Comments of the
Green Education and Legal Fund
to the Climate Action Council Energy Efficiency and Housing Panel
February 4, 2021
Thank you for the opportunity to provide input to the Panel. I am speaking today as chair of the Green Education and Legal Fund. I am also a core member of PAUSE (People of Albany United for Safe Energy); an advisor to the steering committee of 350NYC; and co-chair of the national EcoAction committee of the Green Party of the United States.
I ask that ALL meetings of this panel be made open to the public. Further, as required by New York’s nation-leading climate law, the CLCPA, climate and environmental justice must be at the center of this Panel’s recommendations. New York cannot achieve the goals of the CLCPA without the just and equitable implementation of energy efficiency and decarbonization of our homes and buildings.
New York must take many steps to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from buildings. It should follow for instance the innovations adopted in California regarding strengthening building codes and standards to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and promote the use of renewable energy. New residential buildings in California by 2020 are required to be carbon free (or neutral), all buildings by 2030, and new residential buildings 3 stories and under must include solar by 2020.
Title 24 California Building Standards Code is a broad set of requirements for “energy conservation, green design, construction and maintenance, fire and life safety, and accessibility” that apply to the “structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems” in a building.
New York should be more aggressive in requiring local communities to adopt energy building measures such as STRETCH.
NY should require all new buildings to use renewable electric heat and should increase the financial incentives to covert from gas and oil heating to air heat pumps and geothermal. (see more details below) NYC just said it will stop all new natural gas hookups.
NY must fix the Green Jobs Green New York program on residential energy retrofits. The Cuomo administration, the utilities and the financial industry have consistently undercut the implementation of the Pay on Your Bill approach mandated by the state legislature.
Implementation of the Green Jobs Green NY program has been a major disappointment. On Oct. 9, 2009, Governor David Paterson signed the legislation which sought to provide energy efficiency repairs and retrofits to homes throughout the state, while saving customers money through future energy savings. Supporters projected that the bill would ‘green’ one million homes throughout the state and create 14,000 new jobs. Six years after its passage, the legislation’s results were far short of those goals. Only a few thousand homes were retrofitted, and it’s estimated that the program yielded only a thousand or so new jobs—1,069 as of 2015, according to state officials. Despite the landmark use of on-bill financing by utilities, access to credit remains a major barrier. In addition, tenants have been reluctant to “incur debt” to enable energy upgrades to their apartment.  (see https://www.nyserda.ny.gov/researchers-and-policymakers/green-jobs-green-new-york)
At an Assembly hearing on climate before the CLCPA was passed, Walter Hang of Toxics Targeting stated “According to the U.S. Energy Department, homes can reduce their energy consumption by up to 30 percent by implementing simple energy efficiency methods such as switching to light emitting diode bulbs, installing programmable thermostats and weatherizing windows and doors. Deep energy efficient retrofits and install insulation and seal homes from drafts can achieve higher energy efficiency”. Hang recommended that a significant portion of CEF (Clean Energy Funds) funds be allocated an annual basis to launch a statewide deep retrofit insulation, weatherization and efficiency program.”
I built my own super-insulated, passive solar home in 1985 in an intentional community based on sustainability principles in Poestenkill NY (where I later served on the Town Board). The Town and County officials implemented building codes, zoning regulations and health regulation in an inflexible manner without any regard to sustainability principles, in fact often in open hostility. We have built six houses on 180 acres, far fewer than we are legally entitled to and yet our efforts to promote cluster housing to promote land preservation were repeatedly denied. Setback requirements and drawing of boundary lines often hinder proper siting of houses to maximize solar or other energy conservation measures. Houses should normally be oriented to the southwest to maximize solar gain, rather than often forced to face existing roads. Building and planning officials are years and often decades behind the latest innovations and research regarding sustainability and energy measures. Such rules often discriminate against low- and moderate-income New Yorkers, since the wealthy can pay for lawyers and engineers to spend time educating / pressuring officials to accept modifications or construct duplicate systems (you can do it your more environmentally sound way as long as you also build a backup system that does it our way).
I witnessed similar problems when I recently lived in New York City, including problems related to roofs and installation of solar.
Newly enacted state rules related to joint ownership of renewable energy systems (minimum of 10 owners) were also overly restrictive (Vermont only requires 2).
