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HeatSmart Launch Party

The bad news is that NYSEG imposed a moratorium on new natural gas customers for the Town and Village of Lansing.  The good news is that New York State has special incentives for Lansing residents who choose to convert to heat pumps this year.  HeatSmart Board Chair Brian Eden joined HeatSmart Tompkins Program Director  Jonathan Comstock and HeatSmart Lansing Coordinator Lisa Marshall to host a launch party for this year's initiative that has a special focus on Lansing.  All eyes are on Lansing and Westchester County, which is also subject to a natural gas moratorium, to see how successful the communities will be at embracing the cleaner heat pump technology, and their ability to attract businesses despite natural gas being largely off the table.  At the same time the Tompkins County HeatSmart initiative is serving as a model to expand the grass roots approach to promoting clean energy all over New York State.

"We saw the example that HeatSmart Tompkins initiatied a few years ago," said New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) Clean Heating and Cooling Group Program Manager Scott Smith. "It was my idea to replicate it around New York State. As of a week ago we have 15 communities in New York, including Tompkins County, that are doing HeatSmart campaigns.  We're very grateful to the HeatSmart team, to Brian and Jonathan for getting it all started.  I'm here at the HeatSmart Lansing launch today because as increased funding is part of the clean energy action planNYSERDA doubled down on its investment in HeatSmart Tompkins specifically to focus on the Lansing area because of the gas moratorium."

Smith was at Lansing's Myers Park Sunday for this year's HeatSmart Tompkins launch party, with featured food, live music and the three partner heat pump installers -- Snug Planet, Halco, and NP Environmental -- that have been selected by the program.  The party is part of an aggressive initiative to make people aware of the benefits of heating and cooling with air and ground source heat pumps, especially in light of the gas moratorium.  The organization began as Solarize Tompkins, an initiative to get homeowners to adopt solar panels for their homes.

"We're the first in the country," Comstock said. "Nobody did what we did. We broke new ground.  We did solar for two years.  The first one was in Caroline and and Dryden.  It didn't make it to the rest of the county.  It went so well that we decided the rest of the County said it wants in on this too.  So we had a full county program the next year."

On the heals of that very successful program HeatSmart was born four years ago.  The program caught NYSERDA's attention, and this year NYSERDA has provided additional funding not only for incentives for homeowners to convert to heat pumps, but for HeatSmart to hire Marshall as well as advertising money to help get the word out about the incentives.

"It's part of an ongoing conversation in the state and the utilities about how we're transitioning our energy future," said Marshall. "The utilities are giving a little push-back, wanting to put in more gas infrastructure, and the state is saying 'we're not really into that, and what if we try this instead?  And what if we threw some incentives and some extra money at it, especially in the gas moratorium areas here in Lansing and in southern Westchester County?  It's sort of a negotiation, and HeatSmart is the grease to smooth the field."

Smith says the HeatSmart model is about both making people who have access to natural gas aware of the opportunities heat pumps present, plus actually getting people to convert to the new greener technology.

"The HeatSmart campaigns are a really important effort in changing that, in increasing awareness," he said. "But they also select installers locally that are highly qualified and able to install heat pumps.  The idea is that we match hundreds of residents up with those installers.  They do energy efficiency analyses  in their homes, and they install heat pumps.  For people who don't know, everybody can use a heat pump.  Heat pumps can be installed in any building anywhere in the state.  The question is, with the cost of fossil fuel whether it's economic now or not."

Smith says that NYSERDA is using the local organization as a model for the rest of the state, and he hopes to have funding available to expand beyond the 15 HeatSmart communities that are being funded this year to

"It has worked so far," Smith said. "It's been very successful.  We've already replicated it.  We've funded 14 other communities in New York to do the same thing.  We've got HeatSmart campaigns in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Putnam County, Westchester County, Ulster and Sullivan Counties, the Capital region, Central New York, Erie County, Otsego County, the City of Utica, and the City of Rochester.  We see the gas moratorium as an important opportunity for us to demonstrate what a fossil fuel-free future can look like and to make sure that economy doesn't slow in the case of Westchester County, and in the case of Lansing can be reinvigorated using electrification for heat pump technologies.  We're new to trying it, but we think that HeatSmart is a very important element to being able to address the gas moratoria."

HeatSmart - Insulation

Marshall says that heat pumps are only part of the equation for home heating and energy savings.  Better insulation means less heating, and energy hogs like hot water heaters now have heat pump versions.

"We want to emphasize home weatherization," she said. "That is the first step.  And hot water heaters... maybe they just put in a new furnace and they're not ready to replace it yet.  But an air-source heat pump hot water heater gives a pretty big bang for the buck.  There are a lot of options and our installers can explain all those things.  They're so knowledgeable about all the different options and what works for each individuals' house.  Our homes are so individual that our installers have to have a really high level of expertise to help you make the right choices."

While Sunday's event was an informal party to celebrate the 2019 HeatSmart Tompkins program, it will be followed up with other events throughout the year.  The next will be a more formal public meeting scheduled for Wednesday, August 14th at the Lansing Community Library.

The moratorium is not a total ban of natural gas.  As current gas consumers switch to alternative heating solutions the capacity they release will be made available to businesses that have to have it.  Comstock says the move from gas and oil furnaces is beginning to make a dent in the available natural gas capacity.

"Some builders are beginning to say heat pumps make fantastic sense," he says. "They save builders a lot of money, and they get better profits.  There are some applications where you need the high heat so we can't expect gas to go away over night."

Smith says the HeatSmart model is so successful he wants to expand it to every nook and cranny in New York State.

"There will probably be areas that don't have HeatSmart campaigns after this next round, but most of the state will," he said. "We just launched seven new campaigns and we had eight active campaigns as of the beginning of this year.  And we launched another round of funding for another set of campaigns. I think by the end of that round it will be rare in New york  that you're in a community that doesn't have have a HeatSmart campaign.  We should have it in most of the boroughs in New York City.  We hope we're going to round out the Hudson Valley. We're looking forward to doing more of the Finger Lakes."

Smith also says that the grass-roots community-based nature of the program is a key to its success.  He said NYSERDA want co continue that approach as the program expands even more state-wide.

"It's been a fundamental principal of ours under the Clean Energy Fund for the past three or four years in areas other than heat pumps," he said. "We've put a lot of funding and effort into Solarize, a similar activity.  We've also funded Energize New York, a residential campaign that has similar elements.  And we have a whole clean energy community program. We really think community -based energy work is fundamental."

Comstock noted that heat pumps are harder to promote than solar panels, in part because everybody knowas about solar energy, and it is a simpler technology that  everyone can see as they pass homes with panels solar installed.

"The other thing that's different from Solarize -- we weren't asking people to get rid of anything," he added. "They didn't have some other power generating equipment that was already part of their home.  So there was no reason to wait until that was worn out before switching.  A lot of people do want to wait until their furnaces getting old and they think they have to make an investment anyway."

But both local and state officials are optimistic that in addition to long-term savings over the life of a heat pump system, incentives will take the sting out of installation costs.  Heat pump incentives are available for anyone in Tompkins County, but additional incentives are available for Lansing homeowners because of the gas moratorium. 

"This event is really a launch for the whole county," Marshall said.  "We're celebrating in Lansing because of all the extra Lansing effort, but this is our fourth HeatSmart campaign in Tompkins County.  It's in Lansing, and Lansing is where our strongest focus is going to be, but it's all one HeatSmart program."

"The State and other groups are very interested to see if it can work," added Comstock. "Can we get the word out to people?  Can they be persuaded that heat pumps are a good option?   How will that influence policy, going forward?"

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