‘It’s going to hurt us’: Heating oil industry fights effort to eliminate Mass. rebates

The proposal from the council, chaired by the State Energy Resources Commissioner, follows a series of recommendations made by the Baker administration in December for Massachusetts to achieve a “net zero” carbon emissions standard by 2050. The changes are also in line with aggressive greenhouse gas emission reduction targets contained in a comprehensive new climate bill passed by lawmakers and signed by Governor Charlie Baker last week. A provision in this law would enable municipalities to issue net-zero building regulations for new buildings that could, for example, block fossil fuel integration in these projects.

In order to achieve this ambitious target for 2050, significant changes would have to be made in the heating of buildings. State officials and environmentalists hope to encourage the introduction of electric heat pumps into households and cut fossil fuels. The consequences could be enormous for the 700,000 plus homeowners in the state who use heating oil and the businesses that serve it. Massachusetts electricity tariffs are now among the highest in the United States, almost twice the national average.

With this in mind, the Massachusetts Energy Marketers Association, which represents the state’s 400 or so fuel oil dealers, faces the loss of Mass Save discounts of between $ 400 and $ 800 per installation, as well as access to the popular, uninteresting HEAT loans to subsidize Oil systems. (The Council recommends studying the impact on low-income households before changing their incentives.)

Heating oil companies argue that their customers should pay surcharges on their electricity bills to the Mass Save program and get discounts for upgrading their heating systems. Ferrante said he feared the utilities working with state officials to design the program have no incentive to support his industry. He said his association intends to challenge the changes in court when they are final.

“We are under the microscope to be erased from the card,” said Ferrante.

Ferrante noted that many heating oil suppliers have taken steps to address the environmental impact by switching to biofuel blends with much lower carbon emissions. For example, nearly 80 dealerships are participating in a government program to encourage the use of biofuel, mostly discarded cooking oil, that can be blended with standard heating oil. They receive incentives funded by penalties that electricity companies pay for failing to meet renewable energy targets.

Among the participants: Cubby Oil & Energy. President Charlie Uglietto said nearly all of the Wilmington company’s approximately 6,000 customers burn a 50/50 blend of petroleum and used cooking oil. Uglietto said it costs homeowners about $ 50 more a year than unblended heating oil. Some customers use fuel made entirely from discarded cooking oil.

John Alefantis works for the heating oil company Cubby Oil in Boston.David L. Ryan

From Uglietto’s point of view, biodiesel is a more cost-effective method of combating emissions than heat pump systems, which, according to state authorities, should be prioritized in the new Mass Save Plan.

“Neither the state nor Mass Save nor many people recognize the value of liquid renewable fuels,” said Uglietto. “Why are we getting people to buy $ 25,000 worth of heat pump equipment when we can just switch the fuel that goes into people’s oil burners and get greenhouse reductions for pennies on the dollar today? I just do not understand. “

Caitlin Peale Sloan, Massachusetts director of policy efforts for the Conservation Law Foundation, said there is not enough discarded cooking oil from restaurants to rely solely on for the fuel oil industry to rely on as a solution.

The elimination of oil discounts is one of many proposed changes to the Mass Save program, which is regulated by the state and funded by surcharges on electricity and natural gas bills. They are now being used by the state’s major electricity and natural gas suppliers to formulate a new plan for the next three years with the aim of taking the climate benefits into account.

“We are carefully reviewing all of our fossil fuel incentives and will be careful about which fossil fuel incentives are retained in the next plan. This is not just about heating oil, ”said Patrick Woodcock, the state commissioner for energy resources. “We believe heat pumps should be integrated across the state. … It is a technological breakthrough that Massachusetts is about to seize. It’s only a matter of time. We believe the time is now. “

Amy Boyd, a member of the Efficiency Council, said the panel and utilities will have a final version out by the end of October. She notes that heating oil customers could continue to use mass save funds for other efficiency measures, such as insulating their homes.

“Using Ratepayer money to buy things that will keep fossil fuels around longer is wasting Ratepayer money,” said Boyd, policy director at Acadia Center, a climate think tank. “I am really happy that the EEAC is taking a stand on the need for electrification.”

However, Emerson Clauss, co-owner of Allegiance Construction & Development in Northbridge, said the switch to electrical heat is still heavily reliant on natural gas, the most widely used fuel source for New England power plants. Clauss said he was also concerned about the net-zero language of the new climate law for new buildings because it could exclude heating oil, propane and natural gas as a heat source.

“More than half of our electricity comes from natural gas,” said Clauss, president-elect of the Massachusetts Home Builders and Remodelers Association. “It sounds like we’re doing a great thing and we’re moving in the right direction. But aren’t we just moving to where the smoke burned? “

Jon Chesto can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.

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