Op-Ed: The facts about the future of fossil fuels

Originally published in Ken-Ton Bee on March 22, 2023.

In January, Gov. Hochul put forth her executive budget proposal and announced the basic outline of a plan to phase out the use of fossil fuels in housing in order to help meet New York’s climate goals. Since then, there’s been a lot of confusion about what the proposal would mean for homeowners.

I want to start by dispelling two big myths that have popped up. First, the fact is that no plan has been finalized. The budget is due on April 1 and all sides continue to work on finalizing our state budget for the coming year. Second, no one has proposed a plan that would force New Yorkers to replace functional gas appliances that they already have in their homes.

So, what’s actually being proposed and what’s actually going on? Let’s get into what the executive budget has proposed for existing homes and how the state Senate proposal differs. The big difference is that under the executive proposal, starting in 2030, whenever your furnace reaches the end of its lifespan, the replacement would have to be powered by electricity instead of natural gas. This plan elicited plenty of logical questions about the impact on Western New York, where most of us heat our houses with natural gas.

One of the big ones was, “It’s cold here. How will we heat our homes?” I believe the future of home heating in Western New York is geothermal heating. Geothermal systems, which pull heat from the ground, work great in many climates colder than ours. They are several times more efficient than air-source heat pumps in cold climates and they pay for themselves in the long run through decreased utility bills.Springtime-in-the-Country-web-ad-3_7_23JMS-scaled.jpg

However, we know that not everyone can afford to pay more up front just because it’s cheaper in the long run, and that brings us to the million-dollar question: “What about the cost?” I’m sure there are some folks out there who have brand loyalty to natural gas, but I think it’s fair to say that this is the main concern for the rest of us. For new homes, you might be surprised to learn that the cost really isn’t a concern with geothermal heating. New build costs are typically spread over decades, so the up-front expenditure is minimal. When you factor in incentives, the price of installing a new geothermal system in New York is already pretty close to what new home builders would spend on a traditional gas system. The negligible price difference combined with the long-term savings actually make geothermal the easy choice from a financial standpoint.

The calculus isn’t quite that easy for existing buildings, and that’s why the Senate has proposed removing the plan to phase out fossil fuel heating equipment in existing homes. Until we have a better idea of how we can implement such a requirement without placing a financial burden on homeowners, it’s best to hold off on this plan.

Our state’s climate goals are very ambitious, and there is a lot of work still to be done to figure out how we’ll achieve them. But rest assured – the best interests of New Yorkers were the motivation for those goals, and the best interests of New Yorkers will be our priority as we figure out how to meet them.

Families here in Western New York should not have to worry about how they will heat their homes in the future. As we transition to a clean energy-based economy, we must ensure hardworking families are not forced to make upgrades they can’t afford.