A Clean Energy Future Depends on NY HEAT

By Peter Aronson

It’s time to bring the clean energy transition to our heating and cooling systems and create an affordable, equitable, zero-emissions clean energy future that benefits all New Yorkers by passing the NY HEAT Act next year.

The bill, the Home Energy Affordable Transition Act (SB 2016), will push gas utilities carefully in a new direction, enabling them to comply with New York’s Climate Act while helping customers switch to affordable and reliable zero-emissions heating and cooling. The bill will ensure energy affordability by capping costs for low-income customers, and by avoiding billions of dollars in costly new infrastructure investments.

The bill passed the state Senate in June with a 39-23 vote, but did not have enough support in the Assembly to make it to the floor. As we urge Governor Hochul and both houses to come together in 2024 to get this measure over the finish line, the trend line is positive with the bill now having 70 sponsors in the Assembly.

Buildings are the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions and co-pollutants in the state, which makes passing this bill a critical step to achieving the clean energy goals set out in the state’s climate law.   

In addition, gas customers are facing double-digit rate hikes to pay for expensive pipeline replacement programs, and New Yorkers left on the gas system could see their monthly bills reach more than $8,000 per month by 2050 if state leaders do not intervene.

“NY HEAT clears a path for utilities to build renewable thermal energy networks instead of replacing and expanding the gas network,” wrote Assemblymember Patricia Fahy, the bill’s sponsor, in an editorial in the Gotham Gazette. “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.”

Sen. Liz Krueger, who introduced the bill in the Senate, was even more blunt:  “We are living in the beginning of a crisis that will only get worse unless we act immediately,” Krueger told the Daily News. “We are so far behind. We are literally in a race for our own lives and the planet’s life.”

Specifically, the NY HEAT Act would save gas customers more than $200 million annually by ending the ‘100 foot rule,’ which charges existing gas customers for the cost of new gas pipeline hookups. It would create opportunities for additional savings by retiring old pipeline systems when they can be replaced with more cost-effective neighborhood-scale alternatives, such as thermal energy networks and high efficiency heat pumps.

The bill also guarantees energy affordability for those who need it most. Currently, lower-income New Yorkers spend an average of 10% of their income on utility bills. The NY HEAT Act would cap the energy bills of low- and moderate-income households at 6% of their income – saving these families up to $75/month that can go towards other needs such as rent, groceries, and more.The NY HEAT Act will help improve public health by reducing emissions in homes and reducing the risk of gas leaks. Burning gas in homes has been linked to increased air pollution and can exacerbate asthma, heart disease, and other health issues. In New York, 18.8% of childhood asthma is attributed to gas burned inside our homes. 

And as Assemblymember Fahy said, the NY HEAT Act would spur tens of thousands of high-paying union jobs to get the job done and deliver pollution-free, clean heating and cooling systems in communities across the state.

The NY HEAT Act is essential to delivering energy affordability across the state, and we urge all New Yorkers to contact your state senator and assemblymember and urge them to co-sponsor the NY HEAT ACT.