Advocates want NY HEAT Act in the final budget

3 months ago
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The New York HEAT Act might not make the final budget.

The bill reduces the state’s reliance on natural gas and cuts ratepayer costs by eliminating certain rules. It was in both legislative chambers’ one-house budgets, but last-minute scrambling could remove it.

New York League of Conservation Voters Policy Director Patrick McClellan said, aside from people’s preference for natural gas, other challenges have made the bill hard to pass.

“I think that there has also been some irresponsible fear-mongering against this bill from some people who oppose it,” said McClellan, “basically telling people this means that their natural gas service is going to be taken away from them tomorrow, or it’s going to happen without warning, and that’s just not the case.”

The bill would not mean gas companies could walk away from providing service to new customers, since its effects occur over a longer period.

Rural lawmakers have been skeptical about relying solely on electricity, since people could lose power in bad storms.

If the bill isn’t part of the budget, McClellan said the Public Service Commission can do more to require gas utilities factor climate change into their long-term plans.

It will take more than one bill for New York State to reach its climate goals.

McClellan said developing thermal energy networks is one way to build on what the HEAT Act would do, and provide good ways to decarbonize on a larger scale instead of going house by house.

“You’re able to get a larger number of buildings and people all at once,” McClellan explained. “The other exciting thing about thermal energy networks is, because you are talking fundamentally about piping systems that are underground, it’s an extremely similar skill set for people who already work in the fossil fuel industry.”

The bill would also eliminate the Hundred Foot Rule. This requires utilities to connect new customers to a gas line for free based on their distance to an existing main gas line, typically 100 feet.

This rule allowed utilities to shift around $1 billion in costs onto about 170,000 ratepayers.

NY HEAT is a Win for Energy Affordability: The NY HEAT Acts impact on energy burdens in New York State NYRenews 3/4/24

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As state budget negotiations continue, groups fighting climate change are asking California lawmakers to cut subsidies for oil and gas companies rather than slash programs designed to slow global warming.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s current proposal would cut oil and gas tax breaks by $22 million this year and $17 million the following year.

Barry Vesser, COO for The Climate Center, a nonprofit advocacy group, would like to see all subsidies eliminated.

“Oil and gas companies are one of the drivers of climate change, so we should not be making their profit margins bigger by providing public subsidies, and making it harder for renewables to compete against them,” Vesser argued.

Gov. Newsom has also proposed to cut funding for climate-friendly programs helping lower-income families buy an electric vehicle or switch from gas to electric appliances.

Kevin Slagle, vice president of strategic communications for the Western States Petroleum Association, said in a statement, “California’s already tough business climate is pushing companies to the brink. Removing incentives will drive California straight into the arms of more expensive foreign oil, ramping up costs for everyday Californians who can least afford it.”

Vesser countered the threat of higher gas prices is a red herring.

“There’s a lot that goes into calculating how much the cost of gas is, and this is not even pennies on the dollar,” Vesser contended.

The state Senate’s early action proposal estimated the budget deficit will be between $38 billion and $53 billion. The governor is expected to release new details on his budget priorities in mid-May. The Legislature must pass a balanced budget by June 15.

Disclosure: The Climate Center contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, and Environmental Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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Virginia’s General Assembly will consider budget amendments to reenter the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, known as RGGI.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin pulled the state out of RGGI at the end of 2023, and now experts said the holes in the budget left by RGGI funding going away are not being filled. Money from the program was used to fund climate mitigation work.

Jay Ford, Virginia policy manager for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the state saw many benefits when it was part of RGGI.

“We were reducing fossil fuel emissions that were being created here in Virginia,” Ford pointed out. “There were some clear reductions as a result of our participation. So, we’re improving air quality and we are helping expedite that transition to a clean economy.”

Virginia residents mostly favored staying in RGGI, but Youngkin has said the reason for pulling out was in his view, it was a “hidden tax” for ratepayers. Ford estimated homeowners paid around $2 a month from their electric bills for RGGI and argued the trade-offs were worth it.

Between 2021 and 2023, RGGI revenue generated around $828 million for Virginia. Ford thinks not rejoining the initiative could slow down Virginia’s ability to reach the Clean Economy Act’s climate goals, and warned other effects could be costly to communities.

“On the ground in communities around the state, if we don’t get back into RGGI, there’s a real potential that the work to prepare the Commonwealth, and prepare our communities for climate impacts, could grind to a halt,” Ford contended.

Virginia used RGGI money to help towns and cities fund their climate resilience plans. The state used 25-million RGGI dollars to establish a Climate Resilience Fund. There have been 107 “billion-dollar disasters” since 1980 in Virginia, with long-term costs totaling between $20 billion and $50 billion.

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Despite different outcomes – New York’s first offshore wind farm came online and New Jersey had one canceled – both states are benefiting from offshore wind. Job creation and economic growth are predicted, as New Jersey’s decarbonization efforts could create 20,000 jobs.

The New Jersey Wind Port being developed in Salem County is expected to create up to 1,500 jobs.

Caren Fitzpatrick, former Atlantic County Commissioner, said it’s time the area had a viable industry again.

“They used to be known for growing asparagus and harvesting oysters. And due to blight and overfishing, those industries went away. They’re starting to come back now, but they’re not big enough to support the families that live in this area,” Fitzpatrick argued.

After Ocean Wind’s cancellation, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities is moving on. This year, it has approved two projects that would power close to 2 million homes, create 27,000 jobs and provide a $3 billion boost to the state’s economy.

Beyond job growth and economic development, New Jersey Assemblymember Carol Murphy, D-Cinnaminson, contended public health will also improve as the state shifts to cleaner energy sources.

“The transition from fossil fuel to clean energy power will improve air quality, water quality, reduces cases of medical illness such as asthma, heart disease and cancer, and this will save billions of dollars in healthcare costs,” she explained.

Offshore wind projects have faced tough odds to get this far. Misinformation has made the public skeptical. But lawmakers in both states have signed letters voicing their commitment to these projects.

New York Assemblymember Angelo Santabarbara, D-Schenectady, said it’s only the beginning.

“Let’s continue to push forward for a brighter, cleaner future for all here in New York, but for the entire country as we move forward. Together, we can harness the power of offshore wind to build a better tomorrow, and in Schenectady we’re doing it one turbine at a time,” Santabarbara said.

With the South Fork Wind Farm online, attention is turning to other projects like Empire Wind 1, the first offshore wind project connected to New York City’s grid. In March, the developer’s agreement was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

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