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US State Regulators Hear Notes of Caution on Municipal Gas Ban Movement

14 February 2020

John Crouch, HPBA Government Affairs, sent me this article and I found it interesting. It's long, but I've highlighted the sections that I found the most pertinent and interesting. Can common sense prevail? We'll see....

Washington — State regulators were served a strong dose of skepticism Sunday about municipal bans on natural gas hookups in new buildings from parties concerned about the consumer costs and the wisdom of setting key energy policies outside the state utility regulation construct.

Depending on how widespread it becomes, the wave of bans, as well as other incentives for building electrification, could have broad implications for the residential fuel mix and the future of gas distribution infrastructure and demand.

"My experience has been that the city councils aren't necessarily the source of balanced information, just and reasonable cost estimates, all the things that are part of the utility regulatory framework that makes determinations on the capital infrastructure investments," said Timothy Simon, a former California Public Utility Commission member.

Simon, who currently represents several local distribution companies, was among panelists urging caution about the bans during a staff gas subcommittee meeting at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners winter policy summit.

While residential energy use makes up only 7% of California's carbon dioxide emissions, "it's gaining the ire and the attack of city councils across my great state," he said. The "real culprit" in his view is transportation, which makes up 41% of CO2 emissions and is concentrated around big rig diesel trucks. Those trucks "generally don't run through Bel Air and Beverly Hills, he said. "They generally are running by black and brown communities that are in industrial sections near ports of entry and other areas."

Beginning with a ban in Berkeley, California, municipal gas bans have spread through California and appeared in the Boston area and Washington state.

AARP VIEW

Bill Malcolm, senior legislative representative from AARP, said that while his group does not favor one type of fuel over another, it has raised questions in several states about rate impacts for low and moderate income residents.

"I just checked the numbers and natural gas is now at $1.85/MMBtu, and just to put that in perspective, in 2012 it was actually $12/MMBtu," he said. "So where is the new power for the new load going to come from?" he said.

In Connecticut, for instance, AARP filed comments questioning whether incentives to install electric heat pumps over gas furnaces would benefit ratepayers and whether it would drive up peak power demand, he noted.

PUC ROLE

What role state regulators will play in the debate is "the multi-billion question that will most likely be settled by the courts," said Andreas Thanos, a Massachusetts regulator who chairs the NARUC gas staff subcommittee, when reached by email.

While PUCs grant the franchise allowing an LDC to go into a town or city, municipalities are using their bylaws to implement the bans. "So the PUCs will most likely not weigh in on the issue until the courts decide," he said.

Dianne Solomon, a New Jersey Board of Public Utilities commissioner, said she also sees a movement by states to empower their departments of environmental protection to "get into this space, take it out of the hands of the utility regulators and suggest that all projects going forward would have to have some environmental impact."

Several state regulators suggested green groups have had the more effective messaging thus far.

"I have heard a lot from the environmental advocates, Sierra Club and what have you, saying why we should have the natural gas bans," said Greer Gillis, a member of the Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia, adding it was important to get the views aired in the room out into the mainstream.

Judith Schwartz, a former utility commissioner from Palo Alto, where a municipal "reach code" encouraging all electric construction was adopted, contended "while the intentions are good, the reality of what [gas bans] are doing is minimal." During the winter "you have natural gas and imports making up the shortfall of every single hour of the day," she said.

Still, speaking from the audience, David Kolata with the Citizens Utility Board of Illinois, said he believed the issue was more complicated than the dialogue Sunday suggested.

"It's pretty clear that in every blue state, we're going to need to deliver a plan" that keeps the increase in temperatures due to climate change under 2 degrees Celsius, he said, with the modeling showing the need to decarbonize electricity, heating and transportation.

"Given that, how do we think about this from a consumer advocate point of view, where money spent on natural gas right now and natural gas infrastructure could very well be stranded?" he said.

spglobal.com


The True Cost of Electrification in New England, New York, and Across the Nation

5 February 2020

We are seeing an increasing number of jurisdictions seriously talking about converting their communities to all-electric homes. These efforts are failing to consider key issues.

