With threat of rolling blackouts in CT, trade groups call for pause on heat pumps

Photo of Luther Turmelle
Trade groups representing independent home heating oil dealers are calling on Gov. Ned Lamont and other New England leaders to set a moratorium on heating pumps.

Trade groups representing independent home heating oil dealers are calling on Gov. Ned Lamont and other New England leaders to set a moratorium on heating pumps.

Robert F. Bukaty / Associated Press

Trade groups representing independent home heating oil dealers are calling on Gov. Ned Lamont and his five counterparts across New England to declare a moratorium on installing heating pumps.

The coalition of seven home heating oil trade groups said efforts to increase the number of electric heat pumps used by homeowners further strains New England’s electric transmission grids. In the letter, they referenced Dec. 6 comments made by the operator of the electric grid, ISO-New England, which said a worst-case scenario could result in rolling blackouts to protect the transmission network.

“Enough is enough,” the letter to Lamont and the other governors said. “We cannot stand idly by while dangerous electrification policies and system conversions put our neighbors and communities at risk. Given what happened in Texas and the warnings from ISO New England, our states should immediately abandon efforts to convert homes to natural gas or electric heating; the lives of our states’ residents — your constituents — may very well depend on it.”

Chris Herb, president of the Connecticut Energy Marketing Association, said less than 5 percent of Connecticut homes are heated by electricity. Herb, whose group represents 600 home heating oil and propane dealers in the state, was unable to say how many Connecticut homes use electric heat pumps.

“But the state is running new incentives and in this case energy policy is running ahead of common sense,” Herb said. “Someone need to come up with a better plan than to shut off power to homes in the dead of winter, even for a few hours. And that requires a pause in current energy policy.”

Five million of New England’s 15 million households use electric heat pumps, according to Sean Cota, president and chief executive officer of the National Energy & Fuels Institute, a national trade group representing independent fuel dealers.

Electric heat pumps work like air conditioners, only in reverse. While air conditioners cool hot air, heat pumps take cold air and warm it.

“The fossil fuel lobby predictably doesn’t want our grid to be powered by sources other than fossil fuels, which do some of the most damage to our environment, and are trying to leverage the tragedy in Texas with false claims,” said Will Healey, a spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

“The regional grid operator, ISO-New England, does not require oil and dual-fuel generators to purchase sufficient fuel to give confidence there is enough generation during a long period of extreme cold weather,” Healey said. “The ISO has not indicated an emergency scenario is on the horizon.”

He said Connecticut “stands ready if any emergency actions are needed.”

Lori Brown, executive director of the Hartford-based Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, called the claims from Herb and other trade groups “just over the top, a real disservice.”

“This is blowing smoke and hopefully people will be able to see through it,” Brown said. “But it’s indicative of a tactic by the fossil fuel industry that is pervasive across the country. For us to break away from this price roller-coaster, we’ve got to take strong action and break away from fossil fuels; the urgency has never been more important.”

Ultimately, Lamont and his counterparts in the region are trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that come from using fossil fuels and replace them with renewable energy sources. But large-scale renewable energy sources like wind and solar solar power are still a work in progress that is several years away from reality and the latest effort to bring more hydropower from Quebec is still in doubt.

Herb said the group is “not asking the governors to swallow taking a step back environmentally.”

“Just pause it temporarily,” he said.

The trade associations have set a goal to have zero emission bio-fuel available for home heating by 2050, according to Herb. Starting in July 2022, Connecticut law will begin slowly ramping up a process that calls for reducing 80 percent of greenhouse gases by 2050.

luther.turmelle@hearstmediact.com