New and improved technologies are making it easier and more affordable for households to switch from gas, a fossil fuel, to electric water heating and electric appliances, such as stoves.
The latest report by Arizona PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group highlights reasons that our state and federal policymakers should adopt and implement policies to accelerate the shift towards electric buildings:
- Burning fossil fuels puts our health at risk. Fossil fuel use creates indoor and outdoor air pollution, increasing the risk of respiratory diseases, heart disease, cancer, and infectious diseases. Since 2000, there have been more than 5,000 gas pipeline incidents in the U.S. which have resulted in the death of hundreds of people and injured over 1,000 individuals.
- Electrifying buildings will reduce fossil fuel use. Analysis of data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Energy Information Administration shows that electrifying the vast majority of America’s residences and commercial spaces by 2050 could reduce net greenhouse gas emissions from the residential and commercial sectors by about 306 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2050 – the equivalent of taking about 65 million of today’s cars off the road – while simultaneously improving air quality and public health.
- Building electrification makes sense for consumers. According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, across the country, all-electric new homes are less expensive over 15 years than mixed-fuel homes. In certain municipalities, installing a heat pump over fossil fuel heating methods in a new home could save between $1,600 and $6,800 over a 15-year period, and in others, savings could reach as high as $13,700 during the same time period. And retrofitting homes with electric heat pumps is already cost effective in many places, particularly if both a furnace and A/C are replaced when they wear out.
While the benefits to moving towards electric buildings are numerous, there are barriers such as consumers’ and contractors’ lack of familiarity with the technology, high initial costs of retrofitting buildings, regulatory hurdles like Arizona’s ban on municipal gas restrictions, and unfavorable utility rate designs.
Instead of continuing to invest in archaic fossil fuel infrastructure that contributes to air pollution, adverse public health impacts, and energy waste which costs consumers money, state and federal policymakers can help Arizonans overcome barriers and accelerate the shift in our homes and businesses toward electrification.
Policymakers should require all-electric systems in new construction; update appliance efficiency standards; implement rebate programs, incentives and low-cost financing; implement regulatory solutions, including rate design changes; create and expand tax incentives for electrified buildings; require building energy transparency and implement building performance standards that limit carbon emissions; and educate developers, contractors, retailers and consumers about options for, and benefits of, electrification. The sooner the better.
Diane E. Brown is executive director of the Arizona PIRG Education Fund, an organization that conducts research and education on issues in the public interest. Bryn Huxley-Reicher is a policy associate with the Frontier Group and co-author of the Electric Buildings report.