1. Many communities reference solar energy as a viable option for homes without discussing the challenges. Solar electricity generation is great during the day, but without widespread electrical storage, taking advantage of that electricity is difficult. We don’t often see mention of the associated cost of not just the solar panels, but also necessary electrical storage.

There must be a discussion about the demand curve of electricity. This curve shows the modest demand for electricity in the day (people getting ready in the morning), the demand drop-off during the middle of the day (people are away from home, but solar is plentiful, weather permitting), and then the steep ramp-up in electricity demand in the evening (people return home, preparing meals, heating homes, etc.). The fluctuations of the demand curve will become steeper with a higher demand for electricity brought on by all-electric homes. Storage options will help mitigate this demand, but they are expensive, and history has shown that most people who opt for solar do not add storage, usually due to high costs.

Solar will be limited in its practicality depending on location and climate. In sunnier areas with clear lines of sight, solar is a good option for supplementing energy. In snow country, poor weather, or limited visibility (trees, nearby buildings, etc.), solar does not produce at optimal levels, if at all.

2. Electricity is not known for its resiliency during winter storms or other emergency situations. Without storage, if the power goes out, you have no power to heat, cook, or bathe if you depend on grid electricity, which the vast majority of consumers do. With natural gas or propane, you have much better resiliency for an energy source. Even if the gas-burning central furnace won’t run during a power outage because it relies on electricity to run the fan, your gas fireplaces, gas stovetops, and gas hot water heaters all continue to operate.

3. Related to the last point, we must think about the expected increased electrical rate costs. If everyone moves to a single fuel source, the demand is higher, which in-turn will very likely increase the cost. The electricity generated during the day via solar has minor value, as electricity is not in demand then. With most utilities having moved, or moving, to a Time Of Use (TOU) billing model for electricity, the highest energy in demand (during the evening) will also be the most expensive.

4. One of the primary reasons to move to all-electric homes is to lower carbon dioxide emissions. However, unless the electricity is coming directly from a renewable resource (solar panels, wind, hydro, etc.), it will be coming from a central power plant. Central power plants have very low efficiency rates – far lower than most residential furnaces or room heaters. On average, the highest efficiency rate for a natural gas-burning power plant is about 43%, with coal, oil, and nuclear efficiencies being even lower (31-33%)1. When you consider that residential gas-burning furnaces operate at a minimum of 80-82% efficiency, and then only as needed, it’s clear that fewer emissions are created from homes heated with natural gas than all-electric homes which draw from central power plants.

There is a bias evident in this effort to promote electrification. We’ve seen articles that say that 45% of carbon dioxide emissions are from electricity and heat in Canada, but if you look closer at the data, we find that only 6% is from homes using natural gas. The rest is from industrial, manufacturing, municipal and commercial. These sources will certainly be affected by changing to electrification, but the impact will be seen and felt differently. Focusing on converting homes to all-electric is an expensive proposition for the homeowner and not necessarily the best choice for the environment.

Studies show that electrification will cause price increases. It could be the increased cost to buy a new home due to new technologies will drive even more people out of the homebuyer market with five-figure increases. But electrification will also raise the cost for an average household by between $750 and $910 per year, just based on normal use of electricity from the grid.

Consumers deserve to be able to make their own decisions on how they heat their homes and cook their meals. Electrification not only removes that consumer choice, but also could shut the door to new and promising technological advances like renewable natural gas.

It’s time for everyone to understand the full cost of electrification.

For more information, contact NEHPBA.

HPBA


Gas is in the Past After Brookline, MA Special Town Meeting

21 November 2019

Fossil fuels are out following the second night of Brookline’s special Town Meeting.

Town Meeting members  passed Article 21, which will prohibit the use of fossil fuel infrastructure in new construction and significant renovations in town.

“This warrant article is not the whole answer, but it represents a start” in reaching Brookline’s stated 2050 carbon neutral goal, said Town Meeting member Cornelia van der Ziel.

“When you’re in a hole, the first thing is to stop digging,” State Rep. Tommy Vitolo said; this warrant article takes away the shovel, he added.

The bylaw passed overwhelmingly, with 210 votes in favor.

“This is a historic day for the community of Brookline and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” TMM, architect and article co-sponsor Lisa Cunningham said in a Mothers Out Front press release following the vote.

She added, “I hope this demonstrates to parents and citizens across the country that they also have the power to move their communities to a clean energy future.”

The bylaw does include some exemptions, allowing fossil fuel infrastructure needed for backup generators, restaurant kitchens and medical offices, among other uses.

The action was urgently needed, co-petitioner and architect Kathleen Scanlon said in the same Mothers Out Front press release.

“We cannot install new gas infrastructure that will last 30 years, past the time that we have committed to achieving zero emissions,” Scanlon said. “This decision will move us away from new oil and gas infrastructure when it’s convenient and possible to do so. It’s a step in the right direction for Brookline and for our climate.”

Town Meeting picks up again on Thursday, Nov. 21. 


Brookline, MA bylaw Would Prohibit Natural Gas in Future Construction

17 September 2019

Fossil fuel infrastructure could soon become ancient history in Brookline construction.

A newly-proposed bylaw would prohibit installation of new gas or oil piping in major construction, defined as new developments and significant building rehabilitations or additions. This would prevent developers from installing appliances reliant on fossil fuels, including certain boilers, furnaces and cooktops.

“When we make a new investment in gas heat, gas hot water and other gas appliances, we are lighting fires that burn on and off for decades,” said Town Meeting Member Jesse Gray, who is petitioning the warrant article.

Speaking at a community feedback session Aug. 22, he cited the town’s goal to be emissions-free by 2050: “In Brookline, we’ve said that these fires have to be put out by 2050. So if we continue to put in new fossil fuel infrastructure in Brookline, our goal would require it to be ripped out, potentially prior to its useful end-of-life.”

Retrofitting could be more expensive and more of a hassle than just installing electric appliances to begin with, he said.

He called the proposed bylaw an “essential step” in achieving zero emissions in Brookline’s building sector.

“If we assume that half a percent of our building stock is built or rehabilitated every year, then this bylaw alone could result in 15 percent of our buildings operating climate-neutral by 2050,” Gray said.

Even with those goals, the warrant article has a ways to go before it becomes Brookline law. The proposed bylaw will be filed with the town by Aug. 29, when the warrant for the November special Town Meeting closes. TM members will then debate and vote on whether to amend the town’s General By-Laws.

In two community feedback sessions, one on Aug. 20 and one on Aug. 22, developers, property owners, building trade professionals and members of the public were invited to ask questions and make suggestions. Many questions focused on how the bylaw would be implemented, and what technology could be used in the process.

Some attendees also raised concerns about how the ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure would impact restaurants reliant on gas cooktops and stoves.

“A lot of people who are skeptical about cooking without gas haven’t tried induction cooking,” Gray said, adding, “It’s essentially superior to gas cooking and it’s been embraced by a lot of famous chefs in the area, including Ming Tsai and Barbara Lynch.”

Not only is induction cooking safer for kitchen staff, he said, it also keeps kitchens cooler and heats water faster.

Meanwhile, Chestnut Hill Realty’s Marc Levin expressed concerns about the bylaw’s impact on property owners and leasing companies.

“In the end, I think that a sophisticated cost-benefit analysis should be done, that this feels ... as though there hasn’t been a significant analysis of what the costs would be, what the economics would be and what the other heavy consequences may be,” he said.

Zoe Lynn, Brookline’s sustainability program administrator, acknowledged it is still early on in the process. “We’re early on in our climate planning, but we’re also early on in the warrant article,” she said.

Still at hand is the matter of exemptions — whether to allow certain projects to go around the bylaw, and which buildings to exempt.

According to Lynn, some analysis have made it clear that the bylaw may need to exempt large units that require a lot of hot water heating, such as homes or commercial buildings. The technology, she explained, isn’t cost effective. This would exempt, for example, Chestnut Hill Realty’s upcoming mixed-use Waldo-Durgin development, she said.

This is being put to vote on 11/19/19, November Special Town Meeting Begins!

Do you know of an issue in your town that we need to know about? Let us know so we can help fight!

brookline.wickedlocal.com


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