Banks and insurance companies also must be forced to accept sustainability measures. We ended up taking out a personal loan rather than a mortgage to build our home because the bank wanted to require the installation of backup energy systems driven by fossil fuels, despite having told us otherwise during the initial application process. (When they heard I worked for Ralph Nader, they at least quickly refunded all the bank application fees rather than me suing them.)
Below are some proposals advanced by Sane Energy and the Renewable Heat Now campaign that we support.
“#GasSunset” New York’s residents, housing developers, HVAC installers and utilities need clear signals on how and when it will be necessary to reduce GHG emissions. It is unacceptable that houses are still being built with fossil gas systems that will spew greenhouse gas emissions for the next 20 to 30 years. Further, continued oil to gas conversions must not be promoted or supported using ratepayer monies. We will not meet our climate goals as long as this continues. Builders do not seem aware that fossil fuel heating is becoming obsolete. A strong signal needs to be sent to them, and a sunset date for fossil fuel heating and cooling is a must.
According to the Sierra Club, there are 41 municipalities nationwide that have adopted building codes to reduce their reliance on gas. NYS should require every new building construction project to install 100% fossil-fuel-free heating and hot water equipment as soon as possible—certainly no later than the next code revision in 2023. Without clear target dates we will continue to see “business as usual.”
“#FollowCLCPA” GHG standards
It is critical to have greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions data conform with the CLCPA. “Natural” gas is mostly methane. Methane over a 20-year time frame has a global warming potential 86 times that of CO2. We must consider all the sources of methane: production, transmission, storage, distribution and use of fossil fuels. This data will reveal the true global warming impact and the importance of adopting cleaner alternatives to burning fossil fuels. This is important to be able to determine if the measures we take will lead us to achieve the greenhouse gas emission requirements. We need to know the true climate impacts of our options in order to set valid goals.
“#HeatPumpsNotPipelines” We need to know the number of buildings that need to be converted to heat pumps each year, otherwise we will not know if we will reach the CLCPA targets.
“#MakePollutersPay” The New York Independent System Operator, Inc. (NYISO), responsible for managing New York’s electric grid and its competitive wholesale electric marketplace, is currently developing a carbon fee for the electricity generation sector. Instead, an economy-wide fee on fossil fuel companies, including the heating and transportation sectors, needs to be implemented to fund the transition.
The Climate and Community Investment Act is a bill in the legislature that will charge polluters a fee that will then be used to fund weatherization and heat pumps for LMI residents. This will ensure these programs are financed separately from the general fund. Charging fossil fuel users for the true external costs will also accelerate the transition to cleaner renewable energy system. There is also an earlier carbon tax bill that I helped draft with Assembly Cahill that would rebate 60% of the tax to low and moderate income households and invest the rest in mass transit, renewable energy and climate resilency.
Direct utilities to reallocate funds used for expanding gas infrastructure and instead to invest them in renewable heating infrastructure.
“#FairPlayForHeatPumps” Let heat pumps be competitive. It is wrong to continue ratepayer and taxpayer-funded fossil fuel subsidies while we face a climate emergency. Until fossil fuel subsidies are eliminated, heat pumps will be hampered in competing with conventional heating and cooling.
Stop NYS Policies that Provide Fossil Fuel Subsidies NYPIRG and NY Youth Climate Leaders have been leading the way on eliminating counterproductive fossil fuel subsidies in the 2021-22 state budget.
End the 100-Foot Subsidy for Gas This forces ratepayers to pay for free gas pipes for new gas customers. As more ratepayers switch to renewable heating, fewer will be left to pay for the infrastructure that will become stranded assets.
Consider a 100-Foot Subsidy for District Loop Systems This will provide a similar, but thermal, service that will incentivize households, which might otherwise not be able to afford the upfront cost of an individual loop, to convert to a geothermal heat pump.
Recognize the Benefits of Beneficial Electrification The current electricity rate structure overcharges customers who install geothermal heat pumps because they help reduce peak demand. Explore a reduced electricity rate for LMI customers who install heat pumps.
Address Upfront Costs The biggest obstacle to widespread heat pump adoption is the initial cost. The Climate Action Council needs to find ways to provide low interest, long-term financing for carbon-free heating systems that are affordable for LMI New Yorkers. It is already in place for clean water infrastructure improvements and a similar model needs to be in place for NY’s heating sector decarbonization.
