Thurston: The cold truth about heat pumps

Time to pull the plug on the Un-Affordable Heat Act

by Steve Thurston

The so-called “Affordable Heat Act”,  calls for 145,000 heat pumps to be installed in Vermont homes by 2030.   The PUC  the examined the affordability of heat pumps in the 2021 Annual Energy Report to the Legislature.  The report states that a heat pump, “would save little cost for a GMP customer and cost more on an annual basis for a WEC customer. This analysis only looks at operating costs and does not include the upfront costs of installing a heat pump.  However, customers may choose the heat pump for different reasons, including the ability to add air conditioning during the summer.”   What more needs to be said?

In as much as the PUC has already told the legislature that heat pumps are not “affordable” why is the Democrat controlled legislature still pushing Vermonters to install heat pumps?  Why are they forcing taxpayers to come up with $850,000 for the PUC to study this issue when they have ignored the PUC’s previous report?  

There are other issues with heat pumps that the legislature sweeps under the rug:

We have a heat pump.  It blows cold air frequently when the outside temperature drops below freezing.  That is because about two times each hour, the heat pump reverses operation and becomes an air conditioner for 10 minutes, taking heat from the house to melt ice buildup on the coil in the outside unit.  We turn the heat pump off for much of the winter because our propane boiler provides warmth full time when we need it.  The heat pump produces less heat as the temperature drops, the opposite of what is needed.

How environmentally friendly are heat pumps?  Heat pumps use a refrigerant (HFC) that is a potent greenhouse gas.  According to the EPA, HFCs have global warming potentials (GWPs) (a measure of the relative climate impact of a GHG) that can be hundreds to thousands of times greater than carbon dioxide (CO2).   One issue that is completely avoided in the heat pump discussion is the loss of refrigerant from leaks during operation and at end of life disposal.  Industry sources put the loss of refrigerant at 2.8% per year.   HFCs contribute worldwide greenhouse gasses equivalent to the aviation industry!   The legislature should not be encouraging, let alone subsidizing, the transition to a technology that is the 4th leading contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions by deploying 145,000 heat pumps in the next 7 years, before any reductions in HFCs take place.

Why does the government not immediately pass a law forbidding the release of such potent greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere?  The reason is the renewable industry, and the heat pump industry are powerful special interests who successfully lobby against such restrictions, much like the tobacco industry for decades prevented laws that would have saved millions of people from dying of lung cancer.  Current treaties allow HFCs to be released at 100% of current levels, with gradual decreases to 70% of current levels by mid-century.  

To summarize:

  • The centerpiece of the Affordable Heat Act is rapid deployment of heat pumps.
  • Heat pumps are not cost effective according to recent PUC reports that have been ignored by the legislature.  
  • S.5 requires the PUC to spend $850,000 to study the same issue.
  • Heat pumps do not heat your home when the temperature falls below freezing. 
  • Heat pumps increase your the overall energy footprint when used for air conditioning.
  • Heat pumps release dangerous greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and the government allows this to continue due to economic pressure from special interests.  

It is time to pull the plug on the Un-Affordable Heat Act.   This bill should die in the House Energy Committee.  Make sure your representatives know where you stand.  You can find their contact information in the Legislative Toolbox at the top of this page.

The author is a retired general contractor and builder living in Ferrisburgh, with a history advocating for sensible energy policy.

Categories: Commentary

14 replies »

  1. Thank you Mr. Thurston for the informative fill-in. This entire beast is not about mitigating climate change. It’s about making money, gratifying narcissistic egos, and control – of you and me.

  2. It is just my opinion, but I can’t help but feel that the person(s) or companies behind the special interest groups that are touting this technology stand to make a butt-ton of money. And doesn’t it seem that this is all being pushed on us at a very rapid and questionable pace. Information is being ignored and the citizens of Vermont are not being given a voice in this mandate. Why is that I wonder? The people selling and installing the equipment will make money, the State of Vermont will make money by taxing the fuel distributors….who won’t really take the hit because the tax will be passed on to their customers. So who takes the hit here? You guessed it….those who can least afford it but are being given no choice. I see a future where the seniors of this state turn to burning their furniture in the wood stove to keep warm. The legislative supporters of this bill must be so proud.

  3. Keep voting in Nazis to run your state. Yes that’s right Nazis is the Democrat Party. They want you all to die. Proof is everywhere.

  4. Keep voting in Democrats and Rino’s. They want you to be broke and poor. Look the proof is every where. Every thing they do is to take tax dollars and give it to people that don’t work. Free Free. Can’t wait we’re in our way o bankrupt see how you Gun Hating anti hunting fools male out. Can’t wait ….

  5. If heat pumps were so awesome, they wouldn’t have to force them on people by raising the price of better sources of heat. With WEC’s already sky-high electric rates, there’s simply no way I’d go to all the trouble and additional expense. I switched to wood for primary years ago since they’re clearly gunning for everything but the magical electric fairies that definitely don’t actually come from fossil fuels or anything.

    When the government colludes with business to mandate purchases or artificially raise the price of better products, you can assume someone’s greasing palms. Either that, or these people really are that stupid. Your guess here is as good as mine.

  6. The recent snowstorm knocked out power to thousands across the state, especially southern Vermont. Thankfully, the outside temp was relatively mild and I have a propane stove in one room which is a lifesaver. If everything were electric, what would you do? A generator? That’s an expensive proposition.

    • As of 4:15 pm March 16th, 36+ hours after the latest storm, reports 9556 electric power customers without power in Vermont.

    • The .GOV folks want everything electric because THEY will have the of switch and if you think wrong THEY will turn you off.

  7. Every one of Mr. Thurston’s statements is accurate
    Conversely, most of sen.christopher bray’s statements in committee were false and misleading. some statements were fabricated lies.
    There is no end to the extremes the climate evangelist will go to to force their will upon Vermont’s residents.This is about control- and has never been about the environment or actual climate change.
    In the battle of physics vs. platitudes, mr. bray- physics remains undefeated.

  8. I own a 25,000 SF commercial building. Currently using 3000-5000 gallons of No. 2 fuel oil per heating season. Working with Efficiency Vermont was told heat pumps are useless on commercial buildings. More alarming, discovered Vermont has the least training requirement for burner technicians in all of New England. The level of incompetence is staggering. I contracted with a eminently qualified, licensed technician from Connecticut at great expense to tune our boiler. The investment netted me an 18% gain in efficiency!!!!! That’s 720 gallons a year! Nothing in S.5 carries that environmental and economic benefit. Demand your senator legislate the same training, test and licence requirements Connecticut residents enjoy.

    • And Efficiency VT states in its promotional materials that Heat Pumps are 3 TIMES more efficient than oil or gas. Sure, and I’m Donald Trump.

  9. I always wondered why the “heat” pump in a house we lived in for a while often seemed to be blowing cold air. But even when it wasn’t, it never blew heat. It was tepid at best. The comment on technicians brings up another point: “heat” (or tepid) pump repair, particularly if recharging the refrigerant is required. You could go months before someone is available. I don’t know what the reason was (can’t handle the refrigerant in freezing temps?), but I knew someone whose “tepid pump” failed in the middle of winter and they were told they had to wait until the spring to work on it.