Electrification opponents see win on boiler mandate as temporary

By: - December 13, 2022 7:27 am

Opponents of a plan to require thousands of schools and apartment buildings to convert from gas to electric boilers say the mandate would be too costly. (Getty Images)

State environmental officials last week backed away from a proposal to mandate the use of electric boilers, but opponents believe it’s only a matter of time before a similar plan reemerges.

The proposal would have barred non-electric boilers from being installed in most commercial and government buildings beginning in 2025 in a bid to reduce the climate impact of gas heating systems used by schools and apartment buildings, but the push was waylaid by concerns that the shift would be too costly.

“There’s been a lot of people that have been cheering this, and I don’t know what’s to cheer,” said Eric DeGesero, executive vice president of the New Jersey Fuel Merchants Association, which opposed the mandate. “It’s like you score a run at the top of the first inning — well, that’s better than not scoring a run, but there’s still a lot of game left to play.”

Though the Department of Environmental Protection pulled the electric boiler proposal, a spokesperson said the agency isn’t abandoning all efforts to regulate the climate impact of boilers.

The department will continue to discuss the issue with stakeholders to ensure “the eventual regulation of boilers achieves a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions at a reasonable cost,” Vincent Grassi, a department press officer, said in a statement.

The boiler electrification proposal drew criticism in February after the Department of Environmental Protection released estimates that said electric boilers cost between 4.2 and 4.9 times more than their fuel counterparts. Initial estimates released previously erroneously said electric boiler operation costs would exceed traditional boiler costs by between 4.2% and 4.9%.

The price comparison is likely to be more favorable to electric boilers today than it was in late 2021. Natural gas prices have roughly doubled since the start of 2022, a trend driven largely by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but it’s not clear where natural gas prices will fall in the long run.

Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), chair of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, said the push for electric heating would continue but signaled the path toward fuel-free heating might be paved with subsidies.

“There has to be responsible public policy, and I think that’s where it has to go. I think we’re going to incentivize and entice people to do more electrification in their heating,” he said.

The next look into Gov. Phil Murphy’s plan for the state’s transition to renewables will come early next year, when state officials are due to issue a triennial update to New Jersey’s energy master plan, the state’s roadmap to cutting emissions by 80% by 2050.

Separately, a task force Murphy convened in October is drafting recommendations for electrification in New Jersey, though it’s unclear when the panel will release its findings.

“From the big picture, it was good news that they stayed the boiler regulation, but by no means have they walked away from wanting to electrify everything,” DeGesero said.

Smith said lawmakers will seek to strike a balance that enables climate policy without passing undue costs onto consumers.

“With 133 miles of coastline, we’ve got to do something, as well as get the rest of the world to do something,” Smith said. “There’s a much better future ahead, and we’ll find a way to make it palatable to New Jersey citizens.”

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.