As the centerpiece of a multipronged initiative to combat climate change, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul proposed on Wednesday a first-of-its-kind statewide ban on natural gas hookups in all new buildings.
“New construction in the state will be zero-emission by 2027, and we will build climate-friendly electric homes and promote electric cars, trucks and buses,” Hochul said in her annual State of the State speech.
In a policy outline released Wednesday ahead of her State of the State address, Hochul’s office laid out her plan to curb on-site greenhouse gas emissions. In effect, the plan means that new buildings could have neither oil or gas burners for heat or hot water, nor gas stoves. The plan would also require energy analyses of every new building’s energy usage, known as “benchmarking.” Hochul’s climate change agenda also sets a goal of 2 million electrified homes by 2030.
The governor’s proposal comes on the heels of New York City becoming the largest locality in the United States to ban gas hookups in new buildings last month. New York City also already has an energy benchmarking law on the books, which was passed in 2016.
The statewide plan drew praise from some experts.
“When we passed the city bill, we said, ‘If you can do it here, you can do it anywhere,’ and it’s really exciting to see the governor prove that out, to take these ambitions statewide,” Ben Furnas, who served as former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s director of climate and sustainability, told Yahoo News. “It’s a proof point for the entire country that this makes a lot of sense.”
While the New York City law and the governor’s statewide proposal would apply only to new buildings, Furnas argued that regulations requiring electric heating for new and renovated buildings will galvanize the market and eventually make them the norm, even for owners of existing buildings.
“I think as heat pump technology for heating and hot water improves, as induction stoves become the most modern and exciting type of stove on the market, and, I think, as you see federal incentives to encourage these shifts — [and] potentially other regulatory steps that municipalities could take — I think you’re going to see, as people are replacing fossil fuel appliances in their home, they’re going to be shifting more and more to modern electric versions of these things,” Furnas said.
A study by the think tank RMI found that by 2040, the ban on new gas hookups in New York City will reduce the emissions that cause global warming by the equivalent of taking 450,000 cars off the road. Out of New York state’s population of 19.45 million, 11 million residents live outside New York City, so expanding the policy to the rest of the state would presumably produce similar or even greater benefits.
While the measure would have to be passed by the state Legislature, it already enjoys some support in the state Capitol.
“Growing the demand for natural gas is exactly what the world does not need right now,” New York state Sen. Brian Kavanagh, who has sponsored legislation to phase out the use of natural gas in residential and commercial buildings, told the publication Stateline on Thursday. “If you build buildings that rely on fossil fuels, you are baking in very long-term needs."
Kavanaugh, like Hochul and the large majority of members in both chambers of New York’s Legislature, is a Democrat. On the other side of the aisle, 20 Republican-dominated states have passed laws preventing local governments from banning fossil fuel infrastructure.
In 2019, New York passed a law requiring the state to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. According to a 2021 state government report, buildings are the biggest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in New York, accounting for 32 percent of the total. Currently, New York still relies on fossil fuels including natural gas to produce much of its electricity, but it has a goal, also mandated in state law, of reaching 70 percent renewable energy by 2030.
Nationally, the gas industry opposes bans on new gas hookups, arguing that electric heat pumps are more expensive for consumers than gas boilers. Furnas said, however, that isn’t necessarily true.
“For a new construction, our analysis showed that it was about comparable,” Furnas said. “For a retrofit, a lot of it is very site-dependent, and part of the impetus for setting a date certain for new buildings is it’s really going to help jump-start a much more robust market and competitive heat pump market. And I think you’ll see, as that technology improves and as developers and contractors get used to installing them in new buildings, you’ll have much more competitive products on the market and installers who are used to doing that kind of work.”
President Biden’s Build Back Better proposal includes customer rebates for electric heat pump installation, but that bill’s prospects for passage remain uncertain.
Although Hochul’s proposal would be trailblazing at the state level, it wouldn’t take effect for five years, which some environmental activists criticized as an excessively slow timeline. (In a concession to real estate developers, New York City also set 2027 as the deadline for large buildings, but buildings shorter than seven stories will have to stop being built with gas burners and stoves by 2024.) Climate activists also are frustrated that the governor has not embraced the Build Public Renewables Act, a bill with supporters in the state Senate and Assembly that would require the New York Power Authority to build out only renewable energy. In December, 55 legislators from both chambers of the state Assembly sent a letter to Hochul asking her to back the proposal, but it was not included in her State of the State agenda.
"As we face increasing hardship from climate change, we need to see more from the governor,” Patrick Robbins, coordinator of the New York Energy Democracy Alliance, told Yahoo News.
“Preexisting investments and a gas ban that won't take effect for five years are simply not enough. We need Gov. Hochul to pass the Build Public Renewables Act in the budget this year."