Labor and Environmentalists Unify to Push for Neighborhood-Scale Building Decarbonization and Good Job
Labor and environmental leaders have come together to support the introduction of the Utility Thermal Energy Network and Jobs Act (S9422) and are urging New York legislators to pass the bill before the legislative session ends on June 2. The new legislation will enable the construction of neighborhood-scale “thermal energy networks” to help bring affordable, renewable heating and cooling to utility customers. Labor standards in the bill will preserve and add good union jobs to decarbonize buildings at a scale that aligns with New York’s climate law.
“If New York is to achieve its clean energy goals in this decade and beyond, we must find and build on common ground,” said John Murphy, International Representative of the United Association of Plumbers, Pipefitters and Sprinkler Fitters and a member of the Clean Energy Jobs Coalition of NY. “The proposed Utility Thermal Energy Network and Jobs Act creates a path forward to build an affordable, high efficiency renewable energy system that will provide a just transition for thousands of high skilled, middle class New Yorkers while achieving our climate objectives.”
Thermal energy networks are utility-scale projects that consist of pipes under the street, just like the utility gas system. Instead of carrying gas, the pipes in a thermal energy network carry water that moves heat from where it’s not needed to where it is needed in a neighborhood. Homes and businesses connect to this network with heat pumps, utilizing the thermal energy for comfortable heating and cooling. The water in the pipes stays within the needed temperature range by exchanging heat with geothermal boreholes and other sources, such as solar thermal, bodies of water, or waste heat from buildings, factories, and data centers.
“We are thrilled to come together with the labor movement around a vision for the next generation of heating and cooling infrastructure in New York,” said Jessica Azulay, Executive Director of Alliance for a Green Economy. “Thermal energy networks will revolutionize the way we heat and cool our communities. With the Utility Thermal Energy Network and Jobs Act, we are urging a collective solution to the climate crisis that will make renewable heating more accessible and affordable and create good union jobs.”
National Grid successfully piloted a small geothermal network project on Long Island in 2017. Since that pilot, utilities have been proposing additional pilots in their rate cases before the Public Service Commission, but have been prevented from moving them forward due to legal barriers. The Utility Thermal Energy Network and Jobs Act removes legal barriers and begins a regulatory process that will start with utility pilots of thermal energy networks in each utility territory and will ultimately develop the regulations governing utility involvement in these systems.
Buildings are New York state’s largest source of climate emissions, with 7 million households and over 380,000 commercial, institutional, and state buildings that need to be fully decarbonized. “To succeed in achieving the aggressive climate emissions reduction targets and equity mandates under New York’s Climate Law, swift and urgent implementation action is required by the legislature and the administration every year,” said Lisa Dix, New York Director of the Building Decarbonization Coalition. “We need building decarbonization solutions at scale. Climate investments and benefits must flow directly into communities disproportionately impacted by climate change and workers must be uplifted by the clean energy economy. We have found one such solution, together, and urge the legislature to act now and pass this bill this session.”
Geothermal heating and cooling with ground source heat pumps is highly efficient and reduces monthly energy costs compared to other forms of heating or cooling. However, the high up-front costs of installing ground loops have made geothermal heat inaccessible for many New Yorkers. Utility thermal energy networks will spread the up-front costs of this infrastructure over many customers and over a long period of time, enabling a more affordable, just, and rapid transition to renewable heat.
“Communities of color and low-income have been living for generations with the disproportionate burden of poor housing quality and toxic air. NOx and PM2.5 emissions from burning fossil fuels in buildings leads to respiratory and cardiovascular illness, cancers, and more,” said Sonal Jessel, Director of Policy at WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “Not only are communities of color and low-income breathing in poison, but they have the most utility debt and have become the sacrifice zones for the climate crisis. Our communities need access to affordable options to heat and cool our homes without fossil fuels, and the Utility Thermal Energy Network and Jobs Act will help ensure utilities advance equitable and affordable building electrification and design these networks to reduce air pollution in overburdened communities.”
“As New York State implements the CLCPA (Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act), the most ambitious climate law in the country, we need labor and climate groups working together toward a just transition. “The Utility Thermal Energy Network and Jobs Act” (S9422) is the result of that collective action. It presents an opportunity to effectively decarbonize our buildings at the scale necessary to meet our climate mandates, and create middle class career jobs for low-income communities and communities of color hit first and worst by the climate crisis.”said Maritza Silva-Farrell, Executive Director of ALIGN NY.
“New York needs to address buildings, our largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, to achieve our bold climate goals,” said Julie Tighe, President of the New York League of Conservation Voters. “We need to take steps forward to decarbonize our buildings. This creative opportunity moves toward a renewable energy system that reduces emissions and pollution, protects our climate, and supports a fair transition for residents facing the financial burden of heating and cooling costs while supporting good-paying jobs. We urge the legislature to pass the bill this session.”
Resources about Thermal Energy Networks:
● Thermal Energy Networks: Decarbonizing Buildings At Utility Scale (basic facts)
● Clean Energy: Geothermal Energy Exchange (Mechanical Contractors Association of America)
● ASHRAE/NYSERDA Community Heat Pump Systems Webinar Series
● Tonight! 7pm on Thursday, May 26th Renewable Heat Now and HeatSmart Tompkins will be hosting a Community Geothermal Heat Pump Webinar featuring a presentation by Zeyneb Magavi and Audrey Schulman from HEET. Register here.