Address Grid Reliability Concerns Both current and future grid reliability issues need to be confronted, and a strategy implemented for flattening peak demand and expanding renewable power and storage to meet the demands of electrification.
“#PlugBeneficialElectrification” Design and implement an outreach, education and client support strategy to support beneficial electrification measure adoption and to anticipate and counter opposition.
A mass education and communications campaign It is necessary to familiarize New Yorkers with the health, safety, climate and economic benefits of beneficial electrification technology.
Build on and improve existing programs from NYSERDA for LMI customers The utilities, the industry, the clean heating and cooling communities and the new clean energy hubs to provide coordinated, trusted, efficient and accessible education and support. A coordinated approach across the players is essential, and messaging and design should be guided by community contractors who are most familiar with their respective audiences.
Commercial and Industrial customers need competent advice Create an effective network of commercial energy advisors with the qualifications to work directly with developers, building owners, architects and engineers to help move the sector toward clean heating and cooling.
“#HeatPumpJobs” Create and implement a comprehensive, interagency and scalable workforce development pipeline program for education, training and retraining of the beneficial electrification workforce.
Create a clear and recognized clean heating and cooling career pathway in New York Link K-12, BOCES, Community College, union training and university programs so that young people can learn about this field in the early grades and have a clear understanding of how to go into these trades. An interagency task force including SED, SUNY, DOL, NYSERDA, Unions, Industry, EJ organizations and other stakeholders should be established to design, establish and guide this work, which should also be extended to other clean energy careers.
Train the implementers Develop innovation and training centers throughout the state to provide ongoing and accessible training in heat pump installation and building design for energy efficiency focused on providing services for the entire building industry, including but not limited to HVAC contractors, general contractors, plumbers, home performance contractors, architects, and engineers.
Seek and solicit allied industry/trade organizations acceptance and innovative ideas/efforts This collaboration will benefit the accelerated movement away from fossil fuels and can assist with the acceleration.
We also endorse the following proposals by NY Renews.
FUND ALL MANDATES! Regulations like building codes and appliance standards can drive energy conservation, emission reductions, and the demise of fossil fuel industries and technologies. Unfunded mandates, however, can threaten economically vulnerable poor and working-class households and disadvantaged communities. We must demand grants, incentives, and affordable inclusive financing at scale for all New Yorkers. Early and aggressive investments will ensure no one gets stranded on dirty and increasingly expensive fossil fuel distribution systems.
END STRUCTURAL RACISM IN THE HOUSING MARKET! Disinvestment and structural racism in the housing market has left far too many homes and commercial buildings in frontline communities unsafe, unhealthy, and in disrepair. An effective energy efficiency and decarbonization strategy must include direct investment in energy efficiency retrofit and electrification readiness upgrades to buildings located in disadvantaged communities and occupied by poor and working class, and BIPOC residents.
INVEST IN GREEN JOBS! A business as usual approach to procurement, contracting, and employment is unacceptable. To deliver on the promise of the CLCPA, the state must invest in the growth of green jobs training and community-to-career pathways for workers who have historically faced barriers to employment – returning citizens, women, immigrants/refugees, and BIPOC communities.
SUPPORT AND PRIORITIZE MWBEs! The state must also commit to supporting the growth of Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs) and cooperatives by ensuring access to contracting and procurement opportunities in the energy efficiency and building decarbonization sector.
PRIORITIZE BOTTOM UP SOLUTIONS! Top-down and market-based energy efficiency and building decarbonization “solutions” could transform frontline communities into zones of financial extraction and profiteering by private corporations and contractors. We must demand support for bottom-up solutions that position community-based organizations as innovators and demand drivers for energy efficiency services and clean heating and cooling technologies.
A closing comment.
I know that several years ago ACEEE gave a zero rating to NYS on Appliance and Equipment Energy Efficiency Standards. I do not know what NY has done since then other than recently water efficiency standards for faucets, showerheads, toilets, urinals, and drinking fountains. NYS was one of the first states to adopt such standards in the 1980’s, with legislation passed in 2005 and 2009. While many of the products have since been pre-empted by the federal government, the rulemakings for the standards of the eight remaining products are ongoing, so the standard levels have not yet been set and, consequently, are not being enforced.
Green Education and Legal Fund
156 Big Toad Road, Poestenkill NY 12140