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New York to weigh all-electric buildings mandate in climate law implementation

As part of a plan to implement a landmark climate law, New York is poised to consider statewide restrictions on natural gas use in new and existing buildings.

An advisory panel responsible for developing policies and proposals to cut building greenhouse gas emissions presented a preliminary set of draft proposals Feb. 4. They included developing an all-electric construction code and prohibiting New Yorkers from replacing appliances and building systems with fossil fuel equipment.

SNL Image

A panel under the New York State Climate Advisory Council is focused on developing recommendations for regulating energy efficiency and conservation, building electrification, low-carbon fuels and decarbonizing building electricity supply.
Source: Thinkstock

The recommendations put New York among a handful of states considering statewide gas restrictions in buildings, along with Washington and California. In recent years, towns, cities and counties have driven the building electrification movement.

The recommendations, while preliminary, track with New York's climate goals and policy environment. The state's Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, or CLCPA, has mandated an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state has become a difficult place to site gas infrastructure, and regulators are considering reforming long-term gas planning (20-G-0131). In December 2020, 190 elected officials from 10 regions signed a letter in support of reform, including increased building electrification.

Statewide building gas ban under consideration

Direct emissions from fossil fuel combustion for space and water heating in buildings account for more than a quarter of the state's economywide emissions, according to the New York State Climate Action Council, a committee tasked with preparing a plan to achieve the CLCPA's clean energy and climate goals. To address these emissions, the council's Energy Efficiency and Housing Advisory Panel recommended banning gas and oil equipment for space and water heating in new single-family homes and multifamily and commercial buildings. The bans would take effect in roughly five years for homes and in about 10 years for larger buildings.

Another preliminary recommendation would prohibit purchasing a new fossil fuel space or water heating system for use in single-family homes in about a decade and in multifamily and commercial buildings in roughly 15 years. The panel proposed banning the replacement of stoves and clothes dryers with gas equipment about 10 years from now.

Homeowners and building managers would not have to replace functioning boilers, hot-water heaters and appliances when the regulation takes effect. Instead, they would have to opt for an electric alternative at the end of the equipment's useful life. The rule, also being pursued in Bellingham, Wash., is meant to reduce the cost burden by requiring the gas-to-electric switch when consumers make their next purchase.

Building benchmarks, performance standards are part of proposal

The panel recommended requiring energy benchmarking for buildings, which would measure building energy usage and compare it to average usage in comparable buildings. The state would use that benchmarking data to establish an energy efficiency performance standard for multifamily, commercial and industrial buildings of 25,000 square feet or larger.

Building performance standards establish a minimum performance requirement that ratchets up periodically to drive continued improvement. The program would leave it up to building owners to decide how to meet the target, but it could be designed to encourage electrification. The Energy Efficiency and Housing Advisory Panel recommended including a building electrification credit in the performance standard.

To prepare New York for the transition, the panel proposed workforce development and consumer awareness programs as well as low-cost financing and incentive mechanisms for energy efficiency, electrification and other building improvements.

The panel also floated regulatory reforms for gas utilities, including a ban on advertising gas as "clean" or "climate friendly" and a requirement to align depreciation schedules for gas infrastructure investments with CLCPA goals. The panel proposed phasing out gas equipment incentives and rebates and eliminating a subsidy that covers most of the cost of extending gas service to residential customers.

Path forward

The Energy Efficiency and Housing Advisory Panel will collect stakeholder comments on the proposals through Feb. 18. It said it intends to submit recommendations to the Climate Action Council by mid-March. The council is scheduled to draft a scoping plan based on the advisory panel recommendations and input from New York's Just Transition Working Group through 2021.

Around the beginning of 2022, the council will issue a draft scoping plan, according to a schedule provided by the panel. After another round of public hearings, the council will deliver the final plan to the governor and Legislature for approval around the start of 2023. State agencies would then develop regulations based on the adopted scoping plan.