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Push for All-Electric Could Be Big Jolt for New Construction

Thu, 07/07/2022 - 11:11
In New York State, buildings produce 32 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, according to the State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Durell Godfrey

East Hampton Town’s Energy and Sustainability Advisory Committee has recommended to the town board that all building permits for new residential and commercial construction issued after Dec. 31 require that all appliances, including heating and cooling systems, be electric and energy efficient.

Also sent to the board last Thursday was a recommendation that the building codes, by Jan. 1, 2024, support electrification of all energy use through the installation of energy-efficient electric appliances, such as cold climate heat pumps for heating and cooling and hot water production, as well as induction stoves for cooking. Induction stoves use electromagnetic waves to heat cookware and are more efficient than gas and electric cooktops.

According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, buildings nationwide represent 13 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. In New York State, buildings produce 32 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, according to the State Department of Environmental Conservation, with carbon dioxide and methane making up the largest portion. Electrical appliances such as hot water heaters, induction stoves, and cold climate heat pumps produce no on-site greenhouse gas emissions.

The E.P.A., Stanford University, and other groups have produced reports stating that gas-burning stoves may pose a greater hazard to public health and the environment than previously thought, according to the committee’s recommendation, including significant nitrogen dioxide emissions that can trigger asthma and other respiratory ailments. Methane emissions from gas stoves in the United States have a climate impact comparable to about half a million gas-powered cars driven for a year, the committee noted, and children living in residences with gas stoves are 42 percent more likely to experience asthma.

Electrical appliances are safer, cleaner, and have a smaller carbon footprint. The elimination of fossil-fuel appliances improves indoor air quality and reduces the chance of a gas leak, fire, explosion, or carbon monoxide poisoning.

Legislation similar to the committee’s recommendations is at present before the State Legislature. If enacted, the All-Electric Building Act would prohibit fossil fuel-powered infrastructure, build ing systems, or equipment in new construction by Dec. 31, 2023, for buildings of fewer than seven stories and by July 1, 2027, for those seven stories or more.

The town adopted its Comprehensive Energy Vision in 2013, the same year the committee was formed to advise the board on policies and programs promoting energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. The following year, the town adopted a goal of meeting the equivalent of 100 percent of its energy consumption, including electricity, heating, and transportation, with renewable sources by 2030. The town voted in April to accept a proposal from GDS Associates, a Georgia engineering and consulting firm, to develop a roadmap for achieving that goal.

The town code was amended in 2017 to require newly built or substantially renovated residences to meet the Home Energy Rating System, or HERS, Index, an industry-standard measurement of a residential building’s energy efficiency. And as of Friday, the town’s adoption of the NYStretch Energy Code is in effect. The stringent building code includes requirements for building envelopes, lighting, ventilation, future compatibility, and energy generally.

Last year, the town board adopted a climate emergency declaration, which commits the town to making climate mitigation and the elimination of greenhouse gas emissions a guiding principle and objective of all municipal operations, all policy and purchasing decisions, all planning and zoning rules and decisions, and all other aspects of town business for the foreseeable future.

Also last year, the board adopted a policy of transitioning the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems in municipal buildings from fossil fuels to electric heat pump systems, and of incorporating electric HVAC systems in all new municipal buildings.

Lena Tabori of the committee said this week that “despite the fact that the roadmap results are not in yet, we know that buildings and transportation are the biggest single problem, as far as greenhouse gases are concerned. So this feels like a no-brainer. And, of course, all the recent reports about the dangers from gas stoves just make it all the more clear that we have to act on this.”

The committee is expected to present its recommendations at a town board work session in the coming weeks. On Tuesday, however, Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez said that cooking facilities at the new senior citizens center to be constructed off Abraham’s Path in Amagansett are already expected to comply with the committee’s recommendations. From the time the site was acquired last year, the intention has been to construct a net-zero energy building, including on-site renewable energy and electric heat pump heating systems.

“The staff is used to cooking with propane,” Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said, “but we will be building the senior center for the next 30 to 50 years, and we need to look forward.” The staff “will have to learn more about induction cooking,” she said.

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