Only three weeks before the legislature, the legislature discussed a key question for builders: Is it possible to supply all new buildings with electricity in a few years?
Environmentalists have been pushing for the state to ban gas hookups in new homes across New York from 2024. Gov. Kathy Hochul has set a 2027 deadline in her executive budget, but none of the proposals have been included in the final spending bills.
Now lawmakers and advocates are pushing for a measure that would follow New York City’s example of banning fossil fuels in some new buildings in 2024 and then applying the rules to taller buildings in 2027.
At a State Assembly hearing on Thursday, proponents stressed the need to act quickly, citing projections that global greenhouse gas emissions must be halved by 2030 to slow the pace of global warming.
Construction industry officials questioned the cost of the project and said the measure would displace workers. Others called the schedule unrealistic given the unreliability of the state’s power grid.
In December, the state’s Climate Action Council, tasked with developing a roadmap to meet the state’s emissions targets, released a draft calling for a ban on the use of gas and oil in single-family homes and other low-rise buildings by 2024 in commercial and apartment buildings with more than four floors by 2027.
It also proposed the phased electrification of the state’s 6.1 million existing buildings by banning the replacement of gas and oil connections from 2030.
During Thursday’s hearing, Doreen Harris, president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, supported that timeline and urged lawmakers to “accelerate” the transition to electrical systems.
Although pending legislation focuses on the electrification of new buildings, much of the consultation has focused on the challenges of upgrading older buildings. Several legislators have expressed concern about the cost of forcing existing properties to switch to electric power.
Republican Assembly Member Chris Tague warned that people “would be reluctant to buy a home” if they had to pay thousands of dollars to retrofit it. Harris said the hope is that by 2030 the market for electric heating and other technologies will grow and reduce costs.
Although she didn’t have an estimate for the costs associated with retrofitting the state’s building stock, Harris said the state estimated that it would cost $17,000 to electrify a $350,000 home and make other energy efficient ones to implement technologies.
Three years ago, the state approved the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and 85 percent by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. Buildings accounted for 32 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2021 state report from New York, more than any other polluter.
Peter Sikora, who leads climate and inequality campaigns for advocacy group New York Communities for Change, said he is encouraged by the Hochul government’s support for the electrification timeline. He said failure to pass legislation banning fossil fuels means wasting precious time “in a desperate fight for survival”.
Last year, the New York City Council approved a measure mandating electric heating and hot water in buildings less than seven stories high by January 1, 2024 and by July 1, 2027 in taller buildings.
The latest version of the state’s All-Electric Building Act, which initially banned fossil fuel burning in all new buildings by 2024, reflects the city’s timeline for electrifying new buildings throughout the rest of the state.
The Real Estate Board of New York filed testimony urging lawmakers to introduce time limits and saying it would be “unwise” to improve the city’s law. The trade group also called for financial support for building owners and urged lawmakers to consider a more flexible approach: banning on-site burning of fossil fuels in new buildings, rather than requiring them to be fully electric.
“With significant investment and innovation in low-carbon and zero-carbon fuels underway, it is possible for new buildings to use energy sources other than electricity and have zero on-site emissions in the years to come,” the group said in a statement.
Michael Fazio of the New York State Builders Association urged lawmakers to conduct a cost analysis of electrification before proceeding. John Murphy, a state representative for the United Association of Plumbers, Pipefitters and Sprinkler Installers, warned that the bill’s schedule would cost its members their livelihoods.
Other housing-related policies remain unresolved as the legislature is almost over. They include a measure to relax zoning for hotel-to-apartment conversions and another to allow the city to legalize existing basement apartments.