Time for leaders to drop fear-mongering

Lisa Marshall

I’m writing in response to the recent editorial: “Need for balance, common sense on NY’s energy future” penned by my state senator Tom O’Mara and neighboring Assemblyman, Phil Palmesano.

I was struck by the fact that O’Mara and Palmesano in their article, a full-throated critique of the Climate and Community Investment Act (CCIA), offered nothing in the way of their ideas for solutions to the climate emergency nor for helping New Yorkers cope with rising fuel prices, in particular the cost of home heating fuels which is skyrocketing this winter. These are bipartisan issues that impact all New Yorkers requiring us to work together across the aisle for common sense solutions.

I run a clean energy program, HeatSmart Tompkins, in Senator O’Mara’s district which helps households to access weatherization and efficient electric heat pumps for their homes and buildings. Our program promotes numerous small businesses in his district, creates jobs, and helps households to convert from expensive fossil fuel heating to energy efficient heat pumps. Heat pumps are the most cost effective way to heat most upstate homes and provide additional benefits of improved air quality and summer cooling. In addition, a home heated with a heat pump protects rate payers from dramatic price fluctuations in heating costs as compared with fossil fuels.

Our program which covers both Tompkins and Chemung counties has helped hundreds of households in O’Mara’s district to improve their comfort, air quality and lower their energy bills. We are working with multiple municipalities in both counties with Democrats and Republicans on community campaigns for clean heating to reach residents with this important message. I don’t know where they got the number $30,000 for an average heating system conversion, but that’s wildly inaccurate. The average price of a heat pump system in a recent NYSERDA pilot (which included both air source heat pumps and higher priced geothermal heat pump systems) was closer to $20,000 and that’s the price before incentives, not the price paid by the homeowner. In fact, many low income households are able to take advantage of grant money and rebates and have gotten weatherization and new heating systems installed free of charge. Even higher priced heating system conversions often make good economic sense — these upgrades to homes often pay for themselves relatively quickly. It’s not unusual to see a household go from paying $4000/year for propane to $400/year to heat with geothermal heat pumps.

Imagine how many more of O’Mara and Palmesano’s constituents, many of whom are lower income and paying exorbitant prices for delivered fuels such as oil and propane, could realize these benefits if our legislators came together in good faith to figure out how to support and fund this transition! It is in the interest of all New Yorkers to collectively invest in the buildings where our citizens live, work and play. Fossil fuels burned in buildings are the biggest contributor to climate change in our state and the transition of home heating to heat pumps is in everyone’s best interest except for a tiny handful of fossil fuel industry executives.

Currently the fossil fuel industry gets 350,000,000 of subsidies annually straight out of New Yorkers’ pockets. What if we instead subsidized the renewable and energy efficient approaches to heating, cooking, transportation, and electricity generation? We are on the cusp of an energy revolution that will bring unprecedented economic investment to our state resulting in tens of thousands of green jobs, improved living conditions and health for all of us and a dramatic reduction in our carbon footprint. It’s time for our leaders to drop the fear-mongering and division and get on board.

Lisa Marshall is the program director of HeatSmart Tompkins, Tompkins County. She is a resident of Horseheads.

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