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Anti-climate change measure gains momentum at the State Capitol

Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy speaks in favor of the NY HEAT Act at the State Capitol on Jan. 23, 2024.
Karen DeWitt
/
New York Public News Network
Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy speaks in favor of the NY HEAT Act at the State Capitol on Jan. 23, 2024.

Supporters of a measure to combat climate change in New York say they are encouraged that Gov. Kathy Hochul put elements of the bill in her state budget proposal.

The bill is known as the NY HEAT Act, which stands for Home Energy Affordable Transition. It would, among other things, discourage natural gas hookups to new homes by eliminating a practice known as the 100-foot rule.

Utility ratepayers currently shoulder the cost of the gas pipelines if the new construction is located less than 100 feet from the gas line. Advocates say that amounts to a $200 million subsidy per year for the gas companies.

It also would cap energy bills for low- and middle-income New Yorkers to 6% of their total income.

Hochul for the first time included the elimination of the 100-foot rule in her state budget proposal. She also backs changes that would make it easier for the utilities to convert entire neighborhoods to clean energy sources, like wind and solar power and geothermal energy.

Hochul spoke about the urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions during her budget presentation, saying it’s “personally important” to her.

“As a mom, as a grandma, we all have to be focused on the future that we’re leaving for our children,” Hochul said. “We've committed to take decisive action, the Legislature, this administration, we have to do it to meet the scale and the urgency of the climate crisis.”

Supporters, including Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, expressed relief at a rally Tuesday at the Capitol.

“It was a major breakthrough. We have not seen this for two years,” Fahy said. “And it really elevates the entire conversation.”

Fahy and other advocates said the changes would help New York meet its goals to reduce reliance on fossil fuels to net zero by 2050, as directed in the 2019 Climate Act, known as the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

The gas industry does not support the measure, and some major unions are also against it. There’s also been blowback among some members of the public and some Republican lawmakers over the limitations on natural gas access.

The measure does not ban the use of natural gas. But a separate provision in the state’s climate change act would end the installation of gas stoves and other gas-fired appliances in some new construction beginning in 2026. Critics also say that all electric-generated heat is more expensive than gas-fueled heating and cooling.

Fahy said the transition to wind, solar and geothermal energy is initially costly. But she said after the initial equipment is installed, the energy will be largely cost-free.

“But in the end, if your renewable energy is free, it's just the transmission costs or the investments to upgrade,” she said. “I know people who already have solar and have geothermal, they actually are giving energy back (to the utilities).”

The utility companies by law must buy back from ratepayers the excess energy that is produced, a practice called net metering.

Hochul did not include in her budget the HEAT Act’s provision for a cap on utility bills for lower-income New Yorkers. Fahy and other backers said they are amending a bill to try to get that approved as a standalone measure.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.