Lawmakers are hoping to slow down part of the Murphy administration’s clean energy goals surrounding the electrification of building heating systems, by prohibiting the state from mandating that commercial and residential properties switch to electric from oil and natural gas.
The lame duck proposal – Senate Bill 4133 – was approved in a 5-0 vote by the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee on Dec. 6.
Fossil and natural gas proponents praised the bill as a means to rein in what they argue could be exploding costs for unreliable technology outlined in Gov. Phil Murphy’s clean energy goals. Environmentalists panned the bill as simply catering to these industries at the expense of the state’s well-being.
State officials contend that the process of electrifying a building’s heating system is key to reducing greenhouse emissions and fossil fuel dependency—part of the Murphy administration’s goals to have the state entirely reliant on clean and renewable energy by the middle of the century.
Murphy’s plan estimates that space and water heating, appliances and industry use, which rely on fossil fuels and natural gas, account for 28% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, and so the plan calls for the electrification of those processes.
“[C]ontinuing to expand the gas distribution system and rely on fossil fuel heating for new construction and replacement of aging heating systems will lock in decades of continued emissions,” the plan reads.
Murphy’s office did not comment on this bill, citing a policy to not comment on pending legislation. But, the governor and his office have indeed commented on pending legislation, such as when Murphy announced his support on Dec. 2 for several bills enacting new gun restrictions.
At what cost
Official state estimates pin the costs of installation at between $4,000 and $7,000. But the costs would be much closer to a range of $12,000 to $22,000, according to a study commissioned by the Fuel Merchants Association.
“The Murphy administration has been unable to refute that or provide their own realistic cost estimate,” reads a prepared statement issued Monday from Eric DeGesero, executive vice president at the Fuel Merchants Association of New Jersey.
“While we support clean energy goals, Governor Murphy’s Energy Master Plan and his total electrification mandate comes at too great a cost for New Jersey families,” he said.
Under the proposed S4133, the state’s chief environmental regulatory bodies – the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, and the departments of environmental protection, and of community affairs – would be barred from mandating an electric heating system or electric water heating system from being a residential or commercial building’s primary source of heating.
Those agencies can still offer financial incentives, and a home or business is still free to switch entirely to an electric heating system if they desire to do so.
One of the measure’s chief sponsors, state Sen. Vin Gopal, D-11th District, said in a prepared statement that the electrification process would be a “significant undertaking that will have pretty drastic consequences,” especially for holder buildings.
“If we were to mandate electric heating systems, it will absolutely lead to an increase in energy rates and higher costs for customers,” he continued. “New Jersey residents have spoken up and exclaimed they want us to lower costs, not increase them.”
Ray Cantor, the vice president of government affairs at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said that the decision for business owners and consumers to switch to electric heating needs to be “their own choice of fuel for heating purposes,” given the potential costs.
But environmentalists accused lawmakers of bowing to lobbying pressure and public relations campaigns.
“This bill exists to promote the interests of the fossil fuel industry’s campaign to mislead people about the transition to clean energy,” reads a statement from Food & Water Watch New Jersey Director Matt Smith.
“It is disappointing that lawmakers would attempt to slow down progress just to prop up the interests of polluters.”