I recently described an article in the Syracuse Post Standard entitled New York state’s move to all-electric homes: How expensive is it? Will it work? by Tim Knauss. I recommended it because it does a nice job describing a complex issue but I described points that I think should have had more emphasis. I also submitted a letter to the editor that was published that hit the key points of the blog post. This post addresses another letter to the editor that claims that the point that I made that electrification as a substitution for gas heat would intensify dangers was wrong.
Everyone wants to do right by the environment to the extent that they can afford to and not be unduly burdened by the effects of environmental policies. I submitted comments on the Climate Act implementation plan and have written over 275 articles about New York’s net-zero transition because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that the net-zero transition will do more harm than good. The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.
Climate Act Background
The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) established a “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050. The Climate Action Council is responsible for the Scoping Plan that outlines how to “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda.” In brief, that plan is to electrify everything possible and power the electric gride with zero-emissions generating resources by 2040. The Integration Analysis prepared by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants quantifies the impact of the electrification strategies. That material was used to write a Draft Scoping Plan that was revised during 2022. The Final Scoping Plan was approved on December 19, 2022. Unfortunately, the revisions only addressed the language of the draft plan and not the substance of the numbers used from the Integration Analysis.
Buffalo storm’s danger also came to people in homes heated by natural gas
The Post Standard published three letters to the editors related to the Knauss article. Two of the articles expressed concern about the dangers of heat pumps and the resulting lack of heat during periods when electricity blackouts occur. Hanah Ehrenreich argued that we should know better than to question the Scoping Plan.
Recent letters to the editor by Roger Caiazza and David Seeley (”Dangers and possibilities of NY’s all-electric future,” Jan. 4, 2023) argue electrification as a substitution for gas heat would intensify dangers, with the Buffalo storm as the example. If they had read Tim Knauss’ well-informed and straightforward reporting on New York’s implementation strategy for the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, they would know better.
Two years have been spent in a detailed implementation development process including scientists, representatives of the fossil fuel industry and utility companies, labor leaders, environmentalists, and many months of public input.
The description of the Scoping Plan as a detailed implementation development process is naïve. The Scoping Plan has been described as a “true masterpiece in how to hide what is important under an avalanche of words designed to make people never want to read it.” I suspect that because all these experts worked for two years and there was public input, then the public perception is that means the Scoping Plan included a feasibility analysis. The fact is that the plan did not determine whether all the aspects could work as proposed to maintain current standards of reliability, prevent significant risks to affordability, and would not cause significant adverse environmental impacts. Also, as I said in my letter, the state plan does not address “what if” questions.
Ehrenreich goes on to say:
Buffalo residents — old and young — died in their natural gas-heated homes. Gas heat does not operate without electricity. Those gas-heated homes that lost power were 30 degrees indoors. Meanwhile, homes in Buffalo that maintained electricity still had heat, which saved lives.
I have a couple of problems with this paragraph. The first point is that while it is true that gas heat does not operate without electricity, gas stoves can be lighted with a match providing some heat and hot food which is impossible in an all-electric home. More importantly, a fossil fueled generator can be used to provide the power necessary for gas furnaces to operate. One of the “what if” questions so far unanswered is what happens to all the people who have invested in emergency generators. Even if the State allows them in the future, where is the fuel going to come from when all other uses are outlawed? The second point is the line “homes in Buffalo that maintained electricity still had heat, which saved lives”. Home in Buffalo that had electricity could run their gas furnaces and that saved lives too. People who died in homes with gas furnaces would have died in electric homes too.
There could be another interpretation of this paragraph. My letter to the editor made the point that at some point there will always be insufficient energy for a heat pump to create heat inside a home. I think that Ehrenreich might have interpreted that to mean that I was saying that they don’t work at all. The technology has improved so that an advanced heat pump can provide heat to a lower temperature but if the temperature is below 15o F no heat pump will work well.
Ductless mini-split heat pumps in my 1920 home provide consistent heat (air conditioning in the summer) without the astronomical cost of retrofitting the original furnace and vents. A National Grid comparison ranked my home as high efficiency, with fall 2022 as overall lowest electricity costs.
The point that I tried to make is that the impression that replacing an existing fossil-fired furnace with a heat pump is all that needs to be done for all the weather conditions that we can expect in Upstate New York is not likely to be true. In addition to properly sizing the heat pumps and making sure the right type is purchased, there are issues with the building shell, ventilation, and the distribution system within the house that have to be addressed for a successful conversion. It might work most of the time but if it does not work all the times that a gas furnace does then there will inevitably be a crisis.
Meanwhile, gas heat dependency is forcing friends in the United Kingdom and Germany to cook with wood and dress indoors as if they were going skiing.
The same energy crisis that is causing problems with gas heat dependency are also affecting electricity prices which have the same effects. The gas dependency issue is ultimately a lack of supply because the United Kingdom and Germany have failed to develop their own sources of fossil fuels. Oh wait, that is exactly what New York is doing with the ban on natural gas development and I maintain that ultimately this will lead to problems that could have been avoided.
The climate is in crisis and the stunted natural gas industry is dragging homes and families into a state of emergency. New York state has stepped into the national forefront by taking essential legislative action. We need to do everything possible to welcome and speed this implementation.
New York’s greenhouse emissions are less than one half of one percent of global emissions and global emissions have been increasing by more than one half of one percent per year. The fact that anything we do to reduce emissions will be offset in a year does not mean that we should not do something but it does mean we should take the time to do it right. Folks like Ehrenreich are convinced that we have to act immediately because they have been brainwashed by the incessant propaganda from activists and the media. A Critical Examination of the Six Pillars of Climate Change Despair does a good job explaining why the rationale that there is a crisis is wrong.
I despair that so many people have such entrenched opinions about the problem of climate change and the alleged simple and inexpensive solution that they have closed their minds to reality. Anyone who claims to have an open mind should consider the following. Steven Koonin’s book What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters does an excellent job critiquing the science behind the concerns about climate change but it is pretty technical so this video is a good overview. Frankly I am more concerned that New York is going down a path that requires dependency upon renewable energy because I am convinced that current renewable technology won’t work.
In 2023 the State is going to be developing regulations and proposing regulations to implement the outline of the net-zero transition described in the Scoping Plan. I encourage all New Yorkers to get involved and demand a feasibility analysis to determine whether the arbitrary greenhouse gas emissions targets in the Climate Act can be met reliably, affordably, and with acceptable environmental impacts. Before passing any legislation or endorsing a regulatory approach for any component of the Climate Act, the Hochul Administration must be held accountable for feasibility analyses and explanations how New Yorkers will survive when there is an ice storm after everything is converted to electricity. Anything less is a dangerous abrogation of the public’s right to safe and affordable energy.