Sen. Tony Bucco (Courtesy of New Jersey Assembly GOP)
Opponents of electrification benchmarks in Gov. Phil Murphy’s plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions redoubled their criticism this week after the state revealed it understated the cost difference between electric and gas boilers.
The Department of Environmental Protection, which is mulling new regulations for boiler permits, said in a rule proposal unveiled in December that electric boilers would cost between 4.2% and 4.9% more to operate than their gas counterparts. But a correction issued by the agency Tuesday said running electric boilers would cost between 4.2 and 4.9 times more than their fossil fuel equivalents.
To Eric DeGesero, executive vice president of the Fuel Merchants Association of New Jersey, the correction was another sign Murphy is ignoring the costs of a transition away from fossil fuel heating.
“He’s shone those bright lights on everything, but he’s never once — whether it’s the $20,000 to convert my house or the astronomical cost that landlords and tenants and commercial building owners are going to have to bear — he’s never once highlighted the electrification of the building sector,” DeGesero said. “It’s like the dirty little secret he doesn’t want to tell anyone about.”
Murphy’s Energy Master Plan aims to reduce carbon emissions to 20% of their 2006 levels by 2050.
Boilers are used to heat apartment buildings, schools, and businesses too large to be warmed by other types of HVAC systems, and such facilities would bear the brunt of increased operational costs of electric boilers. The DEP says it costs thousands of dollars less to install electric boilers than gas-operated ones, though DeGesero said the administration is not including the costs of upgrades needed to operate electric boilers.
Equipment costs for electric and gas boilers are roughly equal, the DEP says, and the difference in operational costs stems from the relatively low price of natural gas, compared to electricity.
“The numbers are astronomical,” Sen. Tony Bucco (R-Morris) said. “We have a business community that’s struggling already, schools that are fighting for every dollar to educate our kids, and you’re going to lump this on top of those already struggling areas? It’s just crazy. It makes no sense to me.”
Environmentalists say lobbyists for fossil fuel companies and Republicans who are critical of the Energy Master Plan are ignoring indirect costs associated with fossil fuel use.
“It’s, again, not just what you pay. It’s also the cost that you don’t automatically associate with it, like the same businesses being flooded or not able to sell their product or reopen,” New Jersey League of Conservation Voters Executive Director Ed Potosnak said. “I think we’ve got to take a whole comprehensive look at what we’re doing and where we get the most bang for our buck.”
These indirect costs include increased instances of asthma and lung cancer caused by poor air quality, Potosnak said, as well as damage caused by storm systems made more severe by climate change. Supporters of Murphy’s energy goals pointed to the widespread damage caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida last year as a reason he should move ahead.
Though it’s been hailed by environmentalists, opponents have assailed Murphy’s energy plan over costs, saying installation and operation costs would drive residents and businesses out of the state.
A spokesperson for the governor did not return a request for comment. While he was seeking re-election last year, Murphy said the plan’s costs would not fall to ratepayers.
Last year, the Fuel Merchants Association launched a campaign against provisions of the plan that calls for homes to be heated using electric heat pumps instead of systems operated by natural gas, heating oil, and other fossil fuels.
There, too, they charged the administration is understating the costs of electrification. For Potosnak, there’s little question of what’s driving the opposition.
“It doesn’t surprise me that the fossil fuel interests that profit off the model that’s choking our air and causing these devastating effects of climate change are celebrating news that they can continue to make money,” Potosnak said.
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