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New York might take a second swing at electrification

The Climate 202

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For today: Democrats urge John Kerry to oppose oil executive as COP28 president and new labor standards in the Inflation Reduction Act take effect. But first:

New York’s governor has proposed a gas appliance ban, but major obstacles remain

Environmentalists rejoiced when New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) endorsed banning fossil fuel appliances in new buildings by 2025 for small buildings, including single-family homes, and by 2028 for larger or commercial ones.

But the Democratic leader of the state Assembly — which blocked a similar proposal last year — is noncommittal, and the measure is also facing resistance from developers, who say it could raise construction costs and hurt property values.

Hochul made the comments this month during her first State of the State address, with the hopes of getting the ambitious proposal into the state budget for fiscal 2024. 

  • Hochul also called for phasing out the sale of fossil fuel heating equipment, like boilers or furnaces, in existing residential buildings beginning in 2030 and in 2035 for commercial ones. 
  • And, she proposed a program to encourage investments in equitable, clean energy programs while establishing a declining cap on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that New York is allowed to produce each year. 

This was not the first time Hochul has committed to significantly reducing building emissions, which account for 30 percent of all planet-warming pollution in the state. Last year, the All-Electric Building Act, which would have banned gas in all new buildings by 2027, was shot down by the state Assembly and taken out of New York’s budget, despite approval from both the state Senate and the governor’s office. 

At the time, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D) said that he removed the bill from the budget because it was policy-focused rather than related to the state’s finances. Plus, he said the Assembly did not have enough time or information to make a decision on it. 

Heastie’s office told The Climate 202 that it could not respond to questions about the state budget until Hochul officially releases it Wednesday. “We will review with our members any proposals she includes in her budget and in March we will release the Assembly's budget proposal,” Michael Whyland, Heastie’s communications director, said in an email. 

The building electrification bill also faces battles from real estate developers and the natural gas industry as details are hammered out. 

Already, Altagracia Pierre-Outerbridge, a landlord and tenant attorney based in New York, said that developers are concerned that such a proposal could raise construction costs and make it more difficult to rent or sell units that are not equipped with electric appliances, ultimately affecting property values. 

Meanwhile, Bryan Grimaldi, vice president of corporate affairs for National Grid in New York, said the utility company is committed to transitioning away from fossil fuels, “especially as it relates to new construction.” 

However, he added that “as with any new proposal, the legislature will need to take into account the impact on homeowners and businesses, ensuring customers’ costs stay affordable and they maintain reliability during extreme weather.”

Still, optimism

Still, environmentalists said they have a good feeling that this year’s bill to electrify buildings is going to pass. 

“We’ve had years and years and years of failures,” said Pete Sikora, climate and inequality campaigns director with New York Communities for Change. “But it feels like this could be the turnaround year for New York — and I’m not the type to say that lightly.” 

Facing the growing risks of climate change in their districts and national movements to implement gas bans, “there’s no reasonable way to say this issue hasn’t been thoroughly aired by legislators at this point,” Sikora said. 

Plus, he added, “there’s a lot more pressure to act this year because there’s a lot of pent-up unhappiness on the part of the public groups and the legislators and the governor on this issue.” 

Do it in New York, do it anywhere

If approved, New York would not be the first state to implement a ban on fossil fuels in new buildings, but it would be the first to do so legislatively. Last year, Washington passed the first statewide mandates for electric building heat and the California Air Resources Board approved the nation’s first-ever plan to end the sale of fossil-fuel-burning appliances, though its rules are still being drafted. And in 2021, New York City banned natural gas appliances in new buildings, portending the statewide fight. 

But Daniel Zarrilli, then chief climate policy adviser for former mayor Bill de Blasio (D), told The Climate 202 that a New York ban on fossil-fuel-burning appliances would have “enormous value for the globe” because “if you can do it in New York, you can do it anywhere.” 

“Other places around the globe are all struggling with the same kinds of questions, and if New York in particular can provide a model for that, it will get picked up and noticed,” Zarrilli said.

“It’s going to be a big, big fight,” Sikora said. “And our side needs to muscle up and win.”

On the Hill

Democrats urge Kerry to oppose oil executive as COP28 president

A group of Democratic lawmakers on Friday urged U.S. climate envoy John F. Kerry to oppose the appointment of Sultan Al Jaber, the chief executive of one of the world’s largest oil companies, as president of the next U.N. Climate Change Conference, known as COP28. 

“To help ensure that COP 28 is a serious and productive climate summit, we believe the United States should urge the United Arab Emirates to name a different lead for COP 28,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter sent to Kerry and led by Rep. Jared Huffman (Calif.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.). “Or, at a minimum, seek assurances that it will promote an ambitious COP 28 aligned with the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) findings and take concrete steps to demonstrate domestic and regional leadership toward this end.” 

The United Arab Emirates, which is set to host COP28 this fall, made the announcement this month, immediately sparking criticism from environmentalists, some of whom compared the move to putting the head of a tobacco company in charge of negotiating an anti-smoking treaty. 

Kerry has previously expressed support for Al Jaber, citing his work on renewable energy projects. “I think that Dr. Sultan al-Jaber is a terrific choice because he is the head of the company. That company knows it needs to transition,” Kerry told the Associated Press this month. “He knows — and the leadership of the UAE is committed to transitioning.”

Signatories of the letter include Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) and Sean Casten (D-Ill.).

The power grid

99% of U.S. coal plants pricier to run than renewables, analysis finds

Nearly all coal plants in the United States are more expensive to operate than renewable energy projects that could replace them, according to an analysis.

The report by Energy Innovation, an energy and climate policy firm, looked at the cost of running the country's remaining 210 coal plants in 2021. 

For 99 percent of the coal plants, it would be cheaper to build and operate a new wind or solar project, the analysis found. That marks a major increase from 2019, when the firm first conducted the analysis and found that 62 percent of existing coal capacity was uneconomic compared to new renewables.

Replacing the 210 coal plants with wind and solar would create cost savings large enough to finance the addition of nearly 150 gigawatts of battery storage, increasing the reliability of the new renewables, the analysis concluded.

The report’s authors acknowledged that many communities depend on coal plants for jobs and tax revenue. But they noted that clean energy projects would also create jobs and economic growth, and that the Inflation Reduction Act offers additional tax credits to developers of clean energy projects in communities historically reliant on fossil fuels.

Agency alert

Worker protections in Inflation Reduction Act take effect

The labor standards in the Inflation Reduction Act took effect on Sunday, with the aim of supporting well-paying jobs in the clean energy sector.

To qualify for the clean energy tax credits in the climate law, firms must now pay workers a prevailing wage and employ a certain number of apprentices from registered apprentice programs. These requirements apply to facilities where construction begins on or after Jan. 29.

“Strong labor protections are now in place, and workers on these projects will see higher paychecks and more opportunities,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in a news release. “This marks the first time that workers on projects supported by clean energy tax incentives will benefit from protections on pay that have long benefited workers on projects supported by federal contracts.” 

On the Hill this week

The House and Senate are back this week. Here’s what we have on tap: 

On Wednesday: The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold a hearing to examine any supply chain challenges facing the transportation sector, including delays or high costs for getting the materials necessary to build electric vehicle batteries and EV charging infrastructure. 

On Thursday: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will meet to discuss the Energy Department’s progress on implementing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

In the atmosphere


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