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.
- 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.