130 Organizations Put NYS Regulators on Notice for Gas Planning

In a pointed comment to the Public Service Commission, New Yorkers speak out about fracked gas infrastructure just as a new gas planning proceeding heats up


July 16, 2020

Lisa Marshall, elizamars@gmail.com, 850-291-5259
Jessica Azulay, jessica@AgreeNewYork.org, 917-697-4472

New York – Today, 130 grassroots, industry, and religious organizations filed a comment in the NYS Public Service Commission’s gas planning proceeding. The comment supports beneficial electrification of the heating sector and calls on the Commission to stop all gas expansion as soon as possible. The comment cites New York’s climate law, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), and points out that current gas trends are out of touch with climate science. Equitable solutions are needed now so that vulnerable communities won’t be left in the dust.

The comment expresses support for the Commission for launching the gas planning proceeding, New York being only the second state to do so following California. The gas planning proceeding represents an opportunity for New York State to be a national leader in the transition from fossil fuel furnaces and stoves to efficient electric appliances for heating and cooking that can run on renewable energy (a transition known as “beneficial electrification”). 

“States across the Northeast are realizing that electrification is simply the only way to eliminate emissions in buildings. Maine has set a goal to install heat pumps in 20% of its homes by 2025, and Massachusetts is backing up strong consumer incentives for heat pumps with a hard look at the future of the state’s gas distribution companies. When New York decides that it’s time to wind down fossil gas and invest in electrification, it will be in good company. We urge the Public Service Commission to recognize that a future without explosive gas leaks and carbon monoxide poisoning is a future worth pursuing,” said Matt Rusteika, Buildings Initiative Director at Acadia Center, member of Renewable Heat Now.

Climate scientists have been increasingly concerned about the atmospheric warming from fracking, the process used to extract most methane gas from the ground in the United States. Though the practice of fracking was banned in NY in 2014, the state has been steadily expanding the use of fracked gas for heating. The comment calls this out saying: “The science is clear. Methane gas is a highly potent global warming agent, and approximately 62% of the gas used in New York is delivered directly to customers by gas utilities for heating, hot water, cooking. We must reduce our reliance on fossil fuels for these needs. Heat pump technology is available to make the switch to renewable heat and hot water, and induction is an efficient alternative for cooking. However, most households and businesses are unaware of these options and cannot yet take advantage of them due to cost and policy obstacles.”

New York’s climate law calls for rapid decarbonization in all sectors while simultaneously ramping up renewable energy generation, but policy and industry advocates say the state must do more. “We are simply not electrifying the heat & hot water in buildings at nearly the rate required to reach CLCPA targets.” said John Ciovacco, Board Member, New York Geothermal Energy Organization (NY-GEO), member of Renewable Heat Now. Referencing the economic opportunity for transitioning the workforce he went on to say, “Building on our existing workforce there will be tremendous growth in new heat pump installation jobs – especially in the most densely populated urban areas of our state. Ground Source Heat Pumps require the installation of piping systems assembled with many of the same materials and techniques as natural gas piping. Let’s work to identify shovel ready projects that keep former gas pipeline workers doing what they do best, but now building the carbon-free energy infrastructure!”   

Renewable and equitable solutions to New Yorkers’ thermal energy needs are sitting on the shelf unutilized because the utilities have proven reluctant to embrace change. “Proven technologies can harvest free thermal energy from the air, water, sun, and ground at much higher efficiencies than combustion systems. These technologies have been installed at scale for years in China, South Korea, Europe, Canada, and to a limited extent in the US. It is time for New York to fully embrace these technologies and start delivering combustion free heating and cooling that is more affordable, and up to six times more energy efficient and less wasteful,” said Jerry Acton, Complex Systems Architect: The GreyEdge Group, LLC Senior Fellow: Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy.

Even in the face of mounting climate science and New York’s emissions targets, the corporate utilities have clung relentlessly to their business as usual model. Prior to the launch of the gas planning proceeding, the only mechanism for stakeholders to influence the utilities directly was through rate cases. “We recently won unprecedented concessions in the NYSEG/RG&E rate case to commit to zero net growth in gas over the next three years, but it is not enough to get us where we need to be to address climate change.” said Kristen Van Hooreweghe of the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition, member of Renewable Heat Now. “The onus to change our gas trajectory should not fall to underfunded, small nonprofits and volunteers to fight large multinational utilities, rate case by rate case. Although our participation yielded positive outcomes, it is apparent that without clear direction from the Public Service Commission, utilities will continue to fight tooth and nail to maintain their profits from dirty energy that harms people and the planet. It is time for the Commission to take the lead and develop a comprehensive plan for a just and sustainable future.” 

Transition from fossil energy to beneficial electrification is more than a technology shift; energy democracy and justice must be central to the way the energy transition is planned and implemented. “Frontline communities across the state, from Buffalo to Brooklyn, are already leading – and have been for years – a Just Transition to an equitable, regenerative, and renewable energy economy. With passage of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act in 2019, our leadership was validated. History and the law are now on our side and we refuse to backpedal into a dirty and dangerous future powered by corporate greed and fossil fuels, including fracked methane gas,” said Clarke Gocker, Director of Policy and Strategy at PUSH Buffalo.   

Community members who have borne the brunt of incessant fracked gas infrastructure buildout are calling for a seat at the decision making table and are demanding more accountability from both the corporate utilities and the Commission. “New Yorkers from across the state have been stopping unnecessary, dangerous fracked gas infrastructure from being built in our communities for years,” said Lee Ziesche, Community Engagement Coordinator with Sane Energy Project, member of Renewable Heat Now. “But we’re running out of time to act on climate, and incremental progress and stopping projects one by one aren’t enough this late in the game. We need our regulators to stand with our communities and work with us to create a just transition off fracked gas now.” 

“The Greenpoint neighborhood in Brooklyn has a history of toxicity that goes back 100 years. The 30 million gallons of oil that leaked under this neighborhood is three times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill, “ said Greenpoint resident, Margot Spindelman who has been organizing with the No North Brooklyn Pipeline Coalition. “The idea that National Grid is now burrowing toward our neighborhood with a pipeline we don’t need, and asking us to pay for it, is appalling. And they want to truck liquefied natural gas on our streets, which is so dangerous that it is currently illegal to do so. All of this, so that we can line the pockets of their shareholders. We say NO.” 

Caroline Fenner, a volunteer leader with Mothers Out Front, member of Renewable Heat Now, said, “My husband and I left NYC to raise our two young children in Poughkeepsie. In the short time we’ve lived here, a new, dirty, fracked gas power plant, the Cricket Valley Energy Center, has been built nearby. And now National Grid is proposing to expand gas through the so-called Iroquois Pipeline which cuts right through Dutchess County! The EPA recently gave Dutchess County a D grade for air quality. As a teacher and a mom, I urge the Public Service Commission to advocate for a livable climate for all children and compel the utilities to get out of the gas business.”

Renewable Heat Now is a campaign organized by Alliance for a Green Economy, New Yorkers for Clean Power, NY-GEO, HeatSmart Tompkins, Fossil Free Tompkins, Sane Energy Project, Frack Action, Pace Energy and Climate Center, Binghamton Regional Sustainability Coalition, Earthjustice, Mothers Out Front, NYPIRG, Rochester People’s Climate Coalition, Acadia Center, and Food and Water Action.