A Key Issue: Stop New York’s Gas Ban

With a Democrat and a Republican also vying for the two open seats on the Cazenovia Town Council, I did’t expect to win running as a Libertarian. But that is less important to me than having the opportunity as a candidate to highlight some new issues important to the Town’s future. Tops among these is New York State’s ban, passed as a modification to state building codes this past April as part of the 2023 budget and effective starting January 1, 2026. It applies to both natural-gas utility hookups and propane tank installations on new housing under seven stories—almost all that might be built in Cazenovia. This new law is not merely ineffective; it is an existential threat to a sustainable future for most of rural northern and western New York, including Cazenovia.

The New York Climate Action Council’s December 2022 Scoping Plan pushed for an even quicker ban on p. 187: “Adopt State codes that prohibit building systems or equipment used for the combustion of fossil fuels in new construction statewide of single-family and low-rise multifamily residential buildings having three stories or less (and additions and alterations as applicable)…starting in 2025.”

The Scoping Plan claims that this policy is perfectly consistent with the Climate Council’s goal of an electric grid powered 100% by renewables in 2040, even during winter. Figure 1 in the Scoping Plan is a graphical representation of how they expect to accomplish this single most ambitious goal of their Plan. This Figure makes references to some support from the Independent System Operator (ISO) of the New York electric grid. But the actual details in the ISO Outlook Report makes clear that some of the assumptions and conclusions the Climate Council claims are frankly squishy.

The Climate Council wintertime statewide electric energy projection smooths over regional and time differences reported in detail by the ISO. First, the Climate Council Scoping Plan (Figure 1) projects that in 2040, 9% of Winter Energy Production statewide can come from solar energy. But the ISO Outlook, Figure 22, actually shows that for Zone C (Central NY), even with the Climate Council’s assumptions (Scenario 2), close to 50% of total 2040 electrical generation capacity will come from solar energy. However, the ISO separately states that such solar power cannot contribute to the peak 2040 need for electric power, which in upstate NY will always occur during wintertime and several hours after sunset. Furthermore, the Climate Council 2040 energy projection indicates that 53% of statewide wintertime electricity will come from wind power. But the ISO Outlook actually says that for Central NY, under 30% of total capacity will come from intermitent wind power.

In fact, it is nowhere acknowledged in the Climate Council Report that the non-intermittent wintertime electricity sources envisioned for Central NY in 2040 by the ISO are almost exclusively from the existing 2-Gigawatt nuclear plant in Oswego along with 2 Gigawatt from “Energy Storage”. I am the owner of a Tesla Model 3, whose fully-charged batteries can output a sustained 4.5 kW for a 16-hour night before dying. In order to get 2 GW of electric power to supply the expected “storage” contribution to the Central NY wintertime electrical load, the CNY area would need to install fixed energy storage equivalent to 400,000 Tesla model 3 battery packs, or one for almost every household, current and future. Whose basements does the Climate Council envision holding these batteries?

In any plausible version of reality, over the entire lifetime of heat pumps installed on new homes jn Cazenovia in 2026, they will actually produce the majority of their wintertime heat from fossil fuels.

Furthermore, in upstate New York’s grueling winters, all new homes except those with the most extravagant ground-loop heat pumps will always require a substantial backup heating source. While I was collecting candidate petition signatures in May, I spoke with some Cazenovia residents who prided themselves on having wood-stove backups for their recently-installed heat pumps. These enabled such early-adopter Caz residents to shut off their natural-gas connections. I did not get back to these folks later in June, to find out whether they felt as much pride in this wood-stove solution, AFTER the air quality in Cazenovia deteriorated so badly due to Quebec’s forest fires.

Wood-stove replacements of existing natural-gas furnaces, imagined new nuclear power plants to provide “sustainable” electric power, and literal tons of expensive and dangerous lithium-ion batteries tucked into the basement of every Cazenovia home, are simply the height of “sustainable-energy” fallacy. Forcing adoption of these will drive Cazenovia’s true sustainability to near zero.

I might credit the Climate Action Council with scientific-technical skills vastly superior to mine, were it not for the very unscientific politically-driven omission from the Scoping Report, of potential carbon savings that would be likely to have a bigger impact than a new-home gas ban. Two major examples are bans on New York departures of cruise ships and private passenger jets, neither of which received even a mention in the Climate Council’s Scoping Plan.

Data published by WorldShipNY.com show nearly 500 cruise ship departures in 2023 from New York Port Authority’s three passenger cruise-ship terminals (in upper Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Cape Liberty, NJ), each carrying up to 1 million gallons of diesel or liquefied natural gas. Likewise, aviation expert Doug Gollan (privatejetcardcomparisons.com) states that private jet departures from New York State currently average around 100,000 per year, each carrying up to 50,000 gallons of jet fuel. This does not even include Teterboro Airport across the Hudson in New Jersey, which has the most private jet departures of any airport in the US, almost 75,000 in 2022. The combination of cruise ship and private-jet departures from New York State thus likely produce somewhere between 3 and 10 million metric tons of CO2 annually. This approaches or exceeds the annual CO2 savings expected from the statewide fossil-fuel ban for new homes.

In anyone’s wildest pseudoscientific dreams, the amount of CO2 saved per year in 2050 by prohibiting fossil fuel usage by all of Gov. Hochul’s 1-2 million envisioned new homes can barely exceed the savings that would be possible if New York just prohibited cruise ship and private passenger jet departures.

Of course, the prohibition of cruise ship and private passenger jet departures would most adversely affect the Downstate economy, whereas mandating decarbonization of new low-rise homes will most adversely affect the Upstate economy. Small wonder it is, then, that the Climate Action Council, which is dominated even more than the Legislature itself by appointees of Downstate politicians, would opt to decarbonize new homes rather than end cruise-ship and private-jet travel.

I strongly doubt that scientists on the Climate Council were unaware of the potential carbon savings from banning cruise-ship and private-jet departures, given how widely reported have been the efforts of nations such as the Netherlands to do just this. The omission from their 2022 Scoping Plan of any mention of these possibilities was therefore not likely any kind of intellectual failure, but rather a moral and political one. In science, such a deliberate public omission is a kind of cover-up, and is far worse than the petty crime of making a questionable projection of future trends.

Who could have predicted it? Except that I did predict an outcome like this, when I offered testimony at the Legislative hearings held prior to consideration of New York’s Climate and Community Protection Act, which established the New York’s Climate Council. Here is part of the written commentary I provided to Sen. Rachel May and other Legislative sponsors of that Act on Feb. 21, 2019, in the Centennial Center at SUNY ESF:

“The CCPA empowers an appointed rather than elected council to make major decrees and definitions of what constitutes economic justice; and to establish a new set of complex and onerous regulations that support those definitions. The CCPA thus weakens the power of our upstate Legislators, especially those in minority parties, to influence this key political debate. The Governor will appoint 21 of the 25 members of this council, with 3 more being appointed by the downstate legislators who currently occupy Senate and Assembly leadership positions. Only 1 of the 25 initial members is slated to be appointed by an elected politician from Upstate ([the] Assembly Minority Leader…). This means that urban and downstate interests and opinions will reign with even fewer checks and balances, with even less upstate and rural influence than we have now.”

So, what would I do to help Cazenovia cope with these policies, as a Town Councilor? First, I would try to get the Council to pass a resolution formally petitioning our local Assemblyman, State Senator, and Governor to revise the statute, in order to allow localities to opt out of these gas bans. Such a local opt-out provision was rumored to have been considered by the Legislature this past April, but never included. And if that change passed, I would vote to opt out.

Second, in the absence of a formal opt-out provision, I would urge the Town Council to formally adopt a policy to make enforcement of this gas ban the lowest Codes Enforcement priority. I would even go so far as to recommend implementing this (and saving the town money) by eliminating our position of Codes Enforcement Officer, and leaving this duty up to an elected Town Councilor as is done in many other New York Towns— I would certainly volunteer for this—so that this particular part of the State Building Code could receive its proper (minimal) level of enforcement.

Finally, and most urgently, I would suggest that the Town Council adopt a formal policy to encourage developers and homeowners to use the next 2 years to quickly install (or retrofit) a normal 30 years’ worth of gas-equipped homes in Cazenovia. This drive will have a huge economic payoff, based on my own decades-long experience choosing whether to get gas or go all-electric for my own homes.

Among other options for my first house in Charlottesville VA in 1991, the builder of that large development (Mill Creek South) gave every buyer a choice between a heat pump in the base price, or a combination of a gas furnace and water heater with central A/C, at an added cost of $2000 for the gas hookup. After many hours of research, I chose the gas option (including a gas-powered clothes dryer). History shows that I made the right decision for my personal finances. Not only did I save many times the initial cost of the gas installation over the ten years I owned the home, the value of gas-equipped homes in that subdivision went up way faster than those with heat pumps. As a consequence I was able to make a $35,000 profit on my original $92,000 investment, enough for me to put down the necessary down payment on a house with a little lakefront when I moved to Cazenovia in 2001.

By creating an artificial government-mandated shortage of modern gas-equipped homes in Upstate NY, our State Legislature is actually creating an enormous investment opportunity over the next two years. I hope Cazenovia residents with the capital, or credit rating, to install gas before the ban goes into effect in 2026 will strongly consider doing so. Such homes will likely rise rapidly in value after 2026, benefiting the individual investor. It will also benefit the Town by improving the desirability of our overall housing stock.

Please note that I am absolutely not a climate-change denier. I am making these recommendations in part because I think they are the best ways for our community and our state can handle approaching climate changes. And I am skeptical that even those on the NY Climate Council believe that decarbonization is truly as urgent at their Scoping Report makes it out to be. Otherwise, why would they totally omit any mention in their 2022 Scoping Report of a need to reduce private-jet or cruise-ship departures?

I am a frequent early adopter of new energy technologies, and even a sometime inventor of them. I am willing to use them—even advocate for others to adopt—when it makes sense. I was the only homeowner in that Mill Creek South development in Charlottesville to take the time to locate a supplier (in another state) who could construct and deliver properly-sized custom-made low-emissivity windows for my entire house, at an added cost of $1000 over the normal windows and skylight—another wise investment, as it turned out.

I was one of the first owners of a hybrid (Prius) in Central NY in December 2001; and also one of the earliest owners of a Tesla Model 3 in December 2018. I can testify that these vehicles have made extraordinarily good environmental and economic sense for someone like me, who has a 35-mile round-trip daily commute to Syracuse University, and who has the ability and money to maintain them and drive them safely, summer and winter, for car lifetimes approaching 300,000 miles. But I have always cautioned others–long-distance drivers especially, and those who are accident prone–that such vehicles are not always cost-effective or environmentally friendly. Rather than mandating that others do as I have done, I am strongly in favor of publishing good unbiased information, charging pollutant disposal fees as accurately as possible to cover long-term environmental costs, and letting consumers choose.

I am likewise strongly opposed to mandates for all-electric homes. I prefer rather to educate and encourage, recognizing that from Cazenovia to Buffalo, other investments such as improved insulation, window design, and ventilation, along with rooftop solar collection, are likely to produce better lifetime carbon-to-dollar payoffs than heat pumps.

But for the next two years, the best carbon-to-dollar payoff in Cazenovia will almost certainly come from investing in new homes with heat pumps as well as natural-gas hookups for backup wintertime heating. This gentle recommendation (not mandate) should be official Town and State policy.

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