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Another Voice: Banning natural gas would be damaging to New York

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There is a movement afoot to have New York State ban the use of natural gas in the production of electricity. This policy would affect all newly built homes and businesses. My colleagues across the aisle who are proposing this ban need to pay closer attention to the ramifications of eliminating natural gas, which is a safe, reliable and lower-carbon fuel source.

In December, New York City voted to eliminate natural gas as an option for heating in new construction in order to cut carbon emissions. Rather than helping the planet, it may have the opposite effect because the necessary energy production to be replaced could incentivize keeping older, less-efficient power plants online for years to come.

As demand for electricity increases with efforts to electrify the transportation and building sectors, a rushed gas ban could still result in increased emissions if there are not adequate renewables and imports available or if there are delays in the construction and development of new resources and transmission infrastructure.

Most of New York State experiences cold, harsh winters. The draft policy encourages the use of wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. However, these sources are not always present in many areas of the state because the wind may not be blowing, the sun isn’t shining, or the energy sources simply do not exist and are unlikely to be built due to this state’s economic uncompetitiveness.

As conditions currently stand, the electrical grid would be severely challenged to handle the increase in electricity demand that natural gas bans would create during the cold winter months.

It is worth noting that San Francisco, which is frequently in the vanguard of such environmental movements, chose not to pursue a similar ban after a study concluded that requiring electrical retrofits of city residences would result in substantial costs to homeowners. The cost associated with disposing old appliances and purchasing new ones, labor and electrical panel upgrades would yield price tags ranging from $14,363 per housing unit to $19,574 for multi-family units and $34,790 for single family homes.

Applying these cost estimates to an estimated 240,231 housing units, the city-wide cost to retrofit all residential units currently using natural gas-fueled appliances with those fueled by electricity was estimated to be $3.5 billion to $5.9 billion. If that is what it would cost San Francisco alone, imagine what a statewide ban would cost the entire state of New York.

New Yorkers already pay above the national average for power, and we are already more vulnerable to rising energy costs than people who live in other areas of the country. Eliminating natural gas will only further those imbalances. All New Yorkers should be concerned that these policies will likely increase construction and utility costs, unfairly burden small businesses and disproportionately impact low, moderate and fixed-income communities. Sadly, cooking and heating with natural gas would be a thing of the past.

History has taught that outright prohibitions rarely meet their intended goals, are often costly and frequently deprive consumers of choice. Politically driven legislation spearheaded by those with little understanding of energy is never the solution.

Instituting environmental policy and ensuring affordability and reliability are not mutually exclusive goals. On the contrary, they can and should be done simultaneously. Natural gas has a place in New York State’s transition to a lower carbon future. Banning it is dead wrong.

Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, is minority leader in the New York State Senate.

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