed prohibiting the sale of any new fossil fuel-powered heating equipment – such as oil and gas furnaces – by no later than 2030 for smaller buildings, and no later than 2035 for larger structures.

After that point, if a gas- or oil-fueled furnace needed to be replaced, an existing building would have to switch to a noncombustion source of heat, such as a geothermal heat pump using electricity.

But in their own budget plans this week, both the State Senate and Assembly omitted that proposal, signaling their opposition as budget negotiations head toward an April 1 deadline.

State Sen. Sean Ryan, a Buffalo Democrat, said there was too much uncertainty about the price of retrofitting existing homes to use geothermal heat pumps, the electricity-powered heating method that works best in cold climates.

“I believe the greatest barrier is not having anything close to price certainty on the transition to geothermal,” Ryan said. “We need to know what it’s going to cost and know how it’s going be paid for.”

Ryan described the Senate’s position as a “pause” giving the Hochul administration time to answer those questions. If there’s price certainty, Ryan said, he would likely support a phase-out beginning in 2030 as proposed by Hochul.
“We’re not moving the goal of 2030,” Ryan said. “But we just need to switch from making broad pronouncements of goals and start getting into the nitty gritty of plans to implement those goals.”

In Erie County, there are about 245,000 single-family homes, and most are heated through natural gas, Ryan said. Many homeowners are concerned about the transition to electric heat; the upfront cost of retrofitting to a noncombustion source of heat can be tens-of-thousands of dollars.

The state does offer rebates defraying the cost of heat pumps, on top of a new federal tax credit. State residents also may be eligible for low-interest financing up to $25,000.

Doreen Harris, president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, spoke before the State Senate Energy Committee on Thursday morning. NYSERDA is a Hochul administration agency, and she said saddling homeowners with major bills associated with retrofitting homes is “certainly not our intention.”

Harris said federal funding had “offset, in large part, the costs particularly for low-to-moderate income New Yorkers” and that affordability was “central as we implement this law.” The Hochul administration would “do so in a way that’s responsible and leverages public dollars to the maximum extent possible,” she said.
Concerning another key part of Hochul’s push to electrify buildings in order to combat climate change, Hochul and the Legislature are in agreement that new construction should not be powered by fossil fuels.
Hochul has called for all new construction in New York to be “fully sustainable” – with no on-site fossil fuel combustion – by 2025 for smaller buildings and by 2028 for larger ones. The prohibition would bar hookups allowing gas furnaces in new buildings.

Gas stoves, including replacements, would be allowed indefinitely in current buildings, but Hochul is proposing a ban on gas stoves in new construction.

Hochul’s proposals also include regulatory processes that would examine whether exemptions from the law are appropriate, including for certain types of businesses, such as restaurants.

Similarly, the Senate’s plan prohibits infrastructure, building systems, or equipment for the combustion of fossil fuels in new construction by the end of 2024 for smaller buildings and mid-2028 for larger ones.

Ryan said the Senate’s plan also includes an exemption for fossil fuel-powered backup energy systems in new buildings, in recognition of the importance of backup generators in places like Western New York.

The Assembly’s plan would implement such restrictions for smaller buildings by the end of 2025 and larger ones by the end of 2028. Under the Assembly’s plan, the requirements would be subject to the State Department of Public Service determining electric power grid infrastructure was sufficient to support the new electrical load in “a particular region, area, or project.”
State Senate Republicans continued to express concerns in remarks on the Senate floor Thursday.

State Sen. George Borrello referenced Buffalo’s major blizzard in December, arguing that, “If Buffalo had all-electric buildings, those 47 lives lost would be more like 4,700 because the electricity went out for days, and people survived because of natural gas-powered generators, and even heating their homes with their stoves and hot water.”

Borrello called the building electrification proposal “a unique combination of arrogance and ignorance.”