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NY HEAT Act Would Deliver Climate Action and Energy Affordability

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By Anshul Gupta

Last Thursday, Westchester-based state and local legislators joined advocates to hold a press conference in Peekskill, calling on Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to support the passage of the NY Home Energy Affordable Transition (HEAT) Act in the upcoming state budget.

This bill could provide relief from escalating home energy bills for millions of New Yorkers by directing the Public Service Commission to implement the state’s goal of limiting households’ energy burdens to 6 percent of earnings. It would also protect natural gas customers of all incomes from future price spirals.

Many New Yorkers are unaware that outdated state laws allow gas hookups worth thousands of dollars each to be given away at no or minimal cost to new customers. Existing customers are forced to pick up the tab that grows by more than $200 million each year, raising everyone’s bills. Luring new customers with free hookups adds unnecessary gas demand, which helps raise supply prices. With the U.S. becoming the world’s largest exporter of liquified natural gas, the era of cheap gas is over.

Free hookups, however, are just the tip of the iceberg. In its last rate request, Con Edison asked for a billion dollars a year in ratepayer funds for maintaining the gas system’s reliability and distribution integrity, with 40 percent of it earmarked for replacing old leak-prone pipes. The new pipes laid at the cost of up to $6 million per mile will be mostly empty in just a few decades, but utility customers would be on the hook to continue paying for them for years in their bills.

To add insult to injury, our outdated laws allow the utilities a 9 to 10 percent return on investments at ratepayer expense, and all these costs are added to gas bills based on an anticipated 60 to 80 years of service life that the new pipes will never see. Heating and cooking with gas isn’t just going out of style, it will also be out of compliance with New York’s climate law by 2050 because the so-called natural gas is mostly fracked methane – a climate super pollutant.

There’s even more trouble brewing for gas customers. As gas bills rise and heat pumps buoyed by federal and state incentives gain popularity, many of these customers are switching to the superior electric alternatives. This trend will leave fewer customers to bear the growing costs of the gas distribution network. The resulting hikes will set a feedback loop as more customers defect and further raise the costs for those whose circumstances prevent them from making the switch.

Sky-high bills won’t be the only reason why many New Yorkers would scramble to get off toxic fracked gas in the coming years. The American Medical AssociationAmerican Lung Association, New York State Public Health Association, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and all state chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics deem gas stoves a health hazard. Almost 19 percent of all childhood asthma in New York can be attributed to gas stoves. In 2022, AARP warned its members of elevated dementia risk from exposure to pollution from gas stoves.

The NY HEAT Act not only has provisions to modernize New York’s utility laws and regulations to address long-term bill impacts, but would also free up funding to enable neighborhoods to choose modern, safe and clean alternatives without undue financial hardship. Additionally, it clears legal hurdles without which labor-friendly utility thermal energy networks for energy- and cost-efficient district heating and cooling cannot be implemented at scale in suitable neighborhoods.

The NY HEAT Act will put the brakes on wasteful investment of ratepayer dollars into new fracked gas pipes that earn handsome profits for gas utilities at the cost of our climate and pocketbooks.

Not surprisingly, some utility companies and allied special interests are up in arms against this bill with fear mongering and misinformation to maintain their monopolistic grip on home heating.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has included major provisions of this bill in her proposed executive budget, although her proposal lacks some key utility bill relief provisions. The full bill enjoys strong support in the state Senate.

All eyes are now on the Assembly, where the bill is actually quite popular with 76 sponsors. Speaker Heastie and chairs of key committees such as Governmental Operations, Energy and Environmental Conservation could play a decisive role in determining whether the bill is included in the Assembly’s one-house budget proposal. Will they put long-term energy affordability, health and well-being of New Yorkers over gas utility profits?

Westchester-based Anshul Gupta is policy and research director at New Yorkers for Clean Power and a member of the leadership team of The Climate Reality Project’s New York State Coalition